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Riane Eisler
on her book "The Power of Partnership"

interview by Douglas Eby

The search many of us today are passionately engaged in, the 
search for a new spirituality, is part of a larger change in consciousness.

More and more of us are becoming conscious that many old ways 
of looking at ourselves and our world are not adaptive.   Riane Eisler

One of the themes of her new book "The Power of Partnership" is that we are always in relationship. "And not just with the people in our immediate circle, in our families and at work," Eisler says. "We are affected by a much wider web of relationships swirling around us and impacting every aspect of our lives.

"If anything has made it clear that the self can't be helped in isolation from the web of relationships around us, it's the terrorist attacks," she notes. "It's very clear that if we want to be safe, if we want to have a more equitable world, a more secure world, a more satisfying life for ourselves and our children, it just isn't enough to save for their college education or to go to workshop after workshop."

The subtitle of the book is "Seven Relationships That Will Change Your Life." These are with ourselves, our intimate relations, our workplace and community relations, our relationship with the nation and the international community, with Mother Earth, and our spiritual relationships. They are all interrelated, Eisler explains.

Although the first chapter of the book is "Your Relationship With Yourself," Eisler confirms that the seven key relationships covered in the book are not in any sort of hierarchy or priority. "I'm a systems person," she says. "How we relate to ourselves does not arise in a vacuum. It is interconnected with our intimate relations, especially with our childhood and gender relations. And we perpetuate negative patterns unless we become conscious of them.

"Unless we pay attention to the web of relations around us, and help shift them from domination to partnership, it's like going up on a down elevator. So much is pushing us back in our surrounding culture."

She finds that when we start thinking of ourselves more in terms of social interactions, "then we can understand something very simple, that empathy is the key to successful relationships, win-win relationships of partnership.  And that applies also to partnership with ourselves. If we are very hard on ourselves, we tend to be defensive, and project our anger and our fear onto others."

But the point is not to "fix" ourselves first, she cautions. "If we're going to wait until every one of us has worked out all of these personal problems of how we relate to ourselves, which are all problems, in one way or another, caused by dominator beliefs, attitudes and relationships in cultural patterns, we won't get much done.

"We don't have time to work out all our personal problems as a prerequisite. That's why I emphasize working on whatever you can in all of these relationships," she adds. "That is the key."

"We certainly need to work on ourselves, on our intimate relations, our day to day relations. Political activists have traditionally only focused on the top of the dominator pyramid: on politics and economics.  They have ignored the primary relations, parent-child and woman-man relations, on which the whole dominator pyramid rests. 

"We all need to understand that  personal transformation and cultural --  economic and political --  transformation are interconnected. For example, gender relationships, which are tough for people to deal with, are key to whether a society orients to domination or partnership in all its relations."

What we are seeing in our world today, she says, "underneath all the complex and seemingly random currents and crosscurrents, is the struggle between two very different ways of relating, of viewing our world and living in it. It is the struggle between two underlying possibilities for relations: the partnership model and the domination model."

She emphasizes that a shift from the domination to the partnership model as the primary guide for structuring our beliefs, institutions, and relations, is extremely urgent. "The mix of the domination model and high technology -- the nuclear, biological, and chemical technologies that threaten us and our natural habitat with irremediable harm -- is not sustainable in the long term.

"Consider that fundamentalist Muslim terrorists come from cultures where women are, quite literally, terrorized into submission," Eisler notes. "They have this model that if you want to impose your will, if you want to control -- which is what terrorism is about -- you use fear and violence."

Asked if she sees people's reactions to the terrorist attacks as indicating a greater awareness of the importance of relationships, Eisler says, "No, I really don't. Because I think the nation is still in denial, which is quite understandable. Most people are still so caught in the old categories of right versus left, or religious versus secular, instead of having the lenses of the partnership model and domination model. So we've seen a real polarization.

"On the one hand, you have the reaction of, 'It's the U.S. karmic chickens coming home to roost,' that it's all our fault somehow; the blame-the-victim syndrome. These people fail to make a distinction between what lies behind anti-U.S. feelings, which is much more complicated."

Eisler agrees terrorism may be seen as an example of dominator training, attitudes and values. "The terrorists are not saying to the West, Change your policies," she explains.

"They're saying, We want to destroy you, we want to control the world, because we think we're right, and our dominator order is the God-given order. Ironically, the thing that upsets them the most about the West  isn't the suffering that some Western policies cause. They don't care about the people's suffering. If they did, they would use their resources for health, education, food. 

"What upsets them the most is more equality for women, more freedom. And inciting hate of the West, and financing terrorists have been very useful to repressive Muslim regimes to deflect rage from themselves." 

But Eisler emphasizes this is not a question of identities such as Muslim, Christian or Jew: "Muslim fundamentalism is not a matter of religion; it's a matter of a top-down dominator culture, of strong-man rule, be it in the family or the state; the domination of the male half of humanity over the female half, and of the approval and  idealization of violence as a means of control."

She points out that partnership and domination are "two extremes of a continuum" and emphasizes that it's always a matter of degree.

She agrees with spiritual leaders who call for compassion and humanitarian action, but clarifies that what she is doing in her work is also very different. "We've been trying to teach people in this abstract way, preaching about it, since time immemorial. What I'm interested in is what can we do to create the conditions that will make it possible for people to express our innate capacity for empathy, rather than having to suppress that capacity.

"What are the conditions that make it possible for people to learn nonviolent and empathic ways of relating, rather than violent and un-empathic ways," she questions. "And what can we do to co-create these conditions?"

She points out living under the domination model is "very unpleasant; nobody really gets what they want, which is to get all the love, and give all the love that we want to. Nobody is able to really express our full creativity, our full humanity."

But people continue to engage in thinking and action related to the domination model because of the cultural beliefs and institutions that support it, she says, among them the family, the workplace, economic and political systems.

So while she appreciates many spiritual teachings, Eisler questions, "If we haven't managed in two thousand years to get them across, we've got to go further than that."

Eisler is calling for societies to build institutions "modeled -- not perfect, but modeled" -- on the partnership rather than the domination model, "beginning with the primary relations of parent and child, woman and man."

She is finding the inclination towards partnership to be "the most powerful movement in our world today. But it's more of a grass-roots movement, and there are very powerful institutional forces, and also within us a lot of the old dominator luggage, pushing us back."

As an example of modern societies that have "moved much more quickly toward the partnership model," she points to the Scandinavian world. "What you see there is the first peace academies, the first laws making it illegal to hit children; you see a place where women and men are much more equally represented in government. The status of women is much higher, and with this you see government policies that promote caring and caregiving." 

There is healthcare for everybody, childcare for everybody, paid parental leave, she reports: "These were all pioneered in the Scandinavian world. And you have not only much more representative democracy, and women aren't just token, but you have much more economic democracy: a much higher living standard for all.  They are not perfect societies, but there is a much higher quality of life for all because they are closer to the partnership configuration. It's there for all to see, once we know what we're looking for."

A smaller, more immediate exampleof partnership is featured in her new video, "Tomorrow's Children: Partnership Education in Action." The Nova High School in Seattle, Eisler says, is "in many ways a partnership school. For example, students sit on the committees that hire and fire teachers. The students are not the only voice, but they do have a voice. It's their education. And it's a violence-free school. A school where the kids get into the best universities, but it's also a school of social activists, kids who care."

This school has been using her work and that of others who are beginning to re-examine evolution. "So they are learning not just about evolution in terms of the survival of the fittest as survival of the meanest, which is how evolution is so often presented," she says. 

"They also look at the evolution of love, and at the fact that we humans receive biochemical rewards, neuropeptides, that give us a great deal of pleasure, not only when we are loved, but when we love another. This should be Biology 1A. We need to bring partnership education into schools, not just here but worldwide. Partnership education is education for a global culture of peace. And you can't have peace unless it is culturally embedded."

One of the key personal experiences in helping Eisler develop ideas of partnership has been her mother, who was a "model of spiritual courage," standing up to the Nazis, though she could have gotten killed.

Eisler writes about her life in the book. "I have worked a lot on myself," she says. But she has also found that doing that just isn't enough, and that we have to understand and also work to change "what holds us back in the culture and institutions around us. I feel a great urgency about this now. I want a better future for my grandchildren than what they  face. I passionately want this."

This is a "new genre of self-help book," Eisler says, "which shows that for personal transformation, you have to have cultural transformation, and for cultural transformation you have to have personal transformation. It's a 'chicken and egg' isn't it?  But the main thing that the book offers are simple, practical steps every one of us can take to create for ourselves and our children a better life and a better world."

Applying ideas of the book in both personal and social areas is not an either-or matter, she assures. "Because I meditate, doesn't mean that I don't boycott a company when it's using sweatshops. The two aren't mutually exclusive. Just because I work on what I call partnership communications, active listening, that doesn't mean that I'm not going to send money to an organization that is working to empower women all over the world, because that is one of our most effective interventions for shifting cultures that orient to domination rather than toward partnership."

She considers the chapter on spirituality to be of particular interest and importance. "I have shared my own spiritual journey in it," Eisler says, "and how we can untangle dominator and partnership spiritual teachings, so that religion can't be used against all that is loving and truly spiritual in us. 

"It shows how in the dominator model, spirituality is imaged and configured in ways that many of us are today trying to leave behind as something outside ourselves, beyond us, something that has to be superimposed on us to control an innately brutal, evil, human nature, something that we can only access through strict obedience to the dogmas and dictates of the men on top of religious hierarchies, and then only if we strictly obey their orders, and that if we don't, we will suffer enormous pain, either here on in some afterlife. 

"By contrast, in the partnership model, we find  spirituality as something inherent in all of us and in our larger world, something each of us can access directly, something that can imbue our lives with greater meaning and purpose, and yes, pleasure; something in which love, rather than fear, is central, but love not just in the abstract, but love in action. I firmly believe that part of our higher destiny is to put love into action by challenging unjust authority, by truly caring for ourselves, for one another, and our Mother Earth."

Eisler has found that partnership thinking is not yet impacting spiritual and other leaders enough to make significant changes. "No, I don't think it is yet, and that is one of the reasons for this book," she explains. "I want it to be a tool. The book has many examples of people, including myself, who once they started trying to change the 'big things' -- the things that have to be changed -- have actually been successful. 

"I know it from my own life, from how I have changed. And I know that if enough of us become partnership ambassadors, and act as partnership agents for change, then it can be done. 

"We can't do it by ourselves, but if enough of us do it, we change the cultural climate, and then the leaders follow."

~ ~ ~ ~


Riane Eisler is the author of a number of books, including "The Chalice and The Blade..." and "Sacred Pleasure..." She is President of the Center for Partnership Studies, and has taught at UCLA, Immaculate Heart College, and other institutions. 

Her contributions appear in many anthologies including the first World Encyclopedia of Peace, and journals including Political Psychology, The Human Rights Quarterly, and Humanities in Society.

~ ~ ~ ~

excerpts from the book:

1  Check List for Taking Action in the area of Spiritual Relations

Spend five minutes a day in meditative or reflective mode. Sit quietly, focusing on the sensations in your body, on your surroundings, and the interconnection of all beings and energy in the universe. Reflect on how all elements are in one great partnership -- interconnected in manifold subtle, mysterious ways.

Consider how partnership spirituality does not place man and spirituality over woman and nature.

Consider how the image of God as both Mother and Father expands and deepens our conception of God, and what this means for our day-to-day lives.

Promote partnership teachings such as honesty, caring and nonviolence as expressed in your religious tradition.

Collect stories from all religious traditions showing that being spiritual doesn't mean making no judgments or standing above political and social issues. For example, Jesus challenged the authorities of his time.

Form a study group in your church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious group to identify and discuss partnership and dominator themes as expressed in the stories and rules of your religion.

2   Contrasting the two possibilities for relationship:

Dominator Model:
High degree of fear and violence.
Authoritarian social structure: hierarchise of domination.
Ranking of male half of humanity over female half.
Myths and stories idealize domination and violence, and present them as normal.

Partnership Model:
Mutual trust and low degree of fear and social violence.
Generally egalitarian social structure: hierarchies of actualization.
Equal valuing of males and females.
Myths and stories honor partnership and present it as normal.

~ ~

originally published in Science of Mind magazine, March 2002

~ ~ ~ ~


The Chalice and The Blade: Our History, Our Future

Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body

The Power of Partnership

*Riane Eisler site: The Partnership Way 
"reshapes our relationship with ourselves, others, and our planet by taking us beyond conventional labels to a sustainable and fulfilling way of life. For our children and ourselves, building a better future is the most important work of our time."

*Creativity & Women columns / interviews

******* more*interviews

********articles*****articles [teen/young adult] more 

       *********resumé of Douglas Eby