Monday, March 28, 2011

Hubris, Fukushima, and Our Future

by Miki Kashtan

Despite decades of news fasting, I have been following the situation at Fukushima quite closely since the earthquake on March 11th. I am neither an expert on the field, nor do I think that there is much that hasn’t been said already about the situation, and so I don’t plan to say a whole lot about the situation itself. What I want to write about instead is how the situation is being talked about – or not, as the case may be.

Reporting about Fukushima
For the first number of days, updates about the situation appeared frequently. A Wikipedia article was created that kept a timeline of the events and was being updated many times a day.

In the last few days I see two developments in going in opposite directions. On the one hand the situation at Fukushima appears to me to be worsening. I hear of significantly higher doses of radiation showing up in more and more places. I hear of plutonium seeping into the ground. I hear of radiation-contaminated water preventing access to cooling the reactors, and of an incredibly delicate balancing act between keeping the contaminated water from overflowing and keeping the reactors cool enough. I hear of partial meltdowns and possible nuclear fission that’s happened. I hear of no clear big-picture plan for how to turn things around. I hear of decisions that had been made that are now being questioned. I even hear of the government considering taking control of the plant because of dissatisfaction with the efforts on the part of TEPCO, the plant operator.

On the other hand the updates are less and less frequent, and are less and less prominent in the news.

I struggle to make sense of this. It’s far from the first time I have had a similar experience. I have noticed that in general we only hear about some place in the world when there is war or other disasters, and then that place disappears. This time, though, we are less about a situation that’s continuing to get worse. Why is that? Is it because someone, somewhere, decided that the situation in Libya is “more important” and therefore the instability and protracted crisis in Fukushima is demoted? Is it because someone, somewhere, decided that people don’t have the attention span?

I don’t have answers. I just know I find this unsettling.

Thinking about Fukushima
Early on in the unfolding of the Fukushima tragedy, someone sent me a link to Brave New Climate – a blog written by Barry Brook, an Australian professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences. The general message of that blog is that the way of the future is nuclear, and that nuclear is the only antidote to climate change. As I read the original post, still struggling to make sense of anything that I was hearing about Fukushima, I found the attempt to reassure me that “there is no credible risk of a serious accident” did not reassure me in the least. Two days later Barry wrote the following: “My initial estimates of the extent of the problem, on March 12, did not anticipate the cascading problems that arose from the extended loss of externally sourced AC power to the site, and my prediction that ‘there is no credible risk of a serious accident’ has been proven quite wrong as a result. It remains to be seen whether my forecast on the possibility of containment breaches and the very low level of danger to the public as a result of this tragic chain of circumstances will be proven correct. For the sake of the people there, I sure hope it does stand the test of time.”

Being a scientist, after looking at the facts two days later, Barry admitted his error on the factual level. I don’t see any evidence, nor have I seen any since then, that he is questioning his process of thinking. From my perspective, if his prediction was wrong once, it could be wrong again, both about his immediate prediction, as well as about his overall approach to nuclear power.

I confess to having been haunted and obsessed by Barry’s blog. I haven’t given up hope that he and the many people commenting on his blog will start questioning their beliefs based on the increasing severity of the situation and their continuing inability to predict (as I understand things; I could be misinterpreting the severity or their predictions or both). For now, the general tone I have heard is that Fukushima is providing proof that the future is nuclear. The reason as I understand it from what I read is that every form of energy has risks, and that an accident like Fukushima has minimal risk compared to, say, the risks of using coal. Barry sees nuclear waste, for example, as an economic boon, a source of cheap energy for future nuclear plants that can use it. He also believes that renewable energy is not going to pan out as a serious alternate source of energy, and hence concludes that nuclear energy is the only alternative to climate change. The possibility of reducing consumption, even drastically, as a way to address climate change, is not part of the conversation on his blog.

What Do We Learn from Errors?
Ancient Greek tragedies contain numerous examples of hubris, which is often a reference to “actions of those who challenged the gods or their laws … resulting in the protagonist’s downfall.” (Wikipedia article) In modern parlance hubris is equated with a certain kind of pride or arrogance.

For some reason I cannot completely fathom, Barry’s error and his way of thinking about it have become a symbol for me of a particular form of hubris. We have come to believe that we can control nature, subjugate it to our wishes, and predict the results. We have come to believe that science and technology can offer solutions to every problem, even those caused by technology itself. We have come to idolize a certain form of “rational” thinking and to look down on emotions, needs, intuition, bodies.

I am scared by this kind of thinking. I care deeply about our species and about nature. I want us to thrive, and I want us to thrive within nature’s capacity. I see the way of thinking symbolized by Barry’s blog as having brought us, collectively, to the very challenging place we are in as a species. I am nervous to be writing this, and I still want to take the risk of doing it, because I am so desperately hoping that we will find a way to wake up and change course.

As I said earlier, I am not making any pronouncement about nuclear power and certainly not any predictions about Fukushima. I am worried, despite not having predictions, because substances that remain toxic for tens of thousands of years frighten me, especially when I read that no adequate solution has been found so far for storing the waste from nuclear reactors, Barry’s cheerful ideas about using nuclear waste notwithstanding. Worried or not, what I am most struggling to embrace, against the legacy that I, too, was born and trained in, is humility, the attitude of not knowing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Power of Collaboration

by Miki Kashtan

Everything that at some point is in the future eventually becomes the present and then the past. I know this is not major news for anyone, and yet the experience of it continues to amaze me each time. For some months now I had been inviting people to come to the Making Collaboration Real conference that took place this past weekend. Now that this conference is in the past, I want to share some of my highlights and what comes next.

Collaboration has become more and more of a stated goal or practice in many places. One of the things that became apparent to me during this conference is just how much we need to learn in order to achieve true collaboration. Perhaps counter-intuitively, in order to collaborate well we need to learn how to engage in conflict in a productive way. Sometimes when we are uncomfortable with conflict we end up acting indirectly, which may result in more pain and discomfort for others, sometimes even for ourselves, rather than face the discomfort directly. For example, today I heard from a friend about a former employee who is very dedicated to nonviolence and collaboration, and yet since this person left she has engaged in actions that stir up conflict and may result in punitive action directed at a former co-worker instead of coming to her supervisor to attempt a resolution. What would it take for all of us to learn to walk towards conflict so that we can find ways of working with those who are different from us or whose actions are upsetting to us?

Collaboration means learning more about power, and engaging effectively across power differences. One theme that showed up repeatedly is the isolation of people at the top of organizations, especially those who run the most traditional of them. Because others are afraid, those at the top don’t get full information; they hear more often than not an inauthentic “yes”; they are not challenged enough; and they are seen as the “enemy” which means that actual co-creation is less available to them. Ulrich Nettesheim presented a series of insights and practices for making the focus on human needs relevant to people who work at the top. All in all, I became even more aware than I was before how essential it is to relate to the goals, vision, and perspective of the person at the top in order to establish sufficient trust to get any openness to the power of connection and collaboration.

We also explored power from a different angle, when Edmundo Norte challenged us to look at our unconscious assumptions and perceptions about people different from us. We learned how being positions of power and privilege makes us less able to see the effects of our actions, and how essential it is to learn to engage others and invite their insights and wisdom, because they can see what we cannot. And when we are in a position of less privilege, how important and vital for the whole is our capacity to find courage to speak up. True collaboration appears to require both love and courage, speaking and listening, and changing our habitual ways of acting in the world so we can see and show more of what’s going on.

I was delighted to see how much of the conversation during the conference focused on systemic considerations, beyond looking only at individual needs. I have had a sense for some time now that the community of people who have been studying Nonviolent Communication have not been sufficiently informed about the organizational level, and I am delighted the word is now out for many that when humans form an organization something else is going on. Marie Miyashiro, organizational consultant, discussed her distillation of the needs and conditions that are essential for any organization to thrive: identity, life affirming purpose, direction, expression, and energy/resources. Gregg Kendrick, former business owner, inspired us with his personal story of how he applied the principles of Nonviolent Communication in his own business, and how he now supports other organizations in shifting into a paradigm of true collaboration using a combination of Nonviolent Communication and Dynamic Self-Governance. I was inspired and intrigued by his firm commitment to work only with those who are consciously ready to embrace the cultural transformation.

We also heard about two ongoing experiments with introducing Nonviolent Communication into large scale organizations that are only minimally committed to such change at the highest levels. While the trainings of people who work at the organizations are showing powerful results in terms of a variety of measures, the question of how to translate the successes into a shift in the structures of decision-making remains open. Whether internal to the organization, as Wes Taylor is, or an external consultant/trainer as Dian Killian is with her team of trainers, I am left with a great deal of curiosity about how far change can proceed without the explicit blessing of the person in charge, which loops back to the question about how connection with the person at the top can be made. I am glad that Jane Connor who works with Dian is conducting scientific research on their work at a Fortune 500 company.

Over the course of the conferences many people expressed a tremendous hunger for practical how-to’s that they could apply back in their own organizations. Two of the sessions we presented were more practical. Martha Lasley led us through a preliminary practice of coaching skills using the tools of Nonviolent Communication, and I modeled a decision-making process based on the principle of maximizing willingness, a way of making collaborative decisions that everyone can live with.

I am deeply committed to integrity between what we teach and what we practice. Because of that, my biggest personal celebration is the degree of collaboration that I experienced among the presenters. Some of us had never been in a room together, and yet we worked together to make this conference a success. We met every morning to reflect on how things are going and how we might adapt the flow of the conference to respond to feedback. We had several conversations in which we explored some differences in our approaches to the work, and I found our trust deepening as a result of these explorations, reaffirming my faith in the power of dialogue to metabolize and make use of differences. I know that it’s only through deep collaboration that we can truly rise to the challenge of the immense need we are facing on a global scale. I can’t wait to see how this collaboration will continue to unfold in the coming months and years.

If you are interested in seeing how you can learn about more collaboration in your workplace or consulting practice, come to our next informational call for the MCR yearlong program that starts in May.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Talking about Bullying

by Miki Kashtan

When I said “yes” to giving a keynote speech about bullying at a community conference put together by the Albany Unified School District in CA, I knew I could count on a global network of Nonviolent Communication trainers to help me. The biggest support I received was a deeply moving story about Zeke, a 16-year-old boy, member of the KKK, who was met with such empathy that he could recognize that his membership was an attempt to have connection with his father. Being understood as deeply as he was by my colleague Catherine Cadden was a new experience for Zeke. He came up to her after the event and said: “You know, that was the first time I felt fear begin to leave my body. I’m actually relieved.” Zeke ended up leaving the KKK after taking a deeper look at his choices.

I titled my talk For the Benefit of all Children: A Compassionate Perspective on Bullying, and started it with Zeke’s story (click here to see the talk on Youtube). I could see and hear the shock in the room when I mentioned his affiliation. As the story unfolded, I sensed that people were trying on the idea, so foreign to our habitual sensibilities, of meeting a KKK member with empathy. Unless, of course, one is a KKK member, in which case meeting many other people with empathy would be equally shocking. By the end of the talk I had a sense that the audience and I had been on a journey together. We went from an individual responsibility for and a punitive response to bullying to a community-based sense of responsibility and a systemic approach based on preventive and restorative responses. Understanding violence as an expression of unmet needs invited the audience to consider the possibility that having everyone’s needs cared for and more of them met would likely result in significantly less violence. Whatever is leading a person to bullying would not be attended to by being told it’s wrong and bad to bully. Especially given the strong association of violence with shame, as James Gilligan so lovingly calls us to consider in his book Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes, punishment can only increase violence, because it leads to more shame.

I ended the talk with a vision of possibility. In this vision schools are structured in a way that maximizes children’s physical safety. When transgressions happen, both the child who bullied and the child who was bullied know they will be accepted and supported in finding reconnection.      The child who was bullied has hope that s/he can express her/his vulnerability and pain, and that it matters to the community. The child who bullies has support in finding other ways to get her/his needs met. The child who bullies also has hope that there is a place in the community for her/him. No one is ostracized. The community has a way to talk about behaviors that harm others without making the person who did the harming bad or wrong. The sense of a community caring for everyone is maintained even through hard times.

I have so much faith that in such a community fewer and fewer children will resort to violence, because they will have ample other avenues to meet their needs.

If the audience indeed went on a journey with me, I also went on a journey with them. Being a visionary for so many years I have gotten into a tragic habit of assuming that people will ridicule or oppose my vision. I believe I spoke this time without compromising my message and without alienating people, at least as far as I could tell through my interactions with the audience. To do so I had to muster enough trust and confidence to assume that people will join me on this journey, to counter my habitual assumption to the contrary. I walked from the place of being all alone in the world to a place of trusting that there is room for me in this world and in this community that invited me to speak. Like the person who bullies, or the one bullied, I want to trust my belonging. I can see now that the invisible expectation of not being heard, not having room, not finding commonality, may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy and make it harder for me to connect fully with others. I hope to be able to apply this lesson in every area of my life.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Giving as an Art Form

by Miki Kashtan

Yesterday I visited a magical place where a small miracle has been happening every Wednesday for over 14 years: One family hosts a drop-in meditation group that is unlike any other I remember.

Anyone can come, as information about this group is publicly available on the web at I imagine different people will find different aspects of the evening magical. For me it was the purity and expansiveness of giving that I saw, and most especially around the feeding which took place after the meditation and the circle of sharing that followed it. But I am getting ahead of myself here.

The circle of sharing last night started with a reading from Rabindranath Tagore, Freedom Manifests in Action. Before the circle started someone calculated that with the number of people in the room we would each have 49 seconds. From then on until well past half the circle time I was fully aware of the irony of un-freedom I was living in: I was so preoccupied with the thought that some people were taking much longer than 49 seconds to speak, and so worried about people not getting a chance to be included, that I was not able to be fully present to myself or the circle. Here’s where miracle #1 happened for me: the circle ended exactly at the time designated, and the microphone circulated around the entire room. Somehow this served as metaphor for me of sufficiency. I breathed in deeply, realizing I was learning something significant.

Meanwhile I was wondering how the food was going to work out. This was, after all, just one family’s living room with a family-size counter. Slowly the system, which I imagine was honed through years of trial and error, revealed itself to me. A few volunteers served the food into plates that were then placed on the counter, and one person after another came, took a ready-made plate, and sat down to eat at small folding tables, close to the ground, in silence. The experience of having food be given to me rather than putting it in my plate was exquisite.

Miracle #2 happened in response to my wondering about portion sizes, which I thought were small. I was prepared to leave without eating enough food, because I was so touched and grateful already. And then the extent of the giving became apparent. One after another people came to my little table as well as all the others, and without any words offered more food. Each was carrying a bowl with an abundance of one food item, and simply dished it out to any of us that signaled we wanted more. There was more than enough, and I left in the end with a very satisfied stomach.

This was not all. Awash with gratitude I sought the woman who did all the cooking, who has been doing it for 14 years, having fed tens of thousands of people. I expressed my gratitude and awe at the level of giving. Without ever stopping her attention to the food and the serving, she said very strongly that she receives so much from the giving. Whereupon I had an instant insight I shared with her: only giving that feels like receiving can be sustained over time. She smiled in recognition. We went on talking, and another insight landed on me. This was a model of a different way of allocating resources. First give a basic amount to everyone. Then share the abundance beyond the initial subsistence level with everyone who is still in need. And anyone who had truly had enough will have no issue with someone else getting more. This was miracle #3: a simple and profound understanding that is enriching and deepening my own understanding of and appreciation for the many possibilities that a gift-economy provides.

And the miracles continued. CharityFocus, the gift-economy incubator that Nipun Mehta, son of the family that so humbly and generously hosts these evenings, operates many projects on a completely volunteer basis, without staff or offices. I got to see and participate in a small way in one of their projects. Smile cards are regularly shipped all over the world to support people engaging in acts of kindness and inspiring others to do the same. Every Wednesday whoever is there and willing participates in shipping such cards to places all around the world. I saw a project in the forming, when a scientist showed simple science kits he is creating to distribute, free of charge, to middle school children who don’t usually have opportunities to learn science well. After I left many more conversations, serendipitous ideas, sharing, and simply humans engaging with each other continued into the night.

I want to keep learning from the complete and utter sincerity of unconditional giving I see and experience every time I am in contact with anyone associated with Charity Focus. I know that doing giving with such grace, attention to detail, and intentionality is one of the doorways into a possible future for all of us.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Correction and Clarification re Goldstone and Tikkun

by Miki Kashtan

Since i wrote my two pieces about Goldstone, I was informed that in part due to Tikkun's role, Richard Goldstone DID get to attend his grandson's Bar Mitzvah. Here's a link to the source in Haaretz (an Israeli daily). I was very happy to hear this despite my mild embarrassment at having not tracked the information accurately.

I also realized that I hadn't made it clear enough that Tikkun's 25th anniversary is open to the public and is an opportunity to be present for the award ceremony and to celebrate a magazine that has been dedicated to a unique perspective that places caring at the center of a vision of political and social life.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In Appreciation of Complexity

by Miki Kashtan

As I was writing yesterday about the Goldstone report and the Tikkun award given to him, I became more aware of how much both these men are holding positions of great complexity. As far as I understand, Goldstone agreed to accept the invitation to lead this commission because he was hoping to be able to counterbalance what he saw as one-sidedness from the UN. Indeed, his report condemns both sides, even though it was based only on Palestinian views. While he was making efforts to have an Israeli perspective included, the government of Israel didn’t accept the investigation (on grounds that it was biased to begin with) and thus did not cooperate with it.

Similarly Lerner regularly promotes a position that invites both sides of this ongoing conflict to hold understanding of each other, to recognize the difficult history, to understand both of their roles in contributing to the conflict and to violence. I believe they both see themselves as supporting Israel and opposing its policies, and as supporting both Israelis and Palestinians in living in peace, dignity, and safety.

In a climate where positions are polarized, this is a difficult position to hold. The vitriol that accompanies any polarized position spills over, and each side tends to associate those who hold complexity and paradox with the other side. I looked through one blog post and comments on the issue and saw people on both sides calling each other Nazis, for example.
To make matters even more controversial, the UN subsequently adopted a resolution that only condemned Israel, despite Goldstone’s insistence that the investigation and the report must include both sides. 

Those who are in the peace and justice movements hailed the Goldstone report. The Israeli and US governments, along with many vocal parts of the Jewish community, condemned it. I am aware of how incredibly divisive the Israel-Palestine issue is for so many people (even calling it this way can be upsetting for some). I wasn’t aware, however, of just how much Goldstone had been part of the mainstream Jewish community until the report came out. He calls himself a moderate Zionist. He has held prominent positions in very mainstream Zionist organizations. And he participated in investigating Nazis in Argentina to bring them to trial. This is no simple “enemy” of Israel.

None of these credentials protected him from being seen as a traitor by vast numbers of Jews, especially in South Africa. I imagine that he knew the risks when he took on this task. After all, he received similar kinds of responses when he conducted an investigation of apartheid in South Africa. He nonetheless proceeded to accept the invitation from the UN, saying: “I decided to accept it because of my deep concern for peace in the Middle East, and my deep concern for victims in all sides in the Middle East.” I don’t know if he could have predicted that he would ultimately choose not to attend his grandson’s Bar Mitzva.

I started writing about this topic because I was so inspired by the courage. As I was writing and learning about the issue, I realized I also wanted to support, however microscopically, de-polarizing of the topic by naming what I believe is at the heart of each side’s passion and conviction. As you read my attempt to understand each side, maybe you can try to apply it to your own experience with this issue, or to some other issue that you feel passionately about and about which you have strong opinions. I find this especially powerful when I am meeting someone with very different beliefs. Understanding the core values of the person with opposing views or the basic human needs and longings that are common to all helps me see the common humanity and remember the possibility of finding a way forward together, despite differences.

As far as I can imagine, the people who are so angry at Goldstone are doing so in the name of a deep wish for understanding of the pain and suffering of Jews over millennia. Maybe they are longing for relief, for some sense of safety, or for a place they can call their own in the world. I also imagine they want the humanity of Israeli soldiers to be seen. I have no difficulty understanding such longings.

What about those who celebrate Goldstone’s report, or those who ask for economic sanctions against Israel, or even those who call into question the very legitimacy of the state of Israel? I imagine what’s at the heart of the matter on this side is a rather similar wish for understanding, this time for the plight of the Palestinians. I imagine they are hoping for some effectiveness in addressing such pain, a way to create immediate relief and safety for the people who are suffering so much. And for their humanity to be seen, too. Again, I find no difficulty in understanding.

My difficulty is in the polarity, in the belief that there is room for one, not the other. That only one side can have legitimate needs; that only one side is seen as acting harmfully; and that only one side can claim self-defense. Lerner and Goldstone, in their different ways, are holding out to all of us the complex and nuanced perspective of possibility. Whether or not I align with either of their specific prescriptions for addressing the Israel-Palestine protracted crisis, I want, with them, to believe in the possibility of a Middle East that supports all its inhabitants in thriving.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Courage in the Midst of Controversy

by Miki Kashtan

For the most part, I have been staying clear of controversies. My passion, and where I see my gifts, is for the process of bringing people together across differences more so than in advocating for this or that position. I take a stand for certain principles and for a vision of a world that serves everyone, not for particular opinions, even though I do have my opinions in abundance. This is a conscious and ongoing choice because I want to make myself available to everyone, not only those with whom I happen to agree on any given issue. 

Today, however, I am about to walk a complex line on a rather sensitive topic. I am doing this because I have been writing about tests of courage several times in the last several weeks, and I want to acknowledge two men who have taken a stand despite significant costs in order to honor their own values and moral integrity.

A week from Monday, on March 14th, Tikkun is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Part of the celebration consists of 6 awards given to a number of people, one of whom is Justice Richard Goldstone from South Africa. Goldstone headed a fact-finding commission of the UN to Gaza in 2008-2009, and the report that came from that investigation has been the center of enormous controversy. So much so, that Goldstone agreed not to go to his grandson’s Bar Mitzva to avoid a mass demonstration that would divert attention away from the family and the focus on the boy.

I plan to post again tomorrow with more about the controversy and what lessons I want to draw from it. For now, I want to focus on courage. First, I want to take in how much courage Goldstone had to have in order to accept the invitation to lead the commission and to face the attacks and accusations he surely knew he would face.

Then I want to acknowledge Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine and founder of the Network for Spiritual Progressives, who decided to honor Goldstone. Again, this took significant courage. Soon after making his support of Goldstone public, his house was defaced with graffiti that said: “self-hating Jew” and “anti-Semite like Goldstone.” Rabbi Lerner didn’t back down, and continues to publicly endorse and defend Goldstone.

I have been very inspired and touched by the courage of these two men, and I decided to write this piece so I could acknowledge their courage and draw attention to the occasion of the 25th Anniversary and the award giving. As I started, I learned that much more was at stake here for me. I realized that in posting this piece I am stretching my own muscles around courage. Writing this post (including the 2nd part that’s coming tomorrow) has taken me longer than just about any other post on this blog. I write, erase, write again, look, rethink. I rarely do that, and so I have to believe I am afraid, somewhere, of some reaction, from someone. Now, as I am writing these words, I am tapping into compassion for all the people who don’t speak up about things that matter to them out of fear. What we are afraid of varies. The choice point is the same. At some point, somehow, we manage to take the stand, to recognize the risk and welcome it, accept the consequences, and live in integrity. I am hoping that by writing about this, and by adding my own fear to the mix and making visible the possibility of transcending fear to take a stand, I can contribute something to nurture more courage in more of us. I know we will need every bit of it, because so much is at stake if we want to turn the tide of human life on this planet into a more workable future.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Separation, Connection, and World Transformation

by Miki Kashtan

Last night I saw the movie I am by Tom Shadyac. In case you don’t know – Tom has been a writer and director of numerous comedy films which have netted him billions of dollars. In the course of the last number of years he has been on an incredible journey of shifting his values from success and consumption to simplicity, love, and compassion. He sold his mansion and established a foundation with the money. Here’s what his website says: “Ultimately, the goal of The Foundation for I AM is to help usher in a more loving, kind, compassionate, and equitable world for all.” The movie tells some of his story, and also sets out to answer two key questions through interviews with a number of well known thought leaders such as Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, and others: What’s wrong with the world, and what can be done to change it?

I enjoyed the movie tremendously. I appreciated the footage that served as background to the interviews, and his appearances on the screen that were interspersed with the interviews. It’s a rare documentary, in my experience, that manages to balance information, a strong point of view, and entertainment. This is what I experienced with this movie. I was inspired by seeing someone make such a personal journey of rededicating his resources to a cause other than personal consumption. I very much recommend it to anyone interested in these topics.

In addition, I have asked very similar questions, and have been thinking about the overlap between the movie’s answers and my own, as well as differences that were provocative and have already enriched me. The movie focuses on the profound role that the story of separation and its derivatives – scarcity, competition, and massive consumption – play in keeping war, domination, and poverty in place. I also was so happy to see a movie that shows some of the evidence that has been mounting in recent years that is challenging the core assumptions of separation. This evidence is so strong now, that researchers at UC Berkeley talk about “the survival of the kindest.” All of this was very compelling.

It was the “what can we do about it” part about which I was left puzzled and somewhat disappointed. It was a version of “Be the change” that leaves me lacking confidence about achieving the phenomenal mobilization towards change that I believe is necessary. The prescription, if I understood it correctly, is to make a commitment, all of us, to shift our internal story to one of love and compassion, which is, as the movie suggests, the fundamental nature of being human. If all of us do this, says Tom, then the shift will happen.

The movie calls for a massive waking up, a critical mass of people changing their actions and choices. What’s missing for me is first taking a serious look at how we can get enough people to wake up sufficiently. The challenge is immense, as I see it, because we are called to change millennia of deeply ingrained habits of separation that are often activated immediately when we see others take actions – personal or otherwise – that we don’t like. I am called to respond to this challenge. I want to find ways to sustain the loving orientation beyond the moments of epiphany. I want to learn more and more what keeps the story of separation so deeply ingrained. I want to provide vision, inspiration, and concrete practices that support making loving and vulnerable choices despite the strength of the message of separation.

The second missing piece for me is an understanding of the systemic and structural dimension of the life we live. It’s not just the stories in our heads and bodies. It’s also the organizations we have created, the institutions and norms that govern our lives, the economic engines of allocation of resources, the schools that educate our young, and the societal legacy of so many forms of separation that are beyond attitudes of individuals. Perhaps I am being small-minded, and I am open to that possibility. I simply can’t see that enough individuals can make enough change and create enough connection between them to shift that entire structure. To use a recent example, so many Egyptians came together and managed to topple the government. I am thrilled and in awe of this event. Does it challenge the fundamental logic of having a government that’s elected in particular ways and into which ordinary people don't have a real say except during the moments of election? I don’t think so!

Riding home I continued to discuss these rich questions. Then an idea arose that gave me some pleasure, much curiosity, and a little hope. If, as I also believe, we are equally capable of love and compassion as we are of conflict, protection, and separation, then there is likely an ongoing flow of opening and closing that happens to each of our hearts, in an entirely different rhythm and orientation than anyone else. Sometime we converge and have moments of exquisite love and intimacy. Sometimes we diverge and can’t connect. Tom shared, for example, that he noticed how much love there was in church communities that then doesn’t stay for the daily living outside the service. Something happens in times such as the Obama election that galvanized so many people, or the Egyptian uprising, or even something as small as a group of people getting together to share their experiences in a workshop. That something may simply be a form of synchronization of rhythms and orientation of the openness. How this happens is entirely mysterious to me. I am clear that people like Gandhi and King or the young people that organized the Egyptian mass demonstrations knew how to do this. Somehow they could issue a message that included enough vision and enough attentiveness to the real suffering of people that everyone could open up at once and a movement was born. That makes sense to me, and helps me understand how change becomes possible.

I am called to respond to this challenge, too. Beyond the individual level of functioning, I want to keep learning and teaching ways of working together, of creating organizations and systems that embody the same principles we love as individuals, and help us synchronize and move closer to harmonious functioning. There is much to learn, and much that is already known about taking love, heart, and empathy to the larger levels of functioning. I want to hold out, without wavering, the real, tangible, and practical possibility of establishing social systems that make room for everyone to thrive.