Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 7)

by Miki Kashtan

Part 1 of this topic was posted on Aug 8, and links are provided from there onwards to all the other parts of this mini-series. This is the last segment. If you would like to participate in a real-time conversation with me about these topics (this Sunday, 9:30 - 11:00am Pacific Time), click here for more details, or here to register.

I started this mini-series with noting that none of us ultimately knows what would (will? could?) bring about significant change, beyond our experiments with alternatives, beyond a vision absent material resources, beyond the smallness of our efforts. Before concluding, just a few comments about these unanswerable challenges.

Scaling up
To inspire confidence – both for ourselves and for others - in our ability to create significant change that affects large numbers of people, we need to find a way to continue to operate in radical, visionary, uncompromising ways while scaling up. We need to find ways to break out of the conviction that we can only do radical experiments with small numbers, and that becoming more visible, increasing our numbers, and gaining power and influence are bound to bring corruption, and/or bureaucracy, and/or inefficiency, and/or all other social evils. This conviction will either keep us small and ineffective, or become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I don’t know the answer. I am convinced it exists. I will continue to look for it, and to keep imagining and encouraging everyone I know, including myself, to move towards it without fear of falling.

Who is “we?” I use this word loosely to refer to everyone who is in the grips of the heartbreak about our beautiful planet being destroyed by the actions of human beings like us. After all, all of us, regardless of our beliefs and affiliations, are, ultimately, struggling to make sense of the world and attend to our own, our loved ones’, and others’ needs in the best ways they know how. All of us are implicated in the destruction, whether we want to or not.   

Building Alliances and Coalitions

"It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual.
The next Buddha may take the form of a community--
a community practicing understanding and loving kindness,
a community practicing mindful living.
This may be the most important thing we can do for the earth."

Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, and peace activist)

The days of one-person operations appear to be largely over. The Lubavitchers, the largest Hassidic movement, now operate without a new Lubavitcher, because the tradition held that only seven generations of leaders would be guiding this movement, and now no one knows what comes next. This is not about giving up leadership. This is about many more people taking leadership all around them.

Working our way out of charismatic leadership will require us to work with others who are not members of our specific movement. As we reach out to create such connection, we will encounter people who will agree with us on some bits and not on others. And we will still need to work with them. If we are to be truly effective, we will need to work with people who are far from our positions. We cannot make significant change without connecting with people who are in fundamental opposition to what we are proposing (if we even propose anything rather than simply protesting). The Department of Peace Campaign has been working hard for some years now to support the establishment of a federal level Department of Peace in the US government. As of a few months ago, they still hadn’t crossed the Democrat/Republican divide. There will be no Department of Peace Legislation for as long as that divide is not crossed in the constituency that operates the campaign.

How? We need tools to dialogue, to come more present, to know to separate strategies from needs, to see the underlying vision of opposing views, and to know that more is in common between us at the level of vision than we may be comfortable admitting. We need to learn to listen with a willingness to be changed, and take on the hard and thankless work of listening to our ideological enemies, no matter where we are, so we can learn and grow, so we can create bridges, so we can find ways of collaborating, and thereby begin, now, the work of the future. Because in that future there will still, and always, be people that disagree with us. There will always be people who will see our implementation of our vision as an absolute threat to what they hold most dear. And we will need to include and embrace their needs and well-being in full if we are to operate with integrity.

What to do now
Since we cannot, as the Talmudic Jews said, “press the end” (meaning force things to move faster than they do), and since acceptance of what is is part and parcel of our work, we cannot escape the reality that, for now, we don’t know what will create change. In fact, taking seriously the fundamental uncertainty and unpredictability of life in part means that we don’t and can’t plan change. We can only be ready for it. Two years before the Berlin Wall was taken down no one would have predicted that outcome. And it happened. What might happen within the next two years that we cannot imagine now?

If we cannot predict, cannot plan, and cannot implement large scale social change, we can only keep working to be ready for opportunities when they arise. Every once in a while, we never know when, how, or for how long, the existing order of things is put on hold, and much more is possible. At such times many more in the world are hungry for direction, for hope, for tools, and for possibilities. I’d like to believe that we can use our small-scale efforts at obstruction, creation of alternatives, and consciousness transformation to get us all ready, so that when the window opens up, we will be available to respond to the call to lead and to offer inspiration and clarity that can make a decisive difference. I hope I am still alive when that day arrives.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Invitation to Real-Time Conversation

by Miki Kashtan

Over the course of writing about personal growth and social change, I discovered a longing in me to go beyond posting entries into active interaction with the people who read my blog. So I decided to experiment with that urge.

In the next couple of days I intend to post the LAST entry in this mini-series. Writing about personal growth and social change within an NVC perspective has been a two-month endeavor that I truly enjoyed. If you found the ideas intriguing, and/or if you want to connect with me and others who are passionate about principled nonviolence as a way of living, I invite you to come and participate in a conference call that I am setting up for this coming Sunday at 9:30 - 11:00 am Pacific Time.

The agenda is emergent. For right now what I have thought about including is questions and comments about anything that's been part of this mini-series, and small group interaction about these topics for part of the time (the conference call technology for this call - maestro conferencing - allows for that). I have no idea how many people might sign up, so it's hard for me to plan beyond this. I hope you will join by following this link: I also am planning on writing about the call after it's complete.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 6)

by Miki Kashtan

This mini-series started on Aug 8, and this is the 8th post so far. The previous post was on Sep 21. Each of the posts can be read separately.

Example: Gift Economy
Because I have such a deep longing for a gift economy, so deep that truly every day hurts in seeing how far we are from such a system, I continually look for examples of gift economies already operating so I can sustain and expand the solidity of my faith in this possibility.

I am less interested in hunter gatherer societies that still have gift economies than in examples within the existing modern capitalist economy. Here are a few. If you have examples that you know of, I invite you to comment on this blog. This can be food for all of us.

·        Inter-library loan: many academic libraries as well as public libraries use this system. If you look for a book that’s not available in the library you are at, the staff will look for the book elsewhere, in other libraries, sometimes outside the country, and the library that has the book will send it to your library for loaning to you. In the case of an article, quite often the library that has the article will make a photocopy and mail it to you. All this is done without any money changing hands, nor any accounting about which library does it more or less often.
·        International mail delivery: whenever anyone sends a letter to another country, they are assured that the other country will deliver the letter. Have you ever thought of the fact that while you pay for the stamp in your country the other country receives no money for delivering the letter? This, again, is a system that operates without accounting, and has been for centuries.
·        In the world of software many products and services exist that are completely public domain, without anyone giving anyone else money, while many people contribute to these products and services.
·        If you want to be inspired by one organization that has experimented with working on a gift basis despite everyone’s caution and advice, look up I recently had the very good fortune of participating in one of their events, and was deeply nourished by the overflow of joy and generosity that I experienced. Charity focus is an organization without staff – everything is done on a volunteer basis. Just in case you imagine something small and local, I was astonished to discover they have 300,000 members worldwide.

A gift economy differs from a barter economy. Although I love the idea of localizing economies and currencies, even a full barter system without currency is still based on exchange. The essence of a gift economy for me is that it’s based on giving freely. Giving freely means having no expectation of receiving anything in particular from anyone. In that sense it changes the nature of the relationship. Giving freely also means cultivating trust that enough giving will take place so that what I need for sustenance and well being will be provided, without knowing how. This requires a deep trust. Perhaps what most inspires me about Charity Focus is the degree of trust.

I am personally deeply drawn to operating on the basis of gifting. Even within the exchange economy, I keep stretching the limits to approach gifting as much as my imagination sustains. Since my experience with Charity Focus my enthusiasm is increasing. I anticipate doing something concrete about it in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Since I was five, I haven’t had anyone successfully answer my question to my mother: why is it that we need to give money to get our food? Why can’t everyone just take what they need? I am more and more convinced that there is no real answer as to why we couldn’t shift out of the money and exchange economy into a gift- and needs-based economy. When we learn to have structures and processes that support working from willingness, and when we learn to care about everyone’s needs, the technology and imagination are there to sustain free contribution, giving, and receiving on a global scale. This is what I dream about and what fuels my continued joyful willingness to do my work.

No, the mini-series is still not over… I still want to write about scaling up, and about what to do now, when this world is not in place. I now know that the next post is really the last, because I already wrote it…

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 5)

by Miki Kashtan

This mini-series started on Aug 8, and this is the 7th post so far. The previous post was on Sep 10. Each of the posts can be read separately.

Working towards and creating change (as distinct from change happening, which is a constant in life) involves conscious choice and action. On the personal level, this means becoming more the person we would like to be, and creating new options for ourselves. On the social level, this means moving towards the world of our dreams. In either case, three things need to be in place:

  • Clarity that what is happening is not to our liking, and having a clear sense of what we want instead. Only knowing we don’t like what is will not result in change. We need to have enough faith that something else is indeed possible to imagine mobilizing the resources necessary.
  • Having or knowing how to materialize the resources needed to create the change, and trusting our capacity for accessing the resources. Resources here are both internal, in the form of skills, faith, consciousness, courage, presence and the like, as well as external, in the form of support from others, material resources where needed, access to the people with influence and the like. The faith in our capacity to access and mobilize resources is an irreducible part of what’s needed to move towards the change.
  • Making the choice to take action. This is not a trivial step. Both personally and collectively we find ourselves in situations where we know we want something done, we know we can do it, and we still choose not to take action. The willingness to commit is the final element that moves us into action.
In the previous parts of this mini-series I have addressed in some detail the question of internal resources I see as necessary for creating nonviolent personal or social change. I do not intend to address the question of external resources, since this is not my expertise. Lastly, I am not, in this moment, focusing on the willingness to commit, which I may take up at another opportunity. In what remains I want to focus on the element of vision which is often sorely lacking in social change movements. I have often wondered what a social movement would do if by some stroke of miracle they became victorious. In my non-expert review of historical example, successful social movements rarely end up implementing systems that are in any fundamental way different from what they replace. Instead of thinking of this phenomenon as proof of how horrible human nature is, I tend to think of it as a cautionary tale with the moral of inviting us to have much clearer vision of what we are attempting to create instead of only working on what we oppose.

For anyone who accepts the radical notion of creating a world based on the principle of meeting needs as the core organizing principle, this means putting energy into envisioning in detail how different systems would work. At one and the same time this act of visioning supports us in knowing what we work for as well as in transforming our consciousness. Specifically, this activity frees us from the paralyzing belief that what is happening is the only possible way that life could be, and opens us in very practical and daily terms to the desire and subsequently the capacity to act differently and become daily agents of change.

Unless we can truly embrace the uncompromising faith that human collaboration is possible, we will secretly continue to believe that in some instances imposition and control are necessary. If we continue to believe that, however unconsciously, we will recreate such structures if we come to power. Here’s a powerful example of this principle. The people who created the Kibbutz movement in Israel were committed to economic equality and to sexual equality. They devoted endless hours to sitting together and envisioning what economic equality would look like, and what kind of institutions would make it possible, and then created those institutions, and sustained economic equality for decades (until unforeseen factors entered the equation, not the topic for now). On the other hand, as far as the evidence that I gathered some years ago shows, they didn’t ever dedicate such energy and time to envisioning sexual equality. As a result, as soon as babies were born, gender role division re-asserted itself by default.   

My own passion and vision is for a world operating on the basis of attending to needs, human and otherwise. Accordingly, my visioning is about what a world operating on needs would look like. For you reading this, you may have different principles or core values that inform your longing for a different world, and I invite you to take the time to reflect on the concrete applications, the nuts and bolts of what you are hoping for, and to gather friends and groups to engage in the visioning. I have found that doing visioning is invigorating, generates hope, and contributes to motivation to keep working. Try it out.

In my next post on this topic I provide an example of my personal visioning in the economic sphere.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

State of Grace

by Miki Kashtan

I heard about Maureen McCarthy and the State of Grace Document about seven years ago, and I quickly knew I wanted to connect with her. The bold claim that we can create and maintain a state of grace in our relationships intrigued me. The simplicity of the tool – a few essential questions that help spell out nakedly and gently what it would take to maintain a state of grace between two people – won me over. I wanted to learn more, and to explore the parallels and complementarities I saw between this work and Nonviolent Communication.

To cut a medium-size story short, Maureen and her partner Zelle just left my house a few hours ago, after visiting the Bay Area for nine days, including teaching a workshop that BayNVC hosted this past weekend. Meeting them has been one of the most delicious and unexpected treats that have come to me because of starting this blog. Knowing Maureen and Zelle has been full of surprises, deep engagement, learning, and inspiration.

Here’s a picture from the workshop last week:

Left to right, top to bottom: Ruth, Smita, Cindy, Kathy,
Zelle, Miki, Maureen

As you look at the picture, bear in mind that Maureen – this vivacious, smiling, vibrant woman – is operating on 10% lung capacity from a rare and ultimately fatal lung disease she’s had for 22 years. Which doesn’t prevent her from saying, with a big smile on her face, that she has a better life than anyone she knows. I believe her. As I see it, the qualities that make this possible are the very building blocks of the tool she and Zelle live and teach: simplicity, authenticity, clarity, and self-responsibility. As a main feature, they are committed to asking for everything they want without ever making it a demand, and they are committed to telling the truth, including in response to requests. I could almost smell the freedom this generates between them. Being with them, whether during the workshop or while hanging around my house, the love and ease between them were completely palpable to me.

A telling moment happened one evening when I heard Maureen make a request. With a light, easy, and fresh tone she simply said: “Would you do me a favor and bring me a glass of water?” It sounded as if this was the very first time she had ever asked him for a glass of water, without any weight, expectation, or the possibility of being disappointed if he said no. What made this exchange particularly dramatic was knowing that Zelle attends to most of the common daily tasks of living for both of them (they are hardly ever apart from each other) because Maureen is on oxygen whenever she moves and exertion is challenging for her. Despite years of offering and receiving this level of support, neither of them is taking this arrangement, or the relationship as a whole, for granted. Each day for the twelve years they have been together they explicitly choose each other again.

While they were here, I asked lots of questions, with utter abandon, like a small child, like I always want to with everyone. I wanted to know everything about the disease, their relationship, and their work in the world. I was delighted to learn how far and wide this tool has spread, including in corporate settings. Maureen and Zelle no longer sign contracts – they only do State of Grace Documents with their clients, and so far no one has refused to hire them.

In case you are curious, their website contains enough free resources that you could create documents even without a workshop. I am only beginning my own journey with this tool, and my first document is with Maureen and Zelle. Being at the workshop I could see that there is a definite art to creating these documents, it is also strikingly simple and doable. All it takes is to know and articulate answers to a few key questions: What draws you to the relationship? What is your interaction style? What are the warning signs when you are stressed (I sense this part is one of the most important aspects of the document) and what helps you in those moments? What do you expect, want, and hope for in this relationship? What could help you come back to peace? How long will you take before bringing up an issue? If the unimaginable happens, how long will you take before coming back to a place of peace and letting go? Then you ask the person you are doing the document with to do the same. Even if you are the only one doing it, and there is only one half of the document, having you offer the level of transparency and self-responsibility that these answers provide may in and of itself change the terms of relating, open possibilities, and create more trust.  

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yom Kippur beyond Right and Wrong

by Miki Kashtan

When I was a young girl in Israel, in the early 60s, one of my favorite days of the year was Yom Kippur. For a full 25 hours a great silence descended on the Jewish parts of Israel. No traffic, radio, or commercial activity of any kind took place. For many families, including mine, this was the one time a year we went to synagogue. In the silence I could hear everyone’s footsteps echoing in the empty streets. That silence was my young idea of the sacred.

Even within my ambivalent-at-best relationship with the legacy of Jewish observance Yom Kippur continues to be meaningful to me. I love being part of a tradition that sets aside regular time every year for self-reflection, consideration of one’s actions, and re-dedication to a life of meaning and value. Secular as I am, I still find beauty and peace in the clear notion that God can only forgive transgressions towards God, and transgressions involving other people can only be forgiven and transcended with the other person.

My immersion in Nonviolent Communication (NVC), starting in 1994, has been an ongoing invitation to reexamine everything: all my belief systems, all my relationships, all my activities. Why this reflection? Because the practice of NVC has at its core an ongoing invitation to shift out of notions of right and wrong, the very foundation of the world I was raised into. Yom Kippur was no exception. How could I reconcile the notions of “sin” and “repentance” so central to the traditional meaning of Yom Kippur with the expansive spirit of nonduality captured so precisely in Rumi’s oft-quoted poem?

          Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase
each other
doesn't make any sense.

In my life transcending ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing has been an act of immense faith in human beings: in our capacity for care and consciousness, in our ability to learn and grow, and in our fundamental interest in our own and others’ well-being. As part of this journey I have found it meaningful and enriching to reframe the meaning of Yom Kippur in a way that speaks to that faith.

In a world without God, the only available yardstick is internal. “Sin,” a word I am quite reluctant to use, could only mean acting in a way that is not aligned with a source of life that is deep inside me. Indeed, the root for the Hebrew word for “sin” is the same as that of “missing the mark.” Sin in Hebrew could be seen as being distant from the core, which is more compatible with a nondual perspective like Rumi’s or the practice of NVC. “Repentance,” equally problematic for me, then means coming closer to the deeper truth of who I am, to the flow of life in me. Again, the word for “repentance” in Hebrew shares a root with the word for “coming back.”

In the NVC framework the deep internal place that is the source of life in each of us shows up in the form of shared human needs, aspirations, and values. If everything we do is an attempt to meet a need, becoming ever more conscious of what needs I am attempting to meet with each and every action and choice I make brings me closer and closer to life, to connection, to flow.

No right and no wrong. When I find myself “sinning,” meaning acting in ways that don’t align with my deepest values, I don’t judge my actions. Instead, I “repent” in the form of opening my heart wider and wider to all of myself. I mourn and grieve the needs of mine that I didn’t meet in taking the action, and I bring compassion for myself by finding the needs I was trying to meet. No matter how far from life the outcome of an action is, I trust I will find life in the form of the human need that gave rise to the action. More connection, and I am more likely to find strategies that speak to more needs.

Trusting life and the human heart, I don’t see a reason for “should” thinking to keep us from chaos, and I am not afraid of utter chaos in the absence of enforceable notions of right and wrong. I am aching to let go of coercive structures to keep us in place. As Mary Oliver says, “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Still, the hard work remains of sorting things out with others. We are interdependent, relational beings. Confronted with the other’s suffering I open myself even more deeply to life. My secular, nondual reframing reaffirms what the old sages said: if others are involved in the results of my actions no amount of inner work is a substitute for the magic of reconciliation. In full reconciliation I don’t make myself wrong, and I don’t justify or defend to avoid being wrong. Instead, I offer my empathic presence and authentic mourning to whomever was harmed. As my heart expands and heals, too, I can show my own humanity, thereby deepening the healing further. In our relatedness, the other person’s ultimate healing and my full coming back to life are intertwined.

(Yom Kippur is observed this year starting at sundown on Friday, Sep 17, 2010)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Personal Growth and Social Change (Part 4)

by Miki Kashtan

This mini-series started on Aug 8. After posting a response to part 3, I now return to the next section – what actions can we take towards creating the world of our dreams that works for all?

Joanna Macy has been urging us for some time now to operate simultaneously in three directions to move towards a sustainable future: “Holding Actions in defense of life on Earth: actions to slow the damage to Earth and its beings; Creation of Alternative Institutions: analysis of structural causes and creation of structural alternatives; and
Shift in perceptions of reality, both cognitively and spiritually: a fundamental shift in worldview and values”.* I would like to address and provide concrete examples to how each of these could be done in a manner that is fully consistent with principled nonviolence, the Gandhian approach. The list below is far far from exhaustive, and I only mean it to be an illustration and food for thought for those who want to take action.

Obstructive Action Done with Love
Acts of civil disobedience have been a mainstay of nonviolent social change movements for a long time. In my understanding of how Gandhi and MLK in particular used civil disobedience, at least three factors need to be in place to make the action effective:

  • Those taking the action must be willing to disobey the law and suffer the consequences in an entirely peaceful manner. This may include imprisonment, physical harm to self, or even death.
  • The action needs to be strategically placed and go beyond symbolic protest. Sharif Abdullah maintains that purely symbolic protest actions did not have anywhere near as much effect in Gandhi’s or MLK’s campaigns, and only those that exemplified what he calls vision implementation were fully successful. Vision implementation means that the action itself prefigures the envisioned world – one with access to salt for those who need it in the first example, and one with access to blacks and whites together eating in a restaurant in the other.
  • Those taking the action must be committed to ending the harm done while maintaining love and respect for the people they are opposing.

I see these conditions as very exacting and rarely followed fully. I long to see campaigns that manage to train enough people in the art of courageous, loving willingness to stand up to what they see as harm or injustice, while finding avenues to do so that are visionary and inspiring to all.

Creating Alternatives
At whatever scale possible, freeing ourselves from the legacy of systems and practices that prioritize anything other than meeting the needs of humans and of nature (e.g. profit, control, or mechanical efficiency) will require some people engaging in and showing the rest of us what is truly possible. There are already groups, organizations, and magazines dedicated to documenting and making known to all who wish to know the numerous examples of such experiments and options. In fact, some claim that all the technology and human processes necessary to shift to a carbon-free caring society are available and have been tried somewhere. For starters, you may want to get a subscription to YES Magazine , or search a library for old issues of Hope Magazine (now defunct since 2000), to begin to learn about human ingenuity and to become inspired about what’s possible. Stories include individuals finding ways to effect significant change (countless such stories), local areas moving closer to collaborative living (more and more around the world that, in their own small ways, are standing up to the power of globalization and exchange economy, or a place like Curitiba in brazil), regions with high proportion of cooperative functioning (Mondragon in spain), and even companies that function in dramatically different ways from the mold (Semco in Brazil).

For my purposes here, I want only to highlight what I see as essential elements to be thought about and decided explicitly. Any time we don’t have an explicit system for handling certain aspects of functioning, we are likely to recreate old habits of separation and scarcity, such as mistrust, command and control structures, or punitive approaches to conflict. Alternatively, we may also rebel against such habits and operate in chaotic ways without leadership, order, care, or effectiveness. Sometimes we will do both at once.

  • Decision-making processes to minimize or eliminate power-over structures and/or inefficiencies resulting from abdication of or aversion to power. (see part 3 and the response to a comment)
  • Conflict resolution processes to minimize or eliminate punitive approaches
  • Resource allocation agreements to minimize or eliminate competition and
  • Nurturing and accountability processes to minimize or eliminate overwork, self-sacrifice, and lack of responsibility

Put together, these elements approximate for me the longed for image of walking our talk. Especially when attempting to create and demonstrate alternative ways of functioning, being able to demonstrate different relationships and structures can go a long way to overcome the habitual cynicism that so many people carry to protect themselves from experiencing the heartbreak associated with seeing where the world is.

Consciousness Transformation
Because this area appears to me to be the most developed in terms of nonviolent social change, I don’t plan on elaborating beyond mentioning this aspect. All over the world thousands of approaches based on love, oneness, and fearlessness are being taught and practiced, and are available often at low or no cost. This is the point where the distinction between personal growth and social transformation loops back on itself. Ultimately, personal growth in the form of consciousness transformation is indeed part of social change work, so long as clarity remains that social change is not all personal growth, as this mini-series attempts to illustrate.

I keep thinking that one more post will complete all I have to say about this topic, and I now wonder how many more posts it will take. In the next post (and those after it) I talk about visioning, systemic implications, scaling up from our small efforts, and what all this would mean in terms of what we are to do today, when our world is just as it is.

* See Joanna Macy with Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, p. 17-24

Friday, September 3, 2010

Responding about “Maximizing Willingness” – Part 2

by Miki Kashtan

This post continues my response to a comment by Dave Belden on a post of mine.

What Is Willingness?
As I read Dave’s description of an imaginary group in which people go along in order to maintain peace, I realized that I didn’t make enough distinctions to elucidate willingness – it is not such a straightforward concept. I had distinguished willingness from preference, and willingness from should. Now I want to distinguish willingness from resignation, apathy, or even “going along.” Willingness, as I understand it, is a true movement from within that is wholehearted and clear. I am willing because I know to what my actions are contributing, and those purposes are significant to me even if they are not preference. I am truly choosing, as opposed to having no clue what else I would do and therefore, essentially, giving up on participating fully (e.g. in the face of one person who is pushing for his or her ideas strongly).

As participant in a group, bringing the depth of my commitment to nonviolence means I will speak the truth, with courage, with integrity, and with care for others. It doesn’t mean I will allow everything to happen. The latter is the essence of passivity, which Gandhi was in moments more concerned about than violence itself.

As a leader in a group, my commitment to nonviolence includes keeping track of who is willing at any point in time, and if I see patterns of willingness emerging such that, for example, some people are always going along with someone else’s position, including my own as leader, I will stop taking “yes” for an answer, and engage such people in fuller dialogue to see what their needs really are, and to look for strategies that include their needs to their satisfaction.

A quiet person who sees such patterns from the side could begin the slow, complex process of connecting with the person who has the drive, and with the people who are “going along” to bring about more connection. I don’t know of shortcuts. If you are not the designated leader, the only power you have is the power of your heart and mind to listen, to love, to create connection, and to empower people. 

Leading, Teaching, and Structure
Lastly, Dave wonders whether teaching is necessary in order to reach this level of skill within groups, and whether we need to see skillful leaders first before being willing to learn. Surprisingly, there is no simple answer here.

First, group members with personal skill do not necessarily make for effective group or organizational functioning. Several variables interact to affect the functioning of a group. Personal skill is only one of them. Others are the presence or absence of a (skilled, hopefully…) facilitator, and the structure of the process available. Many processes for group functioning exist that are very structured, and do not require a facilitator or any specific skill on the part of the people who participate in the group. Others require a high degree of personal skill and/or a facilitator. The process of decision-making that I have worked with and developed tends to require a facilitator, and requires a significant degree of skill. Even someone who is not the designated facilitator can support the group, although much more skill is then required. There is no need for everyone in the group to be skilled if a facilitator or leader is sufficiently committed to using this process and to holding everyone’s needs with care.

(next on this topic I return to part 4 of the Personal Growth and Social Change mini-series, and picks up the question of what actions constitute social change within a principled nonviolent framework)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Responding about “Maximizing Willingness”

by Miki Kashtan

This post and the next are a response to Dave Belden’s comment on part 3 of my Personal Growth and Social Change mini-series. Dave Belden is the editor of Tikkun Daily, where I am cross-posted. I believe what’s below will make more sense if you read part 3 of my mini-series and Dave’s comment before reading what’s below.

When I wrote the section on willingness and group functioning I was well aware that what I was writing would not be practical. What would be needed in order to put any of this into practice is beyond the scope of what a blog entry here and there could support people in doing. Instead, I was reaching for enough clarity so that the ideas and images could inspire some people to want to explore, learn, experiment, and ask questions. At least to hope instead of be resigned to how things are. We are much more often motivated by fear and anger than by hope in our actions, and I want to contribute to more hope if I can.

All that said, I would like to address at least partially the specific questions that Dave raised, because I treasure the opportunity for more depth and clarity they provide. This leads to a few key points.

The Significance of Decision-Making
Dave asks about starting and running groups or projects with the tools I point to. In truth, I don’t know of any groups or organizations that are operating fully in line with the principles that inform my writings in this blog. I am heartened by knowing that BayNVC, the organization I co-founded, approximates such operation to an extent I feel moved and happy about, and functions most of the time smoothly and without endless meetings because we have a high level of trust. Perhaps some stories about BayNVC operations will arrive in future posts.

So far I haven’t really given Dave much. Instead of the full stories he is asking for, I want to address decision-making in two ways. One is at the highest level, which has to do with the overall operations of a group or organization. Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, suggests that the most important decision to make collaboratively is the decision about the process of making decisions. If all agree that certain decisions are made by one person, then that person is likely empowered and entrusted. If, however, that one person decides to make those decisions, and others don’t have a say, they will likely experience the same behavior as imposition or domination. I suspect that many groups and organizations have implicit agreements about decision-making rather than explicit, and that can interfere dramatically with the experience of trust in working together. At BayNVC we have looked at these questions several times, and from time to time have reviewed who makes what decisions. I don’t think we have a perfect solution. I do have a sense that most people within the organization trust that their needs and perspectives are valued in arriving at decisions that affect them and the organization.

The second point is on the lowest level, which is the moment by moment functioning of a group or organization. Especially in meetings, everything that happens is decisions. Some of them are content decisions: which action is a group to take? What service is an organization to deliver? What product will a company create? Some of them are about what happens in the group as content is discussed: who will speak next? How will the group know when a topic is complete? How will the ultimate decision be made? What will happen to those who are unhappy with a decision? Facilitators who are skillful in this art create trust by handling these and the many other small questions that arise in the moment skillfully, such that movement is prioritized at the same time as everyone’s voice and needs are held with care. Such trust allows for willingness to be experienced within a context of everyone mattering, which makes all the difference in the world when the hard decisions arrive.

(even this post, only a response to a comment, is turning into two entries [here's a link to the second one]. Can you tell that this topic is a deep passion of mine?...)