You Are Us, Gareth Gwyn. Austin: River Grove Books, 2023.
Summary: An account using case studies showing how self-understanding and inner work allows individuals to become leaders in healing polarized relationships.
It seems we are in a time of unprecedented polarization around politics, racial and sexual identity, religion, and socioeconomic status. Often, we feel these divisions are so deeply embedded, the wounds and grievances so great, that bridging those divides seem impossible. Gareth Gwyn, the founder of Let’s See Labs, an organization that develops media on various platforms and offers workshops “that facilitate sociocultural transformation” through work with individuals who become leaders in transformative cross-cultural relationships.
Gwyn traces our polarized relationships to the experience of inner trauma that often draw us into social identities of reaction in which we blame the pain on “them.” We act out of our trauma, even while being disconnected from it. Transformation results when a person, often in the presence of unconditional acceptance, is able to recognize the inner wounds and traumas that have led to looking at the world through a lens of hate and “us versus them.” The book uses several case studies (accessible as online videos through QR codes in the book) to show this transformative process. For me, the story of Scott, a former KKK member deeply alienated from his own family, who had a transformative encounter with a black man at a rehabilitation center, was the high point of this book, leading to a process through which Scott experienced inner healing and became a reconciliation leader.
The book moves from our inner healing to a posture of responsiveness that claims the freedom over our emotions and the choices of action in response to them. Recognizing our own worth, we recognize that of others. We face how we have contributed to polarities, even to our own victim status, while fully grasping both the role of the other and developing awareness of that person’s own wounds. We gain freedom both to embrace and move beyond our identities.
My only struggle with the book is that the author assumes a familiarity with the vocabulary of “inner work” which may feel like in-group jargon or “psychobabble” to some. Some explanation or translation of this terminology might help more effectively make the important case this book makes to a wider audience.
Gwyn’s book seems to illustrate an important idea articulated by Fr. Richard Rohr that, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” The cover art represents this transformation. It reads, “You Are
Either With Us or Against Us.” As people do inner work dealing with their pain, Gwyn believes that we see how the other is actually “us” leading to the beginnings of bridging divides.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher through Speakeasy