evolve: How do you came to create this initiative Alter Ego?
Ronan Harrington: I find that an interesting question because I think the genesis of any major project is woven through our lives. The deepest experiences in our lives create the seeds from which our greatest endeavours emerge from. So, when I was four years old, my brother was killed in a car accident outside of our house and I was there when it happened. That was deeply traumatic. And I grew up in rural Ireland in the early 90s,there was no culture of true healing for that kind of traumatising experience.
Like all of us in our society, I developed a personality to cope with thatenvironment. And my particular way of coping was to be the special achievingone. I studied public policy at Oxford University, worked as a futurist for the British Foreign Office and later as a senior executive in a law firm, trying to bringabout organisational change in the business world. At the same time, I wasgoing through my own process of spiritual awakening, a deepening of my own journey of unravelling myself and understanding who am I.
What catalysed Alter Ego was my work in politics in the UK. I realized that the leftwas broken and that there was no vision beyond a modest neoliberalism. I feltthat we need something beyond politics, we need essentially a spiritualrevolution. Our vision for the world comes from deep, mystical experiences,where we really understand the sacred order of things. And yet, the process ofmanifesting that is the long, hard, daily struggle of politics. That's wherethat vision translates into institutions, rules and governance structures.
Alter Ego is an attempt to hold those polarities of spiritual vision and politicalchange, of love and power. In a practical way, it began in 2016 as a gatheringto bring a deeper analysis to the political moment and to describe whata spiritual politics could look like. Along the way, I had built a good networkof leaders in society through the different positions I had. And the ones thatI felt were avant garde and pioneering, I invited and we hosted 80 leaders fromacross Europe amongst them MPs in different parliaments, heads of think tanksor movements, thought-leaders and writers. The purpose of the gathering was both to try to articulate what a spiritual politics is, and to actually createa space for people to deeply experience that vision.
e: Can you say a bit more about the concrete work of Alter Ego and how it unfolded?
RH: As I said, on a very practical level,we organize gatherings. The last one was in Paris in September for about 40people. Each time we design an experience for people to encounter their blindspots and the limitations of their ideologies, or what we call ideologicalmicro-nationalism. With this I mean a belief that many people hold in politicsacross the board, particularly in progressive circles: »If only the rest of theworld thought like me and acted like me, the world would be a better place.«The problem is that everyone else thinks that you're wrong and morallydisgusting for having your version of the world. Because of that I advise leadersto answer this question: Who are you disgusted by? We want to bring awarenessto this massive ideological blind spot and create a safe, brave and honestspace to acknowledge these tendencies in each of us. We start building thatmuscle of honesty, of truth in order to create more enlightening discussionswhere you feel the juice in the room.
All of the people who come are on some level trying to give birth to a newcivilization. Many of them are also moving out of their old tribal affiliationsand are trying to operate in the space between tribes to be mediators, to find common ground between different worldviews and value systems
To support this we create crews for the activists to be in. The format is a groupof six, they meet once every two weeks. It's essentially a space to unburden, aco-counsel and co-therapy space. You can bring in whatever is troubling you and unknot it, you listen to others doing the same and you encourage each other.
I'm running Alter Ego with Richard Bartlett, who is a thinker and practitioner in many spaces, in particular onhow groups work and networks collaborate. His idea of micro-solidarity is theframework that we use. It's the idea that you can build real intimacy amongstrangers and that courage is a relational process: We encourage each other.
My bigger vision is that everyone in life has a crew. They have six people withwhom they can share their pains, struggles and dilemmas. To unburdenthemselves, to be seen, heard and witnessed. To encourage each other to live whateveris true for them, to grow out of ways in which they're limiting themselves orharming others.
Thatis the infrastructure that we need on a mass scale. But the real work is goingto be creating such spaces amongstpeople who have different values and beliefs and are on different levels ofdevelopment. We are not doing that yet, but in these crews we build the musclein order to be able to do that.
Without such an infrastructure, especially with the divisive influence of the internet,we're going to be a divided society. We need to build a new socialinfrastructure below the Internet in real life and online that connects peopleacross different worldviews. It's essentially the creation of a new publicspace, because there is little interaction with people who are different fromyou anymore, where you encounter them, exchange and learn. Through meaningful contact with strangers, who are not like us, we discover our shared humanity.
e: How to you orchestrate these Alter Egoevents to create such transformative experiences?
RH: Over the years, we developed the art ofprocess design for transformation: How do you design or facilitate a journeythat alters people's egos, deliberately?
Oneprinciple is that we embrace the paradox that we need sincerity, authenticityand connection. And we also need irony, we need a sense of the absurd. I'mreally interested in clowning and fooling as a doorway into greater openness. Letting go of the professional identitythat takes itself too seriously. When people can just drop and relax they'reopen to have the conversations they need to have.
Someof the practices we keep secret, because we go into a very liminal space oftransformation. So, we rather not tell people who come too much before thegathering. But we include everything from plenary circles and really intimatedialogues to blindfolding people and taking them into the forest. We docollaboration cafes where people ask each other deep questions. Or we use shamanic rituals and guide meditations.
e: How is your experience with the people whoare in this network? What do you notice is changing for them through thisprocess, this interaction?
RH: It's different for different people. Some people who come are already deep in this activist and spiritualcounterculture. For them it’s just finding another tribe to connect with. Butit also leads to lots of impactful collaborations. In our first gathering, founder ofthe Icelandic Pirate Party, Brigitta Jonsdottir, joined. Someone she met at the gathering, an activist from Sweden, became her campaign manager.
For other people, this is their first time encounter with this transformative work.The question they sit with is: How do I reconcile the parts of myself that I'mdiscovering in this space with my organization, my team, my family? The crewsare then a support system to deal with these questions.
e: When is the next gathering planned?
RH:We are planning a next gathering in September in Paris with open applications.Our events are highly curated. We spend a lot of time researching who is out there that we feel is doing important work. And we have reserved places for open application. There are always people that we haven't seen or thought ofwho end up becoming the most significant change makers or have the most transformative experience.
With our gatherings, we want to support leaders who we feel are making a difference.We want to activate their inner guidance system, this deep listening that showsus: Where am I being led? Where am I being called to serve? And we encourageeach other to trust that there's some greater intelligence which is guiding usin this process.