Friday, August 27, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 3)

Part 1 of this topic was posted on Aug 8 and part 2 was posted on Aug 10.

The person who raised the question prompted this mini-series concluded that social change takes “groups of people organizing together [and] taking visible, observable action in the world to help create change.” In this next post I want to take on the extension of the practices and consciousness of nonviolence to the group and organizational level.

Maximizing Willingness for Efficiency and Sustainability
Two challenges that people face when coming together to organize and work for change are how to function together efficiently in the face of different opinions and wishes, and how to sustain the energy over time. Focusing on willingness as an organizing principle of group functioning addresses both of these challenges.

Willingness is distinguished from preference on the one hand, and from any notion of what should happen on the other hand. Attempting to reach decisions that everyone is happy with is likely to result in more meeting time in groups than most people can tolerate, and is one of the obstacles many people experience to wanting to go to meetings and commit to working with a group. Even with time and heated discussions, often fatigue and resignation result in some decision being arrived at rather than a fully chosen decision that is acceptable to all.

In my experience, to reach collaborative decisions we need only focus on what people can live with willingly and distinguish is from what would be their most desired outcome. With sufficient facilitation skill and attention, many decisions can be arrived at with surprisingly little tension and within a timeframe and level of engagement that are much easier for people to experience. The essential tools are the capacity to identify and create collective ownership of needs, and the skillful application of a search for willingness rather than preference. The underlying principle is the unwavering commitment to having everyone matter, holding everyone’s needs with care. Both the commitment and the skills are necessary to be able to maintain togetherness in the face of differences.

On the other end of the spectrum another common challenge results from doing things because of thinking they should happen rather than because we are truly willing to do them. Taking action based on “should” thinking can often breed resentment or burnout. I am more and more able to accept having things not happen rather than having them done without true willingness, so that whatever does happen can be sustained over time without stress. I think of it as a deep discipline to be willing to let go of whatever has no one willing to do it. I was inspired in that growing commitment by the words of Thomas Merton: "To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence.”

Leadership and Power
One of the challenges I see to people organizing to create change is what I see as an aversion to power and authority. After experiencing the ways that power can be used to create so much harm, many are understandably challenged to see a useful role for the exercise of power, and prefer to create leaderless groups in which everyone participates equally and fully in all decisions. As I already suggested above, in the absence of skillful facilitation such practices often result in conflict, and/or inefficiency, and/or lack of decisive action (often, though not always, as some groups do function for years on the basis of fully participatory consensus).

If we are to succeed in organizing large masses of people to create a world that works for more and more people in more and more ways, we will need to figure out how to offer effective leadership rather than no leadership at all. I envision structures that empower people to take leadership and responsibility and offer support and feedback to those who do. Instead of abdicating power as a way to ensure we don’t recreate structures of domination, I see a possibility of shifting from using power over people to using power with people, in ways that attend to everyone’s needs. The challenges are immense and yet surmountable.

In my next post I plan to attend to two remaining pieces to complete this mini-series: what are the kinds of actions that people might take which would be consistent with a nonviolent approach to social change, and what are the systemic implications of a needs-based approach to social organizing.

after the fact: before the next post I ended up posting 2 parts of a response to this one, to which I am linking here for anyone who wants to read the whole mini-series sequentially.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Power in the Workplace

by Miki Kashtan

Donna* was adamant: “Shelby can’t tell me how to run my department. It’s too bad he doesn’t like the theme for next month’s newsletter. It’s my prerogative to make these decisions, and I don’t intend to negotiate everything with him.”

I asked Donna if she wanted the freedom to act, respect for her authority, and a sense of flow and trust in her relationship with Shelby. Donna concurred and added that she also wanted more ease in their communication.

Later I talked with Shelby, and he expressed significant pain about his experience of Donna making decisions that limited his ability to carry out his job responsibilities. He related several such incidents to me. When I suggested that we could find a way for him to be fully open with Donna about his concerns, he laughed in disbelief. “There is no way I can tell her the truth. She doesn’t want to hear it. In this economy I can’t risk losing my job.” I could sense Shelby’s passion and commitment to the success of the department and the organization, and that he really wanted the authority and support to carry out his various initiatives. I also imagined, and he concurred, that he wanted clear and prompt communication, in the absence of which he was often left in the middle of a project without either freedom or guidance.

Despite his disbelief, Shelby was willing to put in the effort of working on how he might present his concerns to Donna. We worked together on separating out his many judgments of her, and instead focusing on the clearest description of what actions she took that were challenging for him, and what was important for him in those incidents. After some weeks, he agreed to take the risk of presenting his concerns to Donna. To his utter amazement Donna was entirely receptive, and graciously took responsibility for taking actions without considering their effect on Shelby.

I wasn’t as surprised as Shelby was. In order to come to this meeting Shelby had to learn some powerful lessons that dramatically altered his way of approaching Donna. The most obvious one was the experience of empowerment from finding the willingness to face consequences and trust that he can survive them. Coming to the meeting with less fear meant he was more relaxed and calm, which made it easier for Donna to hear him. Another significant milestone for Shelby along the way was developing curiosity about Donna’s experience. As he stretched to understand her, he was reminded that she is a human being completely like him. In addition, seeing things from her perspective, even if only inside himself, he could see more easily their shared purpose, and could speak to that when he brought up his concerns. Not experiencing an attack, Donna then had nothing to oppose, and could open to hearing his concerns.

When I met with Donna afterwards, it became apparent that while she felt more receptive to Shelby, she was still concerned about what she saw as his inability to accept her authority. The dilemma she was facing is common: when would she involve Shelby in decisions, and when would it make more sense for her to make executive decisions and expect Shelby to follow and support her authority?

In exploring this dilemma Donna learned that getting Shelby, or anyone else, to do something just because she has the power, is an expensive currency. The price she pays is not only in Shelby’s goodwill and productivity. She could see that she would also pay the price of information being withheld from her when it’s contrary to her viewpoint, with potentially negative consequences for the department. At the same time, she knew that plenty of situations would by necessity require her to make decisions quickly, with ease, and without having to involve Shelby or anyone else. That freedom was essential to her in order to fulfill her responsibilities.

At this point we brought Shelby into the conversation. Together we identified three things she could do to address this dilemma with Shelby. One was to distinguish between the convenience and the necessity of making decisions without consulting with Shelby. The second was to share with him more transparently about decisions she made on her own. And the third was to invite feedback about the effect of her decisions on his ability to perform his job. Over time this combined strategy would increase trust and result in exactly what they each wanted. Shelby would have more willingness to accept decisions Donna made without consulting him, and Donna would have more willingness to include him in decisions.

Is collaboration across power differences possible or an oxymoron? When people in authority assert their power as a matter of principle rather than based on need, and when people with less authority operate out of fear, there isn’t going to be enough trust for collaboration. When communication and agreements are explicit, roles are clear, and learning is an integral part of the work, power differences are much less likely to interfere with the flow of collaboration and mutual support towards a common goal.

Here are some opportunities for learning about applying NVC in the workplace:

The Art of Effective Feedback, in Oakland, with Maja Bengtson
Feedback without Criticism, on the phone, with Miki Kashtan
Making Collaboration Real Conference, in San Francisco, with Miki Kashtan and 7 other trainers
Making Collaboration Real Yearlong Program, in Marin County, with Miki Kashtan and Martha Lasley
Creating Workplaces Where People Thrive, in various locations, with Gregg Kendrick

* Not only are the names made up, the situation I am describing is also fictitious, composed of bits and pieces of real situations I have worked with.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 2)

Part 1 of this topic was posted on Aug 8.

NVC in Support of Social Change
Most often I almost forget that NVC is an acronym that contains the word “communication.” Instead I tend to think of NVC as a set of principles and practices to integrate the consciousness of nonviolence into all levels of living:
  • Personally, practicing NVC offers one way of accepting Gandhi’s invitation to bring nonviolence to one’s thought, word, and action.
  • Interpersonally, NVC conflict resolution and dialogue tools can contribute to the conversations, negotiations, coalition building, and other organizing efforts which are indispensable for any attempt of working with other people towards structural or systemic goals.
  • On the group level, using NVC for facilitation and decision making can contribute to effective functioning for groups and organizations working for social change.
  • On an organizational level, NVC provides a framework and offers concrete steps for transforming use of power in ways that attend to everyone’s needs.
  • Finally, on the systemic level, an NVC perspective allows for envisioning and creating structures, policies, procedures, and hopefully some day even laws that make for a world that works for all.

The Inner Work of Nonviolence
Embodying nonviolence in a world that for several millennia has been structured around separation, scarcity, and mistrust requires considerable commitment, courage, and love. As it applies to being part of groups and organizations of human beings attempting to create change, accepting the call to principled nonviolence entails at least the following aspects of consciousness transformation:
  • Working towards vision rather than against “what’s wrong.” Even when the actions themselves are obstructive in nature, such as acts of civil disobedience, Gandhi’s and Milk’s examples suggest a focus on civil disobedience that models the world being created rather than being entirely an act of protest.
  • Seeing the humanity of everyone, including people engaging in behaviors that appear harmful. Jesus was talking about loving one’s enemies, and Gandhi was talking about finding love for those who hate us. In either case, the fundamental principle is of sufficiency inclusivity that even working to stop people from inflicting harm is done with love and respect for the person.
  • Engaging in the ongoing and demanding work of opening fully to despair, dread, and other emotional responses that arise in response to what is happening in the world. In the absence of doing this work, many people, including those working for social change, tend to numb out or suppress the depth of their feelings and find it hard to operate based on passion rather than anger and urgency.

Interpersonal Practices for Change Agents
Every attempt to create structural change entails being in relationship and dialogue with other people. Working with others to create change means learning to collaborate across different understandings of how to create change; across differences of working styles and personalities; and across differences such as class and race. Beyond the immediate group of people working together, becoming visible and effective when working for change also involves building alliances with other groups and organizations, as well as connecting with people who may be skeptical about or not already in alignment with the goals or strategies of the group. Lastly, creating change ultimately necessitates supporting people, especially those with power, in shifting their views and making different choices than the ones they are used to. Once again, NVC practice supports connection in these various different situations. Here are some of the principles and practices that can support conflict resolution and even prevention:

  • Willingness to listen to people deeply and with empathic presence even when in significant disagreement. This focus can immediately contribute to connection, trust, and mutual respect. The experience of being heard often results in emotional settling, inner peace, and curiosity about the other person.
  • Speaking authentically based on what is wanted rather than based on what is “right” or “fair” or “just.” Speaking from the heart of personal experience and need tends to de-polarize difficult situations and opens up a process of shared exploration of strategies rather than argument about what should be done.
  • Expressing care for everyone’s needs, perspectives, and opinions regardless of disagreement. Actively focusing on transcending separation, scarcity, and mistrust and seeking solutions, strategies, policies, and processes that work for both parties to a dialogue.

In my next post I address the remaining three levels (or it may take more than one more post). For now, I want to extend an invitation to anyone who is particularly attracted to work systematically towards embodying nonviolence more and more fully. A few months ago I launched the Consciousness Transformation Community which is dedicated to learning about, living, and sharing the consciousness of nonviolence in daily life and in social change work. Once a quarter we hold an open teleconference call for anyone who is interested in exploring the community, and the next one is this coming Sunday, August 15th, 5 – 6:30pm Pacific time. Click here for more information about the community and about the call.

by Miki Kashtan

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 1)

by Miki Kashtan

From Tikkun Daily's Art Gallery
Many of us who practice nonviolence carry a vision of a world that works for all, where everyone’s needs matter and people and the planet are cared for. None of us know what will or could bring about our vision. Will it be a miracle of a single leader transforming the cultural assumptions and practices? Will it be a world collapse which will create a void and an opportunity to restructure society? Will it be a critical mass of people who inhabit different forms of human relationship? Will it be a nonviolent revolution? Will it be alternative structures that gradually attract more and more resources and people to them? Or will it be something else none of us can imagine?

Is “Being the Change” Enough?
Not knowing, how can we predict what actions that we engage in could potentially lead to social change? Here’s how one reader has expressed this challenge: “I don't have the clarity I would like about your distinction between personal growth and social change work. Particularly within the NVC framework, where we intend to create change without coercion. We can model the values we want to see; we can invite, request, even try to persuade or instruct when the occasion seems appropriate, but we're not forcing change on anyone. And so a big part of the force for social change that I am imagining comes from being the change that you want to see in the world, which to me sounds like personal development.”

Not knowing what leads to change, I am holding great humility regarding what I am about to say. I really don’t know.

Understanding Structures
Although I can imagine the possibility that if enough individuals undergo a personal transformation the result will be structural and systemic transformation, I have serious concerns about this approach. I do hold that organizations, governments, and other social structures are fundamentally based on a set of agreements, usually implicit, to which individuals give their consent, usually unconscious of having done so. Nonetheless, I also believe in the essential necessity of thinking and acting on the systemic/structural level, not just the personal level. What does it all mean?

Here are four examples of what structural change can mean:

  • Changing the way the economy functions. Our current economy is based on exchange and profit. Other models exist. For one example, an alternative economy could be based on gifting and needs.
  • Changing the way governments run. Current governments have executive power resting in one or few individuals. One other example could be a government based on citizen deliberative councils for policy decisions (see the Tao of Democracy, especially chapters 12 and 13).
  • Changing the way the justice system operates. Most current justice systems are based on a retributive model of punishing people for what they have done. Instead, more and more experiments with restorative justice systems are taking place in the world. I am personally familiar with one such approach, called Restorative Circles, which was initiated by Dominic Barter in Brazil and has been operating with remarkable success since 2003.
  • Currently, more often than not, international disputes lead to war. Instead, methods of international mediation can be employed to de-escalate and resolve conflicts and create robust agreements.

Beyond Personal Growth
On the personal level, the practice of NVC supports the inner work necessary to maintain a stance of nonviolence even in difficult circumstances. However, personal growth, “being the change,” is only one aspect of the work. How do we work towards creating change at the structural level? However we conceive of leverage points for structural change, we would need to organize and act with others to create shifts. For that, we need concrete practices to bring our consciousness and practice of nonviolence to beyond the personal, inner work. Their absence results in at least three interrelated phenomena:

  • Organizations made up of people with a high degree of personal capacity are nonetheless mired in conflict, mistrust, and inefficiency.
  • People with an understanding of and a commitment to interdependence are nonetheless operating as collections of individuals instead of a community of mutual support and effective feedback loops.
  • Individuals committed to a vision of care, inclusion, and distributed power form and run organizations based on command and control practices, and others are unable to stand up to their leaders with love and clarity.

In my next post I address how the practice of NVC can address all of the above phenomena as well as offer a perspective that allows for envisioning, and eventually designing, social systems based on attention to human needs, care for nature, stewardship of resources, and respect for the interconnected web of all life on this one planet we all share.