On gates you find guardians. Guardians determine what can enter or leave a system. Their role basically is to keep things as they are – to maintain the overall integrity of the system based on its centre, and to ensure that whatever is inside the system conforms to the central principle. The role of guardians is to ensure that anything entering a system from outside across a boundary outside conforms to the central principle. Simultaneously they make sure that what is within the system also conforms and behaves appropriately. Finally guardians may also act to prevent things leaving the system that might in some way jeopardise the overall functioning of the system if they were to leave.
An obvious example of guardian principle is a bouncer at a nightclub. Early on in the evening the bouncer is facing outward, on the door. As guardian their role is to ensure that only people who will adhere to the overall ethos of the club are allowed in. So, ‘no trainers mate’, or ‘you are too drunk / wearing the wrong sorts of clothes’. Later on the guardians turn some attention inwards and will eject anyone inside who is causing trouble or not acting as they should. Clearly different nightclubs have totally different central principles, and so while the guardian function remains the same, the actual qualities or behaviours they allow in and eject may be very different. This illustrates again that the Centre Edge principles themselves are entirely neutral. Guardians may uphold ethics and activities that we choose to judge as good or bad. Either way the principle of guardian remains the same.
Your immune system functions as a guardian. It attempts to repel or attack foreign bodies that enter your bodily system that may undermine the essential way it is functioning. Social emotions such as shame or embarrassment can also function in this way to uphold convention and social expectations. As we approach a threshold (boundary) where we are about to step into a new way of behaving, beyond what is considered normal or acceptable, we recoil through fear of embarrassment and shame. This is like a guardian of the social norm making clear what is and is not acceptable here in order to preserve the status quo. Of course if we do step over the socially acceptable boundary, we will certainly receive strong messages from the guardians of the status quo about how our action has been received.
Understanding the role of guardians in change and transformation:
Guardians become very important when we look at questions of change and transformation, since fundamentally their role is to maintain system status quo. It is important to see that this is a neutral function. For example I may be operating within a very limited and constrained (and false) view of myself. If I try to step beyond that, perhaps acting in a new way, although this may ultimately be very good for me in terms of my life journey and growth, the guardian of the current identity pattern will provide hundreds of good reasons why it is a bad idea to step beyond my current boundaries. Thus many forces of resistance and obstruction in personal or social change processes can be usefully related to as guardian energy. It is helpful to always acknowledge and respect this guardian energy and to recognise that it has a legitimate and important role in any system, even when we may wish to find a way past.
It is also the case that if we wish to step into a new mode of being, or if a team wishes to function in some genuinely new way, then the guardians of the new may demand certain old views, assumptions or behaviours to be ‘left at the door.’ It is simply not possible to enter into a new way of being with all our old identities, routines and habits intact. Thus moving into something genuinely new may have to be experienced as a loss, letting go or even sacrifice of some of what has gone before. Again, exploring guardian energy can help us understand through direct experience why change is so often so hard, as well as what may make it truly possible, in terms of some sort of shift or letting go in our own identity and approach.
Personifying guardian principle:
Guardians appear in one form or another in many old folk stories and myths. They can be gargoyles, sphinxes, keepers of riddles and secrets. They can appear as personified figures. Guardians can appear both friendly or demonic. Because of their role as preservers of the old system and gatekeepers to the new, they may look demonic and scary but actually be compassionate; alternatively they might appear friendly but actually be harmful to your true interests. A guardian might manifest as a whispering inner voice telling you not to take a risk, to keep everything the same. It sounds like it is looking out for you, but all it is really doing is guarding a current identity structure that may be no longer useful. In Centre Edge work we explore all these manifestations of guardian principle. Doing so adds great insight and understanding of questions of change and development in the personal, team and wider organisation sphere.