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Bill TorbertBill Torbert received both his BA in Politics and Economics and his PhD in Individual and Organizational Behavior from Yale. He served as Founder and Director of both the War on Poverty Yale Upward Bound Program and the Theatre of Inquiry. A professor of leadership and organizational transformation at SMU, Harvard, and Boston College between 1970 and 2008, Bill consulted widely, served on boards of directors, and published eleven books articulating and demonstrating the Collaborative Developmental Collaborative Inquiry meta-paradigm of social science. Since 2012, he and his associates at Action Inquiry Associates are devoted to creating coaching, consulting, and workshop activities that embody and further encourage the practice of collaborative, self-and-other-transforming leadership. See: Read more at bottom of page.
Hilary Bradbury Hilary Bradbury, PhD, is a scholar-practitioner whose work focuses on the human and organizational dimensions of creating collaborative learning communities. Hilary‘s own research is on personal integration as a key for advancing human capacity for collaborative organizing. She obtained her undergraduate degree in German/Theology at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and continued at graduate level at Harvard and University of Chicago‘s Divinity Schools. Hilary‘s work with action inquiry/action research originally took off in collaboration with Peter Reason. She has since edited three volumes of the Handbook of Action Research and serves the peer reviewed journal Action Research as Editor-in-Chief. Read more at bottom of page.

Reposted from with permission of the authors.

Eros/Power: Love under the Sign of Inquiry

Hilary Bradbury and William Torbert

To purchase and/or review a copy of Eros/Power use this Amazon link.
To learn more about the book or to register for a related workshop visit:
Eros/Power, Love under the Sign of Inquiry, Bill Torbert and Hilary Bradbury
Integral Publishers (November 10, 2015)

Hilary Bradbury and Bill Torbert have recently published a book - with the same publishing house as Marc Gaffni - that offers a transparent and mutual inquiry into their own relational oddnesses in seeking to practice love, such as others in the integral community may come to regard it as necessary to enact as part of their development toward integrity and mutuality. The book is called Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry, Transforming How Women and Men Relate and is available on Amazon. Not that they engage with the specifics of Gaffni at all (which neither Hilary nor Bill are especially familiar with). Rather, their entire book is precisely about bringing light to the dynamics that male authority figures like Gaffni perpetrate, even as women are challenged to sin bravely and inquiringly in seeking their own full voice. In their own "relational inquiry," Hilary and Bill begin to see the poisonous dynamics of sado-masochism, pathological seduction, and hyper-vigilant, invulnerable-independence… as a millenial betrayal of the creative potential between women and men. Read more at the book information page. The opening chapter of their book is offered here to bring their work to the attention of the integral cyber-community.

“Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life…”
—Mary Oliver

Our intention is to cultivate love under the sign of inquiry. By this we mean to practice inquiry in relationship where Eros and power intersect, that very place where hurts and disappointments are most keenly felt. Too often a screaming silence holds us captive at this very intersection where instead creativity, love, curiosity and openness could thrive. We therefore hope that more of us may practice relational inquiry, aiming toward mutual developmental transformation within ourselves and with one another. Eros, the creative, sensual, psychic life-force wants to be lived and liberated through and among us. Our offering here is part of the social evolution toward more deeply collaborative ways of living in support of collective flourishing.

But it‘s not so easy. In truth it seems we must first confront the impulse that runs through our species, the impulse to prey upon the weak, and not to hold ourselves accountable. Is this impulse the obscene secret to our ways of relating, so secret we keep it most of all from ourselves? Are women and men designed to create abusive, dominance/submission relationships? Are even good men designed to overlook the privilege they enjoy? Are too many women designed to exercise, or to enable, manipulative dominance? Is mutual erotic power and inquiry a fantasy? What sludge in the human heart must we confront in me, in you, in us, if there is to be an evolutionary, developmental transformation in how women and men relate, whereby power is subordinated to love and love to inquiry?

Our starting point is that we, the authors, are in this inquiry together. You are of course welcome to read about our relationship in a critical vein, but we hope you will also join us by using our stumbling efforts as a chance to begin reviewing your own very different, but-probably-also-stumbling efforts to learn how to interact lovingly, inquiringly, committedly, vulnerably.

Big fish eat little fish.

Yet the relational dynamics of women and men are, we assert, especially difficult to fully appreciate, all the harder to improve.

That things between women and men are getting better is certainly the case. We hardly miss the burnings at the stake, the Mad Men years of sexism. But it is sobering to grasp how culture shapes and scolds us. The Medieval era targeted women. A classic evocation of the deranged misogyny that fueled this era is the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches), a bestseller published by Catholic inquisition authorities in 1485-86. "All wickedness," write the authors, "is but little to the wickedness of a woman. ... What else is woman but a foe to friendship, an unescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil nature, painted with fair colours. ... Women are by nature instruments of Satan—they are by nature carnal, a structural defect rooted in the original creation." It‘s worth mentioning that this was hardly a marginal document. Enabled by the newly invented printing presses, it was one of the most available and important of church documents. An issue we take up throughout our own reflections is that as misogyny danced its dance with patriarchy it was not that men did not suffer. Nor were men the sole perpetrators. The stigmatizing, victimizing, and murdering of some 200,000 "witches" is most accurately seen as a collaborative enterprise between men and women at the local level. In the roots we may find the seeds of our culture‘s dance of cruelty and pleasure. But enough of long ago.

Former President Jimmy Carter‘s current book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Power, and Violence, emphasizes global inter-gender relations and shows us just how far short of mutuality they are around the globe today! We‘ll limit the numbing list now as it‘s just too much to also expound beyond the Western scene to the Islamic fundamentalist states and their legally enshrined abuse of women, or to mention Asian cultures of male privilege, much less to venture into the squalid revelations about the Catholic Church‘s predation on children. After all our only point in mentioning these things is to sketch a little background to our quest, namely to take seriously that inter-gendered dynamics, for all our talk of liberation and mutuality, remain horrific, and are, perhaps, a subset of an even more deeply ingrained predatory mentality likely etched in our DNA.

Cultures change. People change. This is why we no longer burn people alive in the town square (though atrocities hover on the margins of civilization the world over). Yet the relational dynamics of women and men are, we assert, especially difficult to fully appreciate, all the harder to improve. They are neither simple nor primarily “bad.” Such complexity may make it easy to overlook where we might be better off looking. We naturally want to celebrate the life giving qualities of Eros between men and women, including its lunar, transgressive play. But is the sadomasochism of Fifty Shades of Gray the best we can do? Our inquiry longs for balance, beyond the extremes of a policeman or pornographic mentality, in looking to the interplay of Eros and power in the relational dynamics of women and men. For this we must remember that power has many hues. Power is usually seen in its masculine form—hard, unilateral power with the ability to make someone do something they don‘t want. Feminism in particular has led us to see new forms of “soft power” which heals, provides space/time for, enhances, and grows all it touches—forms of mutual power that naturally require and encourage empowerment. So little explored are the mutual forms of power that they are widely unnamed in the popular and scholarly literature.

Hilary writes

Hilary Bradbury

Our book, an experiment in relational inquiry, is intended to encourage conversations about the dynamics of power and Eros in all our lives. We start with the account of Bill‘s and my relationship when I was his doctoral student. This relationship could stand in for many in which the woman is junior or subordinate. I too am queasy with such terms as subordinate, and describing myself as “his” student. Indeed in writing my account I realized this very aversion to acknowledging vulnerability that accrues to the one with less positional power, kept me essentially unable to properly look power in the eye.

If ours is a relationship with its origins in a well known power asymmetry, what is new is that both of us reflect on the relationship together, honest enough to note the centrality of sexuality and Eros despite our non-sexual relationship. So here‘s how we—first I, then Bill, describes our early relationship:

Hilary Tells: Our Meeting

Bill arrived in my life on the same date that I first visited the MIT Center for Organizational Learning whose work on transforming the workplace, like Bill‘s, would figure centrally in the rest of my professional life.

Working as a lowly office assistant at MIT at the time I had kept my eye out for seminars to attend as I considered how to get into PhD study. In the short term I was also desperate to escape the frighteningly dreary job of office assistant where I found my self amid frighteningly dreary office workers. My resistance to “fitting in” in this role was made pretty clear the very morning of Bill‘s seminar. My boss had asked, in her way that I experienced for weeks already as unilateral, intrusive and unwelcome: “How are you doing?” After all I never got to pop my head in her door. Well, I didn‘t have a door, I lived in the office drones‘ cubicle-land. And I had readily replied “Go fuck yourself, Marcia.”

Marcia, likely appalled at how her sweet question could provoke such a rude response, summarily fired me. So I followed in the revolving door of office assistants she‘d been firing for years. Humiliated on some level, of course, I was also quickly feeling happy that I could simply go to the seminar like the full human being Marcia clearly didn‘t appreciate me for. Harumph!

In retrospect I could be a little self-indulgent with my sense of being oppressed because I was not so concerned about money. My former boss, whom I called my pet tycoon, had given me a nice severance check. Better yet, my newfound location at MIT offered me proximity to the intellectual baubles that I hungered for. So I found myself on the way to a seminar that day.

I slipped into a seat beside a famous organizational psychologist, just as Bill took the floor. Bill, then Director of the Organizational Transformation PhD program at Boston College, was advertised as speaking on the issue of developmental stages of leadership. I recall that all eyes in the room frequently went to a gentle looking man, the leader-founder, who sat at the back and said little. The looks seemed to check what this gentle being‘s feelings and thoughts were before they offered their own. I recall how Bill was dressed. In a three piece suit, so very different from the MIT guys (I recall few if any women) who wore jeans and T-shirts. Bill was speaking about the paucity of leaders at the later developmental levels. That long ago afternoon, rudimentary self interest had me understand quickly that for happiness to live in the world, more people, especially those with control over the lives of others, must develop up the ladder of action-logics that Bill spoke about. I no doubt imagined that even the oppressive Marcia, who was rightfully offended by my disproportionate rudeness, might find value in inquiring, alone and with me, into her own responsibility as a manager to promote a healthy organizational environment. But what was the chance of that happening?! I certainly didn‘t know how to cultivate inquiry. Indeed by then, my rather elite philosophy education lent itself more easily to shutting down others‘ inquiry.

I sought Bill out after the seminar. In introducing myself, I let him know I would apply to the Boston College PhD program. I already doubted that a degree in linguistics at MIT (which I was also seriously investigating) would get me anywhere beyond what my philosophy degrees had, i.e., a rich cognitive understanding of the world but little meaningful action within it. In this I was experiencing the tension of moving deeply into cognitive understanding unmatched by capacity for integrating that into action that made a positive contribution to anyone. Bill, on the other hand, spoke of “action research” (an oxymoron with attitude I thought!) and offered stories of collaborating with people who affected how the world worked. I remember being impressed by his association with Joan Bavaria, CEO of the first social-environmental stock portfolio management company. I wanted to be where the action was too! Making the world better for everyone. Besides, the Boston College program had the best scholarships and stipends in town, ideally suited to an immigrant like me, still astounded by the price of U.S. education.

Bill‘s Halloween Party then comes quickly to mind. It must have been just after I settled into the PhD program of which he was director. I had had enough conversation with Bill to know that he loved Halloween and the degrees of freedom it offers for self-expression. I dressed as “accessory girl” covered with all the jewelry and accessories I could find, beg or borrow, from plastic to expensive baubles. I enjoyed Bill‘s friends, one more eccentric than the next.

I remember the evening so well precisely because I came so close to blacking out. I recall drinking way too much of Bill‘s expensive Scotch, knocked back with a sense of celebration: “yay, I will get my PhD after all!” And for reasons only the universe is privy to I started to entertain the entire room of strangers with my interpretive rendition of Melanie Klein‘s theory of projective identification.

Huh!? Good god, I did an interpretive dance. My subject matter was Melanie Klein‘s theory of group dynamics, which I was likely studying at the time. Her theory suggests we strive, unconsciously, to induce ‘the other‘ to become the very embodiment of our own unconscious projection. Being egocentric, we tend to forget that the other is doing precisely likewise. I have been fascinated to consider that the universe plots to bring projectee and projector together. But none of that mattered in my Scotch logic which somehow allowed me feel that an interpretive dance among strangers would be perfect. I believe it now when I hear women take off their clothes and dance on the tabletop. I understand it also when I hear young college women get obstreperously drunk at college parties. The slight difference is that I left my clothes on and danced out complex psychoanalytic ideas. It all comes back to me with a great big smile. I recall the lovely floor length silk pleated skirt I wore and how it twirled so nicely around my bejeweled arms. After some gentle applause I simply wandered off.

Less of a smile as I next recall sitting on Bill‘s white tiled bathroom floor willing myself not to throw up. I have a strong will. And then I was lying on a bed in the master suite (which I noted, as it seemed odd to me, there were a number of smaller beds arrayed around the room—Goldilocks style). I recall Bill sitting beside me and asking if there was someone he should call to inform about my whereabouts. I replied “it doesn‘t matter now.” I do recall giving Bill a back-rub on bare skin after he removed a black T Shirt. Had I offered? Had he asked? I certainly thought that giving back-rubs (which strikes me as a very American-hippie thing) is perfectly OK to do. Isn‘t it part of our Bonobo, in contrast with our chimpanzee, genetic heritage, which leaves us with Bonobo preferences for sharing food (and sex) with delightful abandon. Perhaps I even offered my theory that we all live in a slightly depressed exile from our original Bonobo Eden. The pull we must feel to their fun, less stressful patterns of interaction amid our mostly uninspiring social norms. But my wisdom about Bonobos no doubt lasted longer than the grooming activity itself. I blacked out. There was no sexual contact between us then or ever.

Next day I awoke with a throbbing head to a note written in the beautiful cursive script that began with the anachronistic “Farewell.” I panicked and could hardly continue. I understood the term to imply “goodbye forever” and therefore that I was out of the Ph.D. program. I had disgraced myself as a drunk (with no extra credit for not throwing up!). I trudged home to my husband. Yes this wayward fool had already married. On receiving a friendly follow up phone call in which Bill did not appear to disapprove too much of me at all, I finally relaxed. Despite my disgraceful-meetsliberated behavior the director of my PhD program seemed to maybe even like me! What a huge relief. And another big smile.

Bill Tells: Our Meeting

William Torbert

I met you, Hilary, at MIT‘s Sloan School of Management in 1992. I was speaking to and with the organization behavior department that afternoon, with such luminaries as Peter Senge and Ed Schein in attendance. Soon you were working with Peter at the Organizational Learning Center, which later became the Society for Organizational Learning. Nine months later you were also in the Boston College Organizational Transformation PhD program, taking Qualitative Research Methods with me.

What I learned only twenty years later when you retold the story of our meeting to someone else as I sat by is that the morning of the day I met you, you‘d gotten yourself fired from your previous job, and were therefore that afternoon as much at loose ends as at any time in your life of international exploration in the six years since you‘d left Ireland at 17 for Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Texas, and now Cambridge. To me, in spite of being about twice as old as you at the time and of incalculably higher status (! : ) ), you seemed a dazzling presence of blond, blue-eyed, Nordic beauty, smiling friendliness, and self-assured intellectuality. (I think we got our mutual connections to Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty straight at some point during our 90-second conversation after the talk, as I was leaving.) I cannot remember how often you came to see me at my home that spring and summer—certainly three or four times—in what had been the theatre of the old elementary school building before it became my condominium, with the one large bedroom where all three sons and I slept on weekends. Unlike any of our other doctoral students, you had read European philosophy and theology. This was part of the the erotic attraction for me. So was how you carried on conversation: namely, you spoke as a peer—maybe sometimes a little superior!—certainly never as the inferior!

What I remember as the first day and time we‘d agreed upon (it may have been to celebrate your admission to the program), I opened the door, there you were, dressed very fetchingly like a little girl in a mini-skirt-toutou, with your hair braided on each side (a hair style I‘ve never seen you choose again), bursting with delight at our meeting, and offering me a little bouquet of spring flowers just picked. In you danced and pranced, rapid-fire philosophical conversation entertaining and entraining us both, with me experiencing more ongoingly the crush that had begun at MIT a few months before.

(I hate the word and the idea of a teenage “crush,” but when I am fully honest I have to admit I‘ve experienced an early intensity of excitement again and again in relationships with certain women, like my mother in intelligence and humor, since my mid-teenage years. Only recently, perhaps as testosterone relents, have I gained enough genuine distance and calm in relation to my feelings to fully experience when the ‘crush‘ neurons start firing, as they still do on occasion.)

The departmental faculty had started the PhD program a few years before, and I was now its Director. I had quickly learned that developing a true friendship, where both persons feel fully mutual, is an even more dicey proposition between a PhD student and any departmental faculty member (but most of all the PhD Director) than it is between say an MBA student and a professor. This is because the PhD student and professor have committed to the same profession, so the student may realistically view himself or herself as in an especially long-term state of relative dependence on the professor‘s good will. (And, of course, the professor‘s career is also at stake in a climate of heightening awareness of personal rights, political correctness, and lack of mutuality.)

Not that there was no danger of my acting on the strong attractions I felt for you. From my point of view, you acted provocatively in general—e.g. your dress and manner on that first visit to my apartment, wearing what seemed to me a provocatively-emblazoned black t-shirt to one group ‘playday‘ I hosted that summer, your easy talk of being in a marriage that also helped secure your green card, while simultaneously feeling a strong allegiance to Ram, your French paramour (your preferred term), and a general sense of liberation with regard to such unconventional matters. So, also, did your getting drunk at my place seem, so drunk that you spent the night after everyone else had left the party.

Hilary Tells: Our Work and Play

Bill, I got to know you by first working as your unpaid research assistant. Early on I met and became habituated to the stuck energetics that would perplex and chaperone me for many years when dealing with you and indeed many men at a similar power distance.

I arrived one humid summer‘s day wearing a favorite skirt. I recall it even now, for its lovely pale yellow and deep cut and because it was by the French couture house, Lanvin, made affordable at the then marvelous Filene‘s Basement in downtown Boston. I flopped on your couch, talking no doubt “ninety to the dozen,” as we say in my native Dublin, meaning I talked with great velocity, volubility and passion. I simply loved our meetings. But quickly I became aware of how you were not listening to my words but only noticing the way my skirt had fallen open. As the depth of the couch had taken me off balance, I recall I joked “hey you need to buy more Puritan furniture.” But instead of feeling beautiful in a beautiful skirt, as I had started out on my day, I now felt awkward. I tried to “cover up.” But what was somehow more than the apparent awkwardness was hard to adjust for. And I felt uncomfortable under your distracted-from-our-conversation-gaze. I kept my hands on my covered knees as though auditioning for guidance in an Amish community. I felt I had done something wrong. I was just not sure what.

Another day, soon after, I again felt awkward. And again I said nothing—this time as you licked me from the V of my T Shirt along the face to the side of my forehead. A great lickedy-lick. As I disengaged a little shell shocked, I pondered what had happened. My mind was a little dazed but I decided that it was a benefit to both of us that you could give yourself permission to act as you wished. Someone should feel liberated around here! And I vaguely wondered, could a woman, a female professor possibly express herself similarly? What would that look like anyway? But without looking too closely I felt (no, I hoped) that perhaps, at least around the edges, I also had permission to just be a more relaxed self too? Besides you had been smoking pot, as you often did when we spent time, so I allowed you more degrees of freedom. As someone who grew up in an alcohol-positive culture, this did not strike me as a bad thing, only a little naughty. It even felt vaguely emancipatory despite my personal aversion to mind altering drugs (well OK, except for Scotch at parties!).

Unbelievable as it is to suggest now, and as confounding as I now know it was for you, Bill, I never consciously entertained the idea that you might be attracted to me. I was, however, aware that I should be more guarded, disciplined in my self-expression. Though perhaps, I hoped, that I could at least relax intellectually…? Needless to say given my lack of integration of feelings and intellect, I never mentioned any of this, even to myself. Perhaps I sensed the narrow, moralistic vocabulary available to me from Ireland for discussion about sexual matters would appear too judgmental. And perhaps feeling intellectually partnered with you meant allowing you to do as you pleased and my becoming complicit in that. At least one of us wouldn‘t be squelched. Not feeling stymied and stifled, longing for liberation, was always a keen aspiration of mine. Yet, crucially, I was not consciously complicit. Unfounded feelings of complicity may ultimately prove as limiting as your overstepping of physical boundaries.

Twenty years later I see my naiveté and the pattern of evoking male (sexual) interest without explicitly wanting it. Was I naïve to think I could be a little ball of Eros and not have to deal with the response? Would taking responsibility for my erotic impact result in stifling myself in domains other than only sexual? Was it all my responsibility? Eros, too precious to stifle, was kept in shadow, and had remained unintegrated through adolescence in the unusually puritanical environment of Dublin. Was it sim ply then in my self interest to remain consciously oblivious of my own impact? Not that I denied my femininity. It was simply unintegrated. In truth I had no role models surrounded as I was by most men, frumpy intellectuals or non-intellectual Belles.

But I was unwilling to “dowdy down.” I would not pay that price. So I simply left it all there, unintegrated. In a way my feminism allowed me permission to express my being a woman as I saw fit. In this way, my feminism then was morphing through my own development into young adulthood (which included a punk stage replete with purple hair and a winsome “fuck patriarchy” attitude). Then as now I felt a great camaraderie with the gay community, who suffered corrosive shaming in the Ireland of my youth. In marching on gay parades, I had felt courageous if a little out of place with the call and response “we‘re here, we‘re queer, get used to it!” But wasn‘t I, albeit unconsciously, seeking to establish that a beautiful woman could work and play without having her Eros become suffocated: “I‘m here, not so queer, get used to it!”

I am still reflecting on this very important topic. Rereading the term “shell-shocked” I was reminded of recent work on everyday trauma which when triggered leads to voicelessness. Indeed I had become dazed and quiet in response to the ‘lickedy lick.‘ To over simplify, I have come to realize that there were two selves present. One who sought emancipation and therefore saw you, Bill, as my role model (“someone should feel free around here”). But there was also a much younger self, one whose vulnerability was very much in shadow. Indeed my entire personality at that stage had developed to wall off all vulnerability, or at least to protect this vulnerable aspect, perhaps most of all from my conscious self. This much younger persona had developed in response to the trauma of my childhood. In truth both selves were present, but the voiceless one was not conscious. Besides I was also troubling to find my own liberated expression, (“how could a woman possibly express herself similarly”). A man‘s and a woman‘s erotic power are not the same. There are few role models outside the entertainment industry for women who teach the power to “bewitch.”

This is the dangerous power that caused so many women to be burned at the stake! Indeed the power of a woman‘s glamor remains overtly trivialized by our culture (“dumb blonde”). How indeed might a young, intellectual woman consciously avail of erotic capital as a ‘glamorous‘ woman? Has men‘s notorious inability to share attention intelligently between their brain and their genitals led to a denial of women‘s erotic power along with blaming and shaming her for men‘s unease? Even harder to speak about is that women‘s erotic power is also often deeply resented by other women. In this way we may pretend to be a sorority of equals. Yet we are also conditioned to enact power as a zero sum game, i.e., if you have it, I don‘t, so I have to get it from you or collude with you to enjoy it. Feminism—ironically often misunderstood as women seeking power over men—has promoted an entirely different conversation, namely about a new way of living and working together as partners with equal power. This conversation, so new in human history, steps outside exploitative relationship altogether. But it is hard for the previously underpowered to come to power with grace and ease. We have few role models and plenty of undigested projections. Our unconscious evolutionary inheritance leaves us skeptical and fearful. Yet as our species is as capable of collaboration as it is of combat, I have to trust that we‘ll figure it out. Women, with men, together.

What perhaps I have been avoiding is to come clean and say that I felt no romantic attraction to you. I encountered you as an aristocratic yet paternal figure—not that I ever much talked of interesting things with my father. Ironically, you and I spoke of Foucault—whose work on sex and power was so compelling to me. We had discussed my Master‘s thesis comparing his work with that of feminists such as Luce Irigaray and pondered the relationship between myth and critical reality. And I recall being taken aback by your much more concrete question about my own marriage relationship. Not that you shouldn‘t ask, I just couldn‘t answer. I could lecture, and perhaps did, on all the reasons a woman should not be monogamous. But only in abstract terms. Yet with you who understood me intellectually, or so I felt, I did not feel comfortable bringing my full self to play. I realize now, of course, that my full self was not then available to me. It is the privilege of a lifetime to become oneself. In the meantime you was a partner to me in the unfolding privilege. This had always been too rare. Nothing is more precious.

Feeling the possibility of real contact with you, I did not, indeed could not, put into words that in addition to the intellectual delights we shared, I also felt sexually controlled and trapped by “your” patriarchal gaze. In retrospect I see also your entrapment in patriarchy. It was not your fault that you caught me in your gaze. Nor could I feel into how much this control gaze threatened to leak into other areas that would threaten how we related in general. This is the domain of the subtle kinds of sexual harassment which results in so much female energy being subverted toward self protection and therefore away from creative collaboration. What a waste! Until then, I related to you, or at least wanted to relate to you, as an intellectual partner, and not a lickedy-licking one either. I appreciated you, appreciated our time, enjoying that time together. That is until I took your doctoral seminar.

Our transformative undoing started in a qualitative methods seminar. In a seminar that I felt overemphasized one paradigm, action research, too little mentioning the other, better known research paradigms. I became annoyed and then furious to have my time wasted. Your course was not especially well structured in any conventional sense. If I were generous, but I rapidly lost any willingness to be generous, we could say you invited a participative approach to co-create class structure. Your way of working, however, was so different from how your institutional peers taught and we had yet to take qualifying exams,whose outcome would determine scholarships and scholarly futures. I felt it necessary to learn qualitative methods in a way that would be evaluated by others. So I became loudly furious. Indeed we both did. I recall how red faced we‘d become in class. I believe I shouted. I left no stone unturned in my expression of disdain for this way of teaching. I advocated and agitated. I built stakeholder support (a key skill for action researchers!). In the hothouse politics of a PhD program, people took sides. What a quiet mess I fomented. I had no idea until writing this that I likely displaced my wrath at feeling “unseen” (by which I probably mean seen in an unintegrated way that felt demeaning to me and yet was how I saw myself!) by a man I admired. In retrospect, and perhaps because the universe likes to mock us until we are ready to learn, I see now that I acted out my wrath much as I had with the “oppressive” Marcia on the very day we met. The hurt went much deeper through as I felt doubly disappointed. I felt you capable of seeing me and broadening my horizons and then apparently choosing to reduce and constrain me. Unfortunately I was not aware of any of this. For years.

Only recently have I come to understand that men‘s wounding in patriarchy leaves them unable to fully own their sexual feelings. And thus women and men remain estranged even as we seek to grow close and find ourselves living and working in closer quarters.

In practical terms this meant that after the end of our seminar you and I did not speak. Because the dance of Eros is so complex this was not a black and white matter. I really missed you! It was obvious in the departmental meetings that you often chaired that your energy and meeting design was so creative. I wanted to avail of all this, I wanted to learn with you. To break the ice, I finally offered an apology for all the upset I had caused. I did feel that my apology was received and, more importantly, a softening could begin between us. In time this allowed us to meet again as peers. In the meantime, we warmed sufficiently for me to invite you to join my dissertation committee.

Overall in your presence I felt as smart and seen as perhaps ever by a teacher figure till then. I was hungry both for the affirmation and the input of a mentor I admired. I admired especially your smoothness with different types of people, your capacity for coordinating significant action that made a difference. How ironic that I would and did simply overlook the stuckness between us. I, the great lover of truth, could not tackle it with any grace or ease. Besides I did not yet know how to understand that stuckness. There was no technique within my reach at that time, which in retrospect would require me to bring a great deal of vulnerability to the inquiry. That would not come for decades. Feeling warmth at least flow between us once again felt most important. Bill you opened the way to my becoming the editor of a bestselling, but more important, domain-defining Handbook of Action Research. Your favorite research paradigm, one I had fought you over through the long semester of our discontent, became my life‘s work too! It informs our inquiry here. In recent years we have, finally, once again, reached toward the original potential of our friendship by becoming intimate colleagues. This time we are not bypassing the difficulties. This time we must talk about what has passed between us. Because we know we do so not just for ourselves.

I know I long to inquire more into our early mis-attunement and perhaps to do so with other women and men who also care deeply about this delicate but essential topic. Warren Buffett says women are the key resource for the next economic surge, but only if those women start to see ourselves clearly. He writes to his friend, Katherine Graham, editor of the Washington Post, now deceased, that she must look beyond the “fun house” mirrors that lead women to see themselves through men‘s distorted gaze. In my story I sense my lifelong longing for the integration of Eros with intellect in friendship. And so I see us today as fated in this inquiry now that twenty years have passed. Life wants us to explore this matter, by looking calmly and with love at the difficulties we played out in seeking to honor Eros.

Bill Tells.

You have reminded me that I too acted provocatively toward you during that earliest time period, once greeting you, when you arrived at my apartment, with not just a hug and a kiss, but a lick that meandered from your collarbone to just below your ear. But you seemed to easily walk around this comic gesture, and I made no further advances of this nature. For I felt very much self-guarding in your presence in general, given that you were in the process of becoming a doctoral student in our department and one whom I regarded as having great intellectual potential, as well as pragmatic savoir faire.

I was excited about the small, four-student, first-year PhD Qualitative Methods course that I was teaching that fall, primarily because I looked forward to a high level intellectually and spiritually transforming experience with you. But I was also excited because the other members of the course seemed very promising as well—a woman from McKinsey who was already highly committed to work of my mentors Chris Argyris and Don Schön, and two others, a woman and a man, both very bright and seemingly self-confident.

Very quickly, however, the course became the most difficult conundrum of my teaching career. Indeed, it became the only disaster from which we (the class as a whole) couldn‘t recover by the end of the course (indeed, the disaster is that we couldn‘t create a ‘we‘ to begin with, nor a sense of responsibility to the ‘whole‘). The woman whom I‘d counted on as an ally in examining the impact of our own actions upon others… turned out to be defensive to any direct feedback, unaware of the gaps between her espoused values and her actual practice, and possessed of an Asperger-like attribute of distracted and distracting silence alternating with pedantic monologues.

The most pragmatic of the other two—and my only quasi-ally in making subjects discussable and then offering interesting and illustrative comments, as well as emancipatory inquiries—left school altogether in the middle of the semester to go into business with his wife. I rued losing him each class thereafter.

You, to my complete shock, quickly began to speak almost pure European-postmodern-critical-philosophy, with attacks on all versions of conversational analysis and feedback about our impact and influence on one another as forms of Foucauldian panoptycon-itis, along with direct attacks on me as manipulative and untrustworthy. You saw it as illegitimate for me to teach, under the title of Qualitative Research Methods, a combination of qualitative research (autobiographical writing, analysis of recorded conversations, surveys of the class), and action research (feeding the findings back to the class members and experimenting with new ways of interacting).

This line of strong attack, class after class, had (I believe, based on talking with her in the months and years afterwards) a significant influence on the last member of the course, a woman who had in fact had an experience as an undergraduate with a manipulative, group-dynamics professor. She came to join you in opposition to many of the exercises or conversation topics I proposed, until just before the end of the course, when one of our class conversations somehow made her realize she‘d been projecting her former teacher on to me, and that I was actually acting differently and more constructively and trustworthily.

At the end of the course, and for several months thereafter, I felt quite deeply hurt, indeed kind of abused by you, as strange as that seems given our relative positions in the institutional hierarchy. I remember that I felt very angry and critical toward you as a cold, defensive, narcissistic, intellectualizer for a time. It took quite a while before – shining a more accepting, less presumptive light of attention in meditative moments upon the matter of the class and our relationship—the knowledge that I had not acted wrongly, but rather had come into the class with falsely optimistic expectations of how our encounter there would go—would root out much of the hurt, heal much of the wound, and make me a wee bit wiser in the future.

Although we had said a few of the right words to one another at the end of the course, thus leaving open the hypothetical possibility of further conversation in some as yet unforeseeable future, I don‘t think either of us actually expected anything further. We were perfectly collegial when our paths crossed (as they did more than with other students because of our joint involvement with Peter work at MIT), but we had no one-on-one get-togethers that spring, nor the following fall.

As I remember it, it was not until a year after the course ended that you asked for a meeting with me. Once we were walking the wooded path around Cold Spring Park, you very quickly came to the point of offering an obviously heartfelt, honest apology for how you had acted the year before, leading into a long conversation about our analyses of what had occurred. The important and immediate outcome of your apology was to heal most of the rest of my wound and to transform our relationship yet again.

What had started as a poly-annishly, polymorphously-perversely positive relationship had, first, transformed into what I experienced as an adolescently counter-dependently negative relationship during the course. Then it transformed again into an inwardly-active, but distant-from-one-another reflection by each of us during the following year. And, with your apology (and my full acceptance of it and readiness to start again), our relationship transformed to a much more nearly adult positivity. Over the following years, we talked deeply and easily: You becoming my research assistant and helping invent/discover the developmental model of scientific paradigms… Me helping invent bits of your award-winning dissertation action research project… You completing it successfully in what is to this day in the program re mains the shortest time ever… Me suggesting to Peter Reason that he co-edit the first Handbook of Action Research with you rather than with me… You and he doing such an outstanding job with that first big opportunity…Quite early, I would say, you and I came to a strong foundation of shared vision and related practices of inquiry (you more yoga-ish and Zen-ish; me more aikido-ish and Quaker-ish, in terms of our 1st-person forms of research).

In the years since our teacher-student relationship, you rose rapidly to various peaks within the profession (including editor-in-chief of the journal Action Research and promotion to full professor). Thus, you have become my peer in formal institutional terms. I was able to meet with you in 2012, with enough time and privacy for a further softening and emotional vulnerability to occur between us.

When we first exchanged our (different!) written stories about our relationship, we both gave “OUCH” cries by e-mail and Skype, and asked to have a face-to-face talk, including a third, mutual friend, we both trusted to facilitate our listening, our hearing, the clarity of our speaking, and our self-questioning of our own premises. What I did not yet understand, in spite of our writing to one another, were two facts: first, the simple fact of your not being at all physically attracted to me in spite of your ostensibly flirtatious actions; and second, the more complicated fact that my being physically attracted to you, as a minor aspect of my overall attraction and assessment, had made you feel so awkward, unconsciously self-protective and then, in due course, destructive (and I say this with great respect for the destructive, Kali-like force).

I first began to allow in the thought that you were never sexually attracted to me only a little more than a year ago at our Community of Inquiry‘ Retreat, when our mutual friend was helping us speak together. At first, when you declared your earlier (and continuing) lack of sexual attraction to me, I experienced a strong negative feeling toward you. For perhaps a minute or so I felt angry because it seemed to me, not that you were lying, but that your mind must have been out of touch with your embodied sensation at the time. Then, in a brief flash, I felt kind of betrayed that you couldn‘t make your lack of physical attraction clearer to me at the time. But, at that moment, what I had since learned of your whole story as we moved into this joint autobiographical effort leapt back into my mind. I could see how, telescoped into the terms you introduced me to (“childhood ambivalent attachment style,” “oral self reliant”) and your reflections on your imprinting on an early erotic relationship with your silent, German professor, these elemental qualities of yours interacted with my own preference not to differentiate too sharply among intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual intergendered attraction.

No blame of you. No blame of myself. Only sentimental regret that we did not generate this intimacy of mutuality earlier on. Why couldn‘t your delight in dressing and ornamenting yourself not have met my nurturing delight? Why was your fear of my rapaciously “consuming” you more figural than your erotic sharing of yourself? In the projective identification dance that you began in my home, I now recognize more than conscious and rational overtures. I am a man after all. I come prepackaged with patriarchal privilege. You seemed to me to carry your own self-generated privilege. I could not recognize it as partly a defensive invulnerability. I did not know you brought already a lot of harassment at the hands of men that was not so easily put aside.

One significant part of my joy at this point in our relationship is in experiencing you become a true peer of mine, both professionally and in terms of personal friendship (and I am now far subordinate to you in efficiency, efficacy, and work-capacity). I feel this in contrast to my very close relationship with my closest academic mentor (Chris Argyris) when I was in graduate school and after. Although he and I appeared very peer-like so long as I played the student or second-fiddle role, he never seemed able to treat me as a peer once I began developing theories that, while relying on his work, also went beyond it.

Another part of my joy in our colleagueship and friendship today is in experiencing you developing additional relationships of depth within our wider Community of Inquiry and creating projects that involve more of our membership in the practice of the work of a similar flavor with the relational inquiry we experiment with here. Indeed, we have both just played key roles in a workshop on the topic of “Finding Mutuality: Inquiry into Eros and Power.” Other friends have offered us feedback on a previous draft of the book from which these edited excerpts are drawn, and we all received extremely challenging feedback from one another about how the interplay of our distinct egos and distinct relationships are contributing to or endangering our development as a community of inquiry.

At the same time, in this writing back and forth to one another, we are both realizing anew that each of us has been hurt more deeply by the other, or, rather, by the way we ourselves have taken the other in and interacted in the past. We have each been hurt by the degree to which each of us has been more vulnerable and more unable to speak about our feelings for longer than either of us imagined. You, I think, have been shocked that my early erotic attraction to you was not only intellectual, conversational, friendly, and developmental, but also sexual; and learning that my attraction was also physical jeopardized your sense of my overall positive regard for you. I, by contrast, have always prioritized the other aspects of our friendship and have felt positively about how restrained I have been in my behavior toward you (oh okay: except for the famous lick!). I have also believed that my passion for inquiry in conversation, my passion against using power unilaterally contrary to another‘s interest – and in particular for testing carefully whether we (the persons engaged) share a commitment to whatever direction of action we are about to take—all learned through thousands of hours of analyzing recordings of meetings in which I was a participant, as well as five decades of dealing with episodes of organizational and relational transformation—together supplant power asymmetry with mutual power. Now I see that while all that may be movement in the direction of mutuality, it may also not dissolve all deep feelings of power asymmetry.

As you were shocked by my attraction, I have in turn been shocked at your profession of lack of physical-sexual attraction toward me way back when… when your vivid conviviality seemed impossible to me to interpret otherwise. Gradually, though, I have digested the notion that I tend to develop a generalized crush on some women whom, like my mother, I find delightful intellectual companions and conversationalists. In such cases, I presume the generalized erotic attraction between us to naturally include a sexual element, when that aspect may very well be only an aspect of my own “crush,” yet whose potential for ‘disappearing‘ the feminine voice, especially when I hold greater institutional power, had not been so apparent to me as it has now become because of our relational inquiry here. Or at the least it‘s all a much more complex experience for a young woman juggling historic powerlessness and newfound freedoms for which she has not received mentorship. Indeed only now do I sufficiently understand that you emerged from a(n Irish Catholic) system of biologically enshrined deference to patriarchy that has offered little to women but erotic shame, ignorance and servitude. As you have also suggested, in the light of these reflections it seems all too clear how far short of fully being able to surface our feelings about one another in conversation we then fell. And I am gradually coming to see, just in the past two years or so, how rare it has previously been for me to talk this issue all the way through and accept that a woman whom I love and who also loves me in many ways may not also be attracted to me sexually. (I‘ve just had a short series of e-mails, essays, and conversations in much this same vein with three others of the women in our Community whom I‘ve also known for many years.) To come to this realization only as someone aged seventy may sound both sad and comic… as it indeed is. But it is also erotically liberating in that it allows me to focus the erotic engagement I still can feel into kinds of touch, emotional intimacy, coleadership, and intellectual exploration that we—whichever we I‘m immanently engaging with—mutually desire.

Hilary responds:

Far from sad or comic I am deeply touched by this truth speaking between us. You were an older, more powerful man whom I wanted to flatter. At the same time I deeply desired to be seen by you, without realizing that it was in the eyes of teachers that I could best intuit my own capacities. I have now come to believe something that is entirely unprovable; we somehow chose one another to stop a pattern of relating that though subtle in its expression between us falls well short of our deeper aspiration, namely to love consciously and enhance mutuality. I feel that aspiration comes home in your sentence which touches me so much: “Why couldn‘t your delight in dressing and ornamenting yourself have met my delight?” Indeed why couldn‘t Eros arrive on the wings of angels as a benediction to all and not be seen as something that invited “taking”? I say that knowing that such “wings of angels” provoke an almost ridiculous contrast with what for many has become a “policeman mentality” that has so overtaken the erotic space between boss and subordinate, PhD student and advisor. We are now encouraged to think in wholly black and white terms about when sexual intimacy is allowable. In the meantime consumption of pornography grows exponentially. Eros is exiled. This exile that diminishes us all might even be bearable as a culturally transformative sacrifice if the policeman mentality had not also fallen far short of its own aims, namely to create safety from which mutuality and creativity can flower between women and men. Unfortunately, to the contrary, an erotic desert has emerged in which we all suffer, while sexual harassment, which has little to do with Eros, and may well be its very opposite, continues. Predation by the powerful or resentful (we harken here back to the era of witchhunting) on the powerless continues entirely unaddressed, merely sidestepped. But neither you nor I see much in black and white. Our invitation here is to advance beyond that. With you, some part of me wanted from the start to break free of our evolutionary, gendered conditioning. Yet I felt vestigial self protection as a young woman simply must in the presence of a man‘s patriarchal-sexualized gaze. And unbeknownst to both of us, certainly it must have been hard to tell when I was yelling at you, we became willing partners in liberating ourselves from this all too common, millennial old dance between senior men and junior women. Until we could become peers.

Hilary and Bill: Reflecting Together.

The erotic quality of friendship usually varies between the pole of remaining unnamed and unexplored, on the one hand, and the pole of being acted upon in a conventionally sexual way between two persons, on the other hand. We the authors have very, very gradually discovered through our own lives—and in the most recent years within the retreat practices of our Community of Inquiry, that a qualitatively different, less-easily-envisionable-and-enactable third way of engaging the erotic quality of friendship can be discovered. This path is not new. It is as old and as rare as Tantric Yoga, the Gurdjieff Work, the Diamond Work, or the Shambhala Path. This path is one of inquiry and contemplative intimacy, not just alone, nor just between two persons, but also in the wider container of real-life, third-person communities of inquiry. It embraces myriad forms of expression other than the directly sexual. It is a path equally open to those practicing celibacy, monogamy, or polyamory. Yet it is rarely the path taken by any of us.

We have gradually become less interested in the common phenomenon of “falling in love” and more interested in the uncommon but miraculous experience of “rising to love.” We have come to aspire to be in erotic friendships in which: 1) we (the parties) engage in some kind of shared interest or activity; 2) we feel a surging toward one another (which does not have to include sexual attraction); 3) we wish to become more intimate; 4) we make a commitment to develop the relationship and ourselves; 5) we passionately yearn for the other(s), but do not seek to control or possess them; 6) we experience ourselves as on a quest together, quest-ioning as we interact what actions increase our loving mutuality; and 7) we recognize the significant role of the “third” in any love relationship—the mutual friend or community of inquiry. The promise of the third is to provide a critique for our actions, as well as support to face into the critique, along with a container or chrysalis or womb within which we may transform and rebirth ourselves.

Authors Bios

Hilary Bradbury, PhD, is a scholar-practitioner whose work focuses on the human and organizational dimensions of creating collaborative learning communities. Hilary‘s own research is on personal integration as a key for advancing human capacity for collaborative organizing. She obtained her undergraduate degree in German/Theology at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and continued at graduate level at Harvard and University of Chicago‘s Divinity Schools. Hilary‘s work with action inquiry/action research originally took off in collaboration with Peter Reason. She has since edited three volumes of the Handbook of Action Research and serves the peer reviewed journal Action Research as Editor-in-Chief. Today, in support of practitioners and educators, Hilary co-convenes AR+, a virtual community for participatory action researchers. AR+ nurtures global interactivity through online meetings and working partnerships between scholars and practitioners: Having started her professional academic career in 1998 she became Professor of Management in Oregon‘s Health Sciences University (OHSU) in 2012. Today Hilary is also Visiting Professor of Action Research for the Business School of Lausanne in Switzerland and active with her executive coaching and action research consultancy, Integrating Catalysts. She practices collaborative living with her family and serves on the boards of cooperatives in her adopted home of Portland, Oregon.

William R. Torbert received his BA and PhD from Yale, then taught at Southern Methodist University, Harvard, and Boston College, where he is now Professor Emeritus. An award-winning teacher, international consultant, board member, and author of a dozen books, Bill currently serves as Principal of Action Inquiry Associates. His publications include the Terry Award Finalist book The Power of Balance: Transforming Self, Society, and Scientific Inquiry and Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership (BerrettKoehler, 2004), as well as Seven Transformations of Leadership, selected in 2012 as one of the top ten Harvard Business Review leadership articles of all time. In 2013, he received the Center for Creative Leadership‘s Walter F. Ulmer Lifetime Award for Applied Leadership Research, and in 2014, the Chris Argyris Career Achievement Award for his work on Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry, an inclusive paradigm for both social science and social action.

Advance praise

“To explore beyond the obvious means we need new pathways and a new vocabulary. Hilary and Bill offer us new pathways … They are not showing us the right way to be in relationships…they are offering us a new vocabulary for making sense of some of the relationships we may well have had… The erotic friendship—which they define as compassionate (in your mutual spiritual interest in the other‘s life and growth), dispassionate (in your mutual intellectual engagement of some sort), and passionate (in the spark or charge between you— which may or may not be consummated in any way). Jennifer Garvey Berger, Cultivating Leadership, Author Changing on the Job and Simple Habits for Complex Times.
In sharing such intimate, personal narratives, Hilary and Bill undertake a conscious de-robing of themselves that is as risky and uncomfortable as it is inquiring and compassionate. At times, this makes for some difficult reading. But we would be doing them, and ourselves, a huge disservice if we were to engage with this book at a purely voyeuristic level. The book is nothing if not personal and political. - Patricia Gaya, Ph.D., Center for Action Research, U. Bristol.
This book is a marvelous invitation to love and be loved. It‘s not for the timid. Hilary and Bill take us from a place of innocence to a place of eros where all taboos are broken, while leading us into a soulful inquiry about what love is and why it matters. This book charts the sexual revolution, and yet takes us much further. It‘s all about sexual evolution and the next phase of human consciousness, in which friendship, love, work, and altruism weave together into an ecstatic, thoughtful, and deeply caring vision of life well lived.”—Chuck Palus, Ph.D., Senior Fellow Center for Creative Leadership.

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