Showing posts with label responsibility. Show all posts
Showing posts with label responsibility. Show all posts

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Blame, Responsibility, and Care

Aung San Suu Kyi's response came from within herself and her Buddhist tradition
by Miki Kashtan

One of the core milestones on the path of consciousness transformation is the moment when we can fully integrate the radical awareness that our emotional responses to the world and to things that happen to us are never caused by another person. This awareness stands in stark contrast to our habitual speech, which states that we feel what we feel because of what someone else did. Instead, we learn, if we apply ourselves deeply to this practice, that our emotions are only caused by the meaning we assign to what someone did, and that meaning is generated from within us, not by the actions.

How We Create Our Experience

The version of this path that is specifically taught as part of training in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is the idea that our feelings emerge from our needs. For years, I was teaching NVC in exactly that way, naming feelings as caused by our needs, categorizing them into those feelings that arise when our needs are met and those that arise when our needs are not met. Over time, this neat package became more complex, as I realized that whether or not my needs are met is, in and of itself, an assigned meaning to what happens rather than some “objective” reality that is “given” by what happens. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

When We Want People to Change

by Miki Kashtan

Recently I heard from one of my friends about the challenge of dealing with a 15-year old who was using curse words at the rate of two a sentence. My friend, let’s call her Jenny, was very distressed about this, and wanted my help in figuring out how to get this behavior to stop.

This got me thinking. It was evident to me right away that if the same behavior came from her partner, she would have responded differently, and even more differently if this were a neighbor, a co-worker, a supervisor, or a staff person she supervises. What varies, I realized, is the nature of the relationship, not the effect of the behavior itself. In each type of relationship we have some belief about whether or not we have the “right” to expect a behavior change from the other person.

Jenny knows me well, including what to expect of me in terms of my parenting philosophy, so I knew she would be open to hearing my very radical views about parenting. So I shared with her my own memories, from very early on, of how I wanted to raise the children I thought I would have (before deciding at 17 that having children was not for me). I’ve been both blessed and cursed to have vivid and acute memories of what it was like to be a child in a world of adults. I thought then, and I still think now, that no one asks children if they want to be born or if they want to live with the very particular parents they have with their very particular preferences. The whole idea of children “owing” something to their parents never made sense to me. Not as a child, and not even as an adult. And yet I know that most parents have a sense of both responsibility and entitlement to influence their children’s behavior.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Expressing Our Pain without Blame

by Miki Kashtan

Nina (not her real name) was beside herself with anguish. For months she was convinced that Simon’s (another fictitious name) relationship with his ex-girlfriend still had unfinished business. He acknowledged it, and they talked about it again and again, without any relief in sight. He was responding defensively instead of being able to hear her pain, and they spiraled, repeatedly, to the verge of a breakup neither of them wanted.
When Nina asked for my support in how to navigate this situation, I invited her to take full responsibility for her reactions as an opportunity to grow and stretch in an area of pain. This doesn't mean she won't have pain. It only means that when the pain arises she can choose to own it and be with it rather than attempt to manage it by asking Simon to be or do something different.
This is a deep practice, and one that I imagine can be very liberating for Nina. It's about pulling back, again and again, from blaming and judging and trying to make things different from what they are. It’s about cultivating acceptance of life, Simon, and herself, and stretching and stretching to embrace at one and the same time the reality of love and care between the two of them alongside the radical uncertainty of the future.
This practice is one of several core spiritual challenges that we face as human beings. When someone else’s actions, especially someone close to us, don’t line up with what we most want, we tend to hold that person accountable for our pain. We have been trained to believe that whenever we are in pain someone else is responsible, even at fault. When we then attempt to talk with that person about our pain, they become defensive in response to our blame, and we effectively ensure they can’t hear us.
When we are able to take full responsibility for our pain, to see it as our own, as arising from what we tell ourselves and not from someone else’s actions, the other person often has much more space to hear our reactions. Simon would be able to hear Nina when she takes responsibility, because her reactions will then be about her and her process of learning and stretching rather than veiled accusations and attempts to make things different. As I pointed out to Nina, the reality is that Simon is choosing her, and choosing her, and choosing her, again and again. I saw more solidity in the relationship than she experienced, despite Simon’s continued connection with his ex.
I supported Nina in seeing that her pain in relation to the way he maintains relationships with former lovers is likely to continue. The stretch I invited her to make, and that I invite all of us to make, repeatedly, any time we experience tremendous pain in relation to another’s actions, is to resist the temptation to go into right/wrong thinking about the pain. Instead, I suggested that she could surrender to being with the tenderness of the pain. This is not to say that she was going to like Simon’s actions. It only means not blaming him.
To my delight, Nina accepted my invitation wholeheartedly. She understood that being able to maintain inner peace when her needs are not satisfied is a source of tremendous freedom. She connected deeply with her longing for security, for the kind of love she wanted as a child, for the comfort of knowing she is wanted. She allowed herself to grieve what had happened to her in the past, and felt stronger as she approached a weekend away with Simon.
A few days later I received an email from her. She and Simon weathered another storm with much more grace. One more time Simon acted in ways that clearly indicated that his ex-girlfriend was still on his mind. Nina was able to stay very present with herself.  As in the past, she experienced a lot of hurt. This time, however, she didn’t skip over the pain into anger or separation. Instead, she was able to open her heart and stay present with herself until the pain eventually dissolved. As we had both anticipated, Simon was then able to offer his full presence and very deep empathy. Nina was celebrating that she felt no blame and Simon didn’t get defensive.
Over time, as they continue in this more open approach, Nina will likely come to the present moment and its meaning rather than reacting to residual hurt from her past. She will likely become more resilient on account of finding ways to express, fully, what’s important to her without blaming. Simon, on the other hand, will likely develop more and more capacity to hear from Nina without disappearing or getting angry. He can then find his own opportunities to learn and grow. He can make deeper sense of his choices, increase his ability to see the effect of his actions, and find freedom to show up as he wants. Just as much as we can interlock our pain with other people, we can also intertwine our freedom.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Redefining Independence

by Miki Kashtan

Tomorrow is the 4th of July, a national holiday of independence in the USA. I am drawn to reflecting on the topic, and especially how it plays out in the North American culture within which I live and work. Independence is one of the highest values in this culture. Its two interweaving strands of meaning appear as a rejection of dependence, of being in need of others, at their mercy. Both interfere with conscious interdependence, the practice of collaborating with others to create outcomes that work for more and more people.

Moving toward Inner Freedom
One strand of meaning is about the freedom to make choices without having to consult with others. I often see this showing up as a somewhat rebellious stance: “You can’t tell me what to do.” I have had this particular experience enough to recognize that it comes with some kind of satisfaction, some sense that I am standing up for myself. I can so understand the appeal of this response.

This widespread experience has far-reaching consequences for our ability to create a livable future. For a prime example, our material possessions are a sacrosanct institution. We are given the right to dispose of the resources we own as we see fit. This idea is part of the core allure of the modern commodity-based economy, despite all the hardships so many of us experience. We have the carrot of believing that if we accumulate enough resources than no one can tell us what to do. This is the consolation prize for the separation, scarcity, and powerlessness that we experience so often.

This makes it exceedingly difficult to engage with others and make collaborative decisions. When we have few resources, we struggle to imagine that we have a say. We either give up without even trying and feel defeated, or we stand up defiant and forget about the humanity of others and lose our capacity to engage with them productively. When we do have access to resources, we hold on to the option of making all the decisions about our own actions, and struggle to maintain a sense of care for and interest in others who may not have as many resources.

Most of us were mostly told what to do when we were growing up. It’s still an exceptionally rare family in which children are seen as partners. As adults we still lack models for how we can engage with others in ways that completely honor our autonomy. Including others in our decisions appears more like asking for permission than anything that could possibly benefit us. Our sense of freedom is guarded tightly against infringement.

True inner freedom is closer to the original meaning of autonomy – living by one’s own laws. There is nothing reactive, defiant, resistant, or defensive about it. Instead, it comes calmly and softly from within, giving us more resilience when engaging with others. The word for independence in Hebrew, my first and beloved language, speaks to this kind of freedom. Its root is the same as the root for self.

Questioning Self-Sufficiency
Independence is also understood as the idea of living without being in need of others. So many people go to great lengths, even to harming themselves (e.g. by carrying weight that’s too heavy for their bodies) just to ensure they don’t ask for help. Countless times I have been in situations where I offered help to people, especially parents of small children who were struggling to get their shopping done, and have invariably been politely declined. This message is internalized deeply and passed on even when questioned. Its persistence interferes with opening up to receiving support, to reaching out, to knowing that we matter enough to get our needs met.

Ironically, our way of living has actually made us less and less self-reliant, less able to create the resources we need to survive and thrive, as individuals and communities, even as we strive for more and more self-sufficiency. Fewer and fewer of us know how to grow the food we eat, make the clothes we wear, build the houses we live in, or find water anywhere other than in the pipe.

On the material plane we render our dependence invisible through the medium of money. Collectively, we uphold the illusion that if we have enough money we don’t depend on anyone, when in fact we use money to pay for what we don’t do on our own, and irreducibly relying on others, not just ourselves, for surviving. We also pretend that we don’t have an effect on others, with the collective result of operating, in the US, without any sense that we matter, and living reckless lives without much concern for the cost to others and nature.

On the emotional plane we pretend to be OK even when we are not, and maintain a stiff upper lip. The result is living in profound isolation which results in stress, illness, and high rates of depression.

When we can recognize and acknowledge our dependence we can become truly self-responsible. On the material plane this would mean finding self-reliance by recognizing the cost to others and the planet and finding ways to live within our local means. On the emotional plane this would mean learning to understand and accept our needs and asking for what we want while being in dialogue with others to get our needs met in ways that work for them, too.

Cultivating Interdependence
It is no wonder, given these persistent versions of independence, that cultivating awareness of our interdependence is one of the biggest challenges that we could present to the modern sensibility of industrialized countries.

For as long as our sense of freedom and choice depends on rejecting what comes from the outside, the delicate negotiations necessary for making things work for more and more people remain beyond reach. For as long as dependence on others is seen as weakness and failure, the necessary learning about sharing resources appears as taking something away from us rather than providing us access to more.

What is needed is nothing short of embracing our individual and collective capacity to make choice in tandem with others and the willingness to own our fundamental dependence on others. We need enormous strength and perseverance as we work to transcend the insidious message of separation we have inherited. Then we can finally band together, reach out for support, form communities, and create the conditions for all of our thriving.