IVR exercise: Positive cycling defeats negative cycling – the story of Daryl Davis

If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.

Dalai Lama XIV

“Why I, as a black man, attend KKK rallies | Daryl Davis”

This video is a beautiful example of the influence that one individual can have on another, who is caught in an awful pattern of negative cycling. We can take many important lessons away from Daryl Davis, a Black man, who used positive cycling to influence and ultimately defeat the negative cycling of Roger Kelly, former Imperial Wizard of the KKK.

I would encourage you to make an exercise of watching this video. Keep in mind that America is caught in a state of co-dependency when it comes to the issue of race. By using that term, I mean that progress towards healing the racial wounds in this country seems (at least to me) to be more-or-less stagnant. Or else, progress is happening far slower than it ought to be. We know there is stagnation (co-dependency) due to the strong negative emotions so many people have about the issue and the divisiveness it creates. Now, remember that co-dependency is only a milder, more complacent version of negative cycling. Co-dependency is not healing.

Test your understanding

After watching the video, try to answer the questions below to see how well you understand the difference between negative and positive cycling. Do not make any assumptions about the men. Stick to using evidence from the video to answer these questions.

  • What is Daryl Davis’ primary goal in engaging with Roger Kelly?
  • What lessons can we take away from Daryl Davis’ approach to speaking with and eventually befriending Roger Kelly?
  • What feelings of cynicism do the people in the video experience? How do they respond to those feelings and eventually overcome them?
  • How do we know that Daryl Davis is using positive cycling as opposed to negative cycling?
  • How do we know that Roger Kelly is caught in a pattern of negative cycling?
  • Does being a member of the KKK automatically mean that a person is caught in negative cycling?
  • How does Daryl Davis’ engagement with Roger Kelly change Mr. Kelly’s views over time?
  • How do the two men connect in terms of shared values?
  • What work is each man doing through the process of their meetings?
  • How does the relationship between the two men change over time? How do their feelings change?
  • What can we take away from the video to help us heal a racial divide over time? What lessons can we use to heal other divisive issues unrelated to race?

My take

I will focus on a few key takeaways that can be applied when attempting to alter patterns of negative cycling. Before I get started, I must share the personal note that Daryl Davis has a superhuman level of courage, patience and other admirable qualities. As a white man, I could not have done the incredible feat that he accomplished here. And so, the expectation should not be that people need to be superhumans like Mr. Davis or martyrs for a cause. Luckily, most of the everyday examples of negative cycling that people experience are not as challenging as what Mr. Davis has contended with. And when we do contend with extreme examples, we aren’t solely responsible for undoing the wrong that’s occurring. We’re only responsible for doing our part. Let’s learn from Mr. Davis’ brilliant example and apply what he teaches us in our own lives when battling negative cycling.

Let’s break down what Mr. Davis does into a few manageable steps that we can emulate.

  1. From the start, Mr. Davis focuses on improving his own personal understanding rather than some alternative agenda.
  2. Mr. Davis doesn’t try to fix the issue of race in his discussions. He doesn’t try to convince Mr. Kelly that he is wrong in his beliefs. Instead, the focus on mutual understanding creates an atmosphere of psychological safety by which the men can talk respectably to each other. Mr. Davis allows Roger Kelly to come to his own changed realization about race over time. Mr. Davis’ only job was to focus on his own understanding.
  3. Through his actions, Mr. Davis inadvertently pulls Mr. Kelly out of his comfort zone–out of his old but familiar ways of thinking. Mr. Davis’ shift towards positive cycling is a byproduct of Mr. Davis’ positive cycling. Mr. Kelly adopts Mr. Davis’ healthy behaviors over time. Mr. Davis doesn’t push or manipulate Mr. Kelly in any particular direction. It is the gravity of Mr. Kelly’s healthy behaviors that inspires and attracts Mr. Kelly to reciprocate.
  4. While negative cycling is easy, positive cycling is (morally) attractive. Even the most irredeemable individual is open to change if given the opportunity. Mr. Davis never gives in to cynicism and succumbs to the belief that Mr. Kelly is irredeemable. Instead, we can assume that Mr. Davis recognizes Mr. Kelly’s openness to change as is evident in the fact that he was willing to speak with Mr. Davis on the difficult subject of race.
    • Unfortunately, it falls upon the responsibility of the person (Mr. Davis) engaged in positive cycling to do the majority of the work, at least at first. Over time, as the person stuck in negative cycling (Mr. Kelly) begins to understand the (moral) attractiveness of positive change, they will start to share in the load.
  5. Mr. Davis uses Identity-Values-Reflection (IVR) principles to engage in positive cycling with Mr. Kelly. Whether this was done as some type of deliberate (conscious) strategy or if it was all done instinctually is beside the point. We can see these principles at work in the video.
    • Mr. Davis engages on the subject of Identity by asking the important question: “Why do you hate me when you don’t even know me?” This question is simple, yet powerful. In this question, Mr. Davis recognizes the extreme identity disconnection that occurs in racism. He exposes the absurdity of the feelings that Mr. Kelly has towards him.
    • Mr. Davis engages Mr. Kelly in shared values of patience, curiosity, mutual respect and willingness to listen to each other. These shared values form the basis of their relationship, which grows with time. The values take on a life of their own and eventually supplant Mr. Kelly’s previous, disastrous ways of thinking.
    • Listening is the core mechanism that bridges the divide between the two men. Rather than judge Mr. Kelly for the feelings that he has, Mr. Davis expresses genuine curiosity and desire to learn.
  6. The outcome of the many meetings is that the two men eventually bridge a previously impossible chasm. They connect together as human beings. Both men realize they are not so different after all.

Healing cycle

Mr. Davis engages Mr. Kelly in a healing cycle. This cycle is an excellent example of how to heal incredible disconnection between two people. The cycle involves three core values: understanding, respect, and listening.

Understanding is the purpose of their conversation. The two men decide, from the outset, that they will have a relationship based upon understanding each other.

Respect is the first value utilized. The two men shake hands. Respect is a boundary value that becomes the foundation upon which their relationship can sit. Mutual respect provides the two men with psychological safety. They can safely speak their minds without fear of judgment or ridicule.

Listening is the bridging value that brings the two men together over time. Listening allows for understanding. Listening is the glue that binds their shared humanity.

Understanding, respect and listening. These three core values are the lifegiving ingredients–the sunlight, oxygen, and minerals in the soil–that permits their relationship to grow.

More thoughts…

Negative cycling is all too easy for any man to fall prey to. Unfortunately, the devastating impact of negative cycling is felt disproportionately by certain groups in America, especially Blacks. It is terrible, and there is a lot of work to be done to undo this. The burden for healing these wounds should not fall on Blacks alone but on everyone to do their part.

Racism is only one example of negative cycling. Negative cycling is a trap of habit just like alcoholism. It is counterproductive to judge people caught in the trap. Instead, it is the duty of knowing individuals (of all races, religions, political affiliations, etc.) like Mr. Davis to exercise critical values in difficult moments. Mr. Davis does not wield his values like a hammer or machine gun, blasting Mr. Kelly with them. Instead, Mr. Davis uses his values surgically and thoughtfully. As a result, we can see their demonstrated effectiveness. Mr. Davis is a hero for what he’s accomplished. The rest of us don’t have to be that heroic, but we are obligated to help.

This probably seems unfair that Mr. Davis has to take the initiative and do the majority of the work. Let’s try to understand the story another way. Imagine that Mr. Davis recognized, somewhere through the course of that first meeting, that he had a friend in Mr. Kelly. That friend was buried deep inside Mr. Kelly’s subconscious. The friend had been silenced a long time. He was drowning in a turbulent storm of hatred and negative cycling. Remember that when a person is drowning, they will grab onto anything to save themselves; a person will even drag their own children down with them in desperation. And so, this friend was terribly desperate.

Being the person involved in positive cycling, Mr. Davis not only knew how to swim already, but he had a life preserver. It was through their many meetings that Mr. Davis was able to offer the life preserver and rescue his friend who was otherwise buried deep inside Mr. Kelly. Eventually the friend felt safe enough to come out. And so, we see here that it was not a transformation from hatred to friendship that occurred. The friend inside Mr. Kelly had been there from the start. He was hard to see and hard to find. But I would imagine that Mr. Davis’ inner elephant–his subconscious mind–recognized the friend early on. This is probably why he saw value in continuing to meet with Mr. Kelly and why he summoned up the courage to go to Klan rallies. Mr. Davis may have been doing it for himself, but he was also driven by the compassionate need to help a friend. This need is probably what sustained him over the years to continue engaging with Mr. Kelly and to maintain his patience. Without that friendship connection, if he only wanted to learn about the KKK, he could have easily gone and interviewed dozens of different Klan members. But that’s not what he did. He stuck with Mr. Kelly through the difficulty of it all. He allowed patience, kindness and listening to defeat cynicism. He found a friend on day one. And though it took years, he rescued that friend from hatred and fear.

It is truly a beautiful story.

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