The Deeper Dynamics of Violence and Racism. Otto Scharmer

Helio Borges
7 min readJun 11, 2020
Architectures of Separation and Connection. Picture, Presencing Institute.

So, when you look at all these three forms of violence and these three blind spots together, they lead to a cycle of trauma, and self-destruction, which is exactly what we see going on right now, not only here, but also in other parts of the world.

The Gaia Journey

This is the 11th week of the Gaia Journey. Today, 5 sessions are taking place, three in English, one in Spanish, and another in Portuguese. Toni Moya at the piano receives the attendants to the third English language session hosting Tyler Norris. Earlier in the day, the same team, including Otto Scharmer, held two more sessions with Martin Kalungu-Banda at 10.00 am, and Melanie Goodchild at 12.00. Additionally, there will be other sessions held in French, German, Dutch, Japanese, and Chinese languages during the rest of this Inhale week. In total, they convene seven thousand people from all over the world, who are working in change initiatives for the wellbeing of their communities.

The Gaia Journey. picture, Presencing Institute

At 8.00 pm, Antoinette Klatzky makes a visual review of the 11 weeks and introduces Otto Scharmer with these words. “As I speak from New York I notice that as much as we are going through this pandemic, maybe because we have been able to pause, we have been looking at some of the systemic injustices like institutional racism, and we are looking at what that means for the USA and for the world. For that, I pass on to Otto who will continue framing our current moment.”

Our Collective Heart Broke

Otto Scharmer spoke with a somber tone, making sense of the current situation of unrest in the USA and the rest of the world, which had been sparked by the assassination of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer two weeks before.

“The last two weeks have been really difficult and whenever you see a country, a continent going up in flames with protests in more than 150 cities across the nation and across the world, we know, we feel that something much deeper may be broken, and something more fundamental may be at stake.

While the Covid-19 situation that we have been contemplating earlier felt like a significant shift, it opened our eyes to all the levels of interdependency and how we interconnect with each other and with all beings on this planet. In many ways, it felt like the opening of the mind on the level of the collective.

The last two weeks, however, felt different. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, and our collective experience of watching these killings, has resulted in a profound shift. A shift that not only impacts how we see the world but a shift that impacts how we feel, how we are connected with each other. In many ways, it felt, I think, to me and to many of us, that our heart broke. It broke down and it broke up. Something melted away that maybe before kept separating us.

Presencing and Absencing. Picture, Presencing Institute

So, I want to invite us before we move into the session to explore these deeper dynamics. You may remember earlier this distinction between Presencing and Absencing, the two different places we can choose to operate from. The place of opening our minds hearts, wills, or the place of the freeze reaction, closing our hearts minds and wills. When we double click on the upper half here, what we see playing out right now are three different forms of violence and racism.

Three Blind Spots. Three Types of Violence

Direct Violence

The first one is Direct Violence. That is 8:46, the weigh minutes and forty-six seconds that the police´s knee was on George Floyd´s neck. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds of a brutal killing. Which is on consideration, a direct continuation of 401 years of slavery and racism against black people in this country. So the first blind spot that I notice in my own perception, has to do with not fully seeing the unbroken continuity of police brutality throughout the past 400 years resulting in a distancing to what actually is happening, a shade of ignorance, of doubt, relative to the real situation on the ground. The killing of African-American people by police is not new. What´s new is that now we have smartphones so that we all can see it with our own eyes.

Blind Spot 1. Direct Violence. Picture, Presencing Institute

Structural Violence

The second level is the Structural Violence. Structural Violence is not the knee of the officer on the neck of African-American people, but it is the knee of collective structures and arrangements that have led to shocking levels of inequality in terms of wealth, income, health coverage, economic opportunity and democratic participation — the issue of voter suppression. This knee has been for four hundred and one years on the African community´s neck. Thus, the second blind spot that I noticed on my own perception, has to do with something that I see, but I don´t feel. Yes, we all know about the disturbing levels of inequality and the issues of structural violence and institutional racism, but, did I really feel it? Did I truly empathize with that? And maybe here too I am not the only one noticing that now. Noticing my own role and participation in othering, in distancing myself emotionally from something that is happening.

Blind Spot 2. Structural Violence. Picture, Presencing Institute

Attentional Violence

The third form of violence and racism has to do with Attentional Violence. Not seeing another person and their highest future possibility. An example of that here in the United States is the educational system, that gives vastly different education opportunities to different groups of people. Our countries with the most advanced educational systems like Finland, offer free quality education for all and shift resources for the more disadvantaged. Here in the US, we are busy doing the opposite, shockingly different levels of educational opportunities stacked according to levels of income and privilege. in short, the current US education system works very much like a cast system, cementing, rather than opening up the different layers and classes. So, the third blind spot has to do with the following:

While the first blind spot is not seeing, and the second blind spot is seeing but not feeling, the third blind spot is seeing and feeling but not acting. This issue has to do with a frozen will. It means being frozen by fear, or fanaticism, leading to depression in the case of fear, or destruction in the case of fanaticism.

The Cycle of Trauma and Self-Destruction. Picture, Presencing Institute

So, when you look at all these three forms of violence and these three blind spots together, they lead to a cycle of trauma, and self-destruction, which is exactly what we see going on right now, not only here, but also in other parts of the world.

The Architecture of Connection

What is it that we can do to transform this pattern of violence and self-destruction towards healing and wellbeing for all? The upper cycle of Absencing is based on the Architecture of Separation, which is where we distance ourselves from each other, from ourselves, and also from nature.

Architectures of Separation and Connection. Picture, Presencing Institute

Whereas the lower cycle of Presencing is based on the Architecture of Connection, that leads to:

Cultivating Unconditional Witnessing, that arouses us to truly Seeing reality as it really is.

Unconditional Love to truly Hold each other in difficult times.

Unconditional Courage and Confidence, Supporting each other to realizing our highest potential.

That is basically what we are trying to do together here. Creating these deeper containers for healing and for connecting with our highest future potential.”

The rest of the session continued with the intervention of Eva Pomeroy showing the results of the action research on the Gaia Journey, and the participation of the special guest Tyler Norris. You can see the complete recording of the session here.

Note from the author: It is truly remarkable that after 11 weeks of an impromptu Gaia Journey, speaking in three sessions every two weeks, interviewing special guests in those sessions, attending innumerable staff meetings of an eight languages journey carried out by volunteers, which is planned on the run, Otto Scharmer is capable of producing every time, all the time, new and deep insights that shed new light on the current world situation and map a path forward towards a better future for humanity.



Helio Borges

Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges