A: "Most of my work is about building bridges."
Me: "Ah! I'm actually writing about this. What do you think it takes to be a bridgemaker?"
A: "I don't know, but I'm terrible at it."
July 2023 – Puyanawa indigenous village, Amazon Rainforest (Acre, Brazil)
Reading time: 9 minutes.
This is part 2 of this series. You can find part 1 here.
No matter how many conversations I have on this topic, the pattern is clear: bridge-making = struggling.
When I looked it up in the dictionary, "struggling" as an adjective is defined as: "striving to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance."
It resonated with me. But it also felt incomplete.
Because, as bridgemakers, sometimes what we strive to achieve or attain isn't another state or thing to reach – it's to bring together parts that are separate. Or, as I like to call it, to hold the tension between what might feel like opposites.
This struggle seems to be a two-part equation:
1. there are separate parts, and
2. we hold them together, dealing with the tension.
The more I continue my inquiry into the life and traits of bridgemakers, the more I learn about the many ways in which we seem to experience that struggle.
And while I consider the ability to hold the tension the key trait of bridgemakers, the conditio sine qua non – the indispensable ingredients for that to even be an option – are the existence of separate fronts or things, and the way we relate to them.
That is where the struggle seems to start.
And that's what I want to dive into today.
By definition, any bridge making exists because there are separate parts – which could or should connect, but don't seem to do so on their own.
As I started to look more closely at these separate or "opposite" fronts, one thing became clear: it's not the existence of those fronts that is necessarily a source of struggle. The struggle for bridgemakers starts with the way we perceive those parts and depends on the way we relate to them.
From there, many doors opened – each bearing a question, and each pointing to a specific dimension of bridgemakers' struggles. And, therefore, to specific things one can do to deal with them.
Let's dive in.
1. Are the separate fronts external or internal?
In other words: as bridgemakers, are the struggles we experience about opposites that exist in the external world, or our internal one?
The more conversations I have about this, the clearer it becomes that for most people the struggle (and the whole bridge making journey) starts within.
It begins with acknowledging that two or more traits, fronts, contexts, or cultures co-exist within us. Sometimes, they don't seem to co-exist anywhere else. These "opposites," in other words, are first and foremost internal.
They might exist in the outer world too, but our struggle starts within – when we become increasingly frustrated, challenged, or confused about how to deal with them.
2. Do we hold judgement or shame about those separate fronts?
Research shows: yes, very often.
Since we often perceive these "opposites" to co-exist only within us, we just as often seem to feel confused or even ashamed about them. We feel we're the only ones standing in-between those specific worlds.
The judgement can arise from not being able to explain how such different worlds can co-exist within us, when they are so far apart or even antagonising in the outer world.
We can also experience shame or guilt, especially if we intellectually don't resonate with one of the sides, we don't agree with their values or don't share the way they act upon them. Yet we (at least partially) belong with that front, which can lead to a great deal of inner conflict.
3. Do we always know how to connect those separate fronts?
Again, research shows: no, not really.
If we harbour judgement or shame about the fronts that co-exist within us, chances are that we first go through a prolonged period when all we try to do is to edit out parts of ourselves in order to fit into one of the sides – whichever we are exposed to at a given moment.
This type of struggle is tiring. Ultimately ineffective.
Personally, I don't consider this to be "bridge making" yet. I see it as the phase in which we ponder whether we want to accept that we exist in those in-betweens and what we want to do about it.
That, to me, is different from bridge making – which I associate with a more intentional set of actions to connect those fronts. First within, then outside.
At the same time, it's key to note: no intentional bridge making has ever started without this first step of inner wrestling.
I'm sure there are more questions to explore, but if we look at the ones above we can see how they all confirm one key principle:
We can't possibly connect externally what we don't know how to connect within ourselves first.
It's only when we integrate those dimensions internally that we can intentionally build bridges out in the world – bridges capable of healing those divides because we did it within ourselves first.
In my experience, that's when the "holding the tension" part starts – which, as we'll see together, seems to be an ongoing, never-ending journey.
As I was exploring the questions about bridgemakers' separate fronts, there was one that above all really struck me.
"Why are those fronts separate?"
At first, I found this question silly.
But then I had to acknowledge that, along with the struggle, many bridgemakers experience a sense of injustice or lack of logic when it comes to the divide between fronts or cultures in the world.
Sometimes, that's even how we discover we might be bridgemakers in the first place. Because those worlds co-exist (at least) within us, their separation in the world can feel illogical, almost absurd. Even hurtful.
As if something is out of place.
"Why are those fronts separate, or even opposed to one another in the world? Do others see them as separate? Does anyone else find this absurd?"
As I looked at these questions, my immediate inner answer was:
it doesn't matter. You do.
Maybe there are other people who see the same separate fronts, and feel like those gaps could be bridged. Probably. But in my experience – it doesn't matter.
You see it or find it absurd – you feel that those parts could obviously connect and come together. So maybe that is yours to do.
And this pointed me to what feels like a key bridge making practice: to shift our focus from asking "why is this the case?" and trying to identify the cause of such separation, to asking "why am I noticing this?" and focusing on the invitation.
In nature, situations provide the context we need to feel provoked, invited to express our unique function, our essence. So perhaps whatever you feel is fragmented and could clearly come together is what is yours to connect.
That is your bridge making opportunity, or invitation.
I hope you go for it.
There are countless fronts of fragmentation and divide in the world. Perhaps for each of them there's one of us.
See you in Part 3.