Updated: Oct 31
Inequality and oppression are perpetuated (at scale) by our socio-political systems. The conscious and unconscious bias that pervade the way we lend, invest, hire and compensate, police, educate and care for each other is well researched and documented. In fact, the neurophysiology of our unconscious fear of and bias toward the other is known to us and can be measured with biomedical devices.*
This all makes sense when you look at the neurophysiology of our humanity. As fancy primates, our survival depends on staying in the troop, especially when we’re young. As such, our central nervous system is fully integrated with our immune system and threat system, via the vagus nerve, which has 2 branches:
The ventral vagal branch, for when we’re safely connected with other people. In this state, we are not only emotionally healthy, our blood pressure, respiration, cardiac rhythm, immune function and digestion function normally
The dorsal vagal branch, for when we become disconnected from or are threatened by others, which prompts us to fight if we are bigger than the threat; flee if we’re faster, or freeze if we can’t fight or flee (our only option when we're young
As a result, even if we have healthy and safe connections within our family of origin, if the systems in which we live oppress us, marginalize us and disenfranchise us, we are forced to live in a chronic state of dorsal vagal activation, which wreaks havoc on our immune system, cardiac function, reproductive system, digestion and central nervous system.* As such, racism, homophobia and economic inequality are not just morally and karmically wrong, they're a form of biological warfare. And, it isn't just the lowest ranking primates who suffer. Studies show that maintaining alpha male status in primate troops leads to poorer health outcomes than coming in second place. Safety is not having power over others, it's knowing that you're unconditionally loved and accepted.*
By the age of 3, 85% of black and brown children will choose a white doll over a black doll: Why? "Because she’s smarter, she’s prettier, the black doll is ugly, the black doll is bad." This is the exact same result that was seen in the 1940's, when the original experiment was conducted.* Not only is being in your dorsal vagus unpleasant emotionally, it wreaks havoc on your brain and body, especially during the developmental process from conception to age 26. The resulting cognitive, emotional and behavioral programming is a survival adaptation that is wired into the brain and body through repetition. Emotionally, that may lead people of color to experience chronic anxiety. Physically, this stress may manifest as asthma, an autoimmune disease or type 2 diabetes. Over time, these diseases of chronic trauma shorten life expectancy significantly.
By the age of 2, a little boy who is neglected or receives negative feedback when he cries will have no reaction when his mother leaves the room, while a child who’s natural attachment is accepted and soothed will begin to cry and search for her. If you put a heart rate monitor on each boy, their heart rates will both skyrocket when their mother leaves. By the age of 2, the boy who’s learned that his emotionality isn’t ok has already disconnected from it. Emotionally, this may translate into chronic depression. Physically, this may manifest as hypertension and high blood pressure short term, which may turn into heart disease or stroke, long term.
Health is balance and inequality, homophobia and racism perpetuates imbalance. Individually, the higher your adverse childhood experiences (or ACE score), the higher the likelihood of developing long-term health problems like heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. If you zoom out and compare societies, there is a direct, inverse and casual relationship between income inequality and 200+ health outcomes, including longevity.* As such, despite having the most expensive health care system, the United States ranks last overall compared with six other industrialized countries—Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—on measures of quality, efficiency, access to care, equity, and life expectancy.*
LGTBQ youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, a behavior that correlates to how accepted they are within their families and communities of origin.* As Peter Levine so eloquently puts it: trauma is not what happens to us, it is how we're held by society afterward. As such, we must both dismantle our binary articulation of sexuality and the systems that support it; and, create safe places for individuals to heal from the damage already done.
Because being an "us" versus a "them" is critical to assuring safety in the healing process; Lichen is structured to counteract inequity, restore balance and assure representation and inclusion to the extent that the greater systems in which we operate allow. Because we understand that safety is critical to healing, and that there are layers of privilege around safety,* Lichen:
Delivers reparations to oppressed and exploited social systems and ecosystems, who know best how to deploy those resources to foment holistic healing
Empower restorative healing within local social systems & ecosystems, which takes as long as it takes
If/when they feel ready, invite restorative healing between social systems & ecosystems
Each community knows best what they need to heal. Lichen is here to procure and distribute resources and expertise that constitute the how of getting it done. Innovations are shared across the network, allowing different communities to learn from each other without interfering or colonizing. All donations are transparent, but what funds are needed where and how they're used is determined by the community. As best practices and learnings from local communities are shared back to Lichen Central, the breadth and depth of our expertise and infrastructure will diversify and expand, providing efficiencies and best practices for communities who join the network as it expands.
Health is balance and inequity is unhealthy for all, even those who appear to be benefitting from our hierarchical, racist, sexist, homophobic, patriarchal and unequal in how resources are distributed. As such, 50% of applicable funds raised to support populations of privilege are redistributed to healers and organizations serving underprivileged populations. This ensures that rebalancing equity is operationalized from day one, not just once lucrative initiatives in high income areas become profitable. In addition, facilities in communities of privilege maximize space utilization and service revenue to buoy areas of great disenfranchisement. All profits over operating costs pour into a central fund, which sends money to centers that operate from a deficit in under served communities.
Justifying imbalance in the pursuit of restoring balance is not a part of our culture and operations. Lichen does not expand its local portfolio of support, until all centers within its current network are operating in a sustainable and equitable way for practitioners, communities and clients. Annual fundraising is estimated to cover any delta between operating costs and revenue within the entire network. A surplus fund is kept to avoid instability and stress across the network. When there is enough revenue to justify equitable network expansion, a new high SES and low SES community dyad is established and Lichen sustainably expands.We model giving ourselves permission to each do one human’s worth of the change we want to see in the world, as that’s the only way it will happen.