Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reweaving Our Human Fabric: Last-Minute Invitation to Bay-Area People

by Miki Kashtan

I am writing to issue an invitation to anyone who lives locally and would like to participate in celebrating the completion of writing my book Reweaving Our Human Fabric: Transforming the Legacy of Separation into a Future of Collaboration.

The event is tomorrow, August 22, 2011, at 6pm. The evening starts with a potluck dinner, and then a program that includes reading from the manuscript, live music, and a small exhibit of relevant sculpture. There is a small fee to cover administrative costs, and I also intend to do a fundraiser for the costs associated with bringing the manuscript to final form and to publication. Please read all the details here.

I hope some people join despite the last minute notice. Online registration is now closed, so please come and register in person at the door.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Expressing Our Pain without Blame

by Miki Kashtan

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

Friday, August 5, 2011

From Mistrust to Collaboration

by Miki Kashtan
Lately, I have been invited to support managers at different levels who attempt to embrace a collaborative approach to management within their organizations. Despite their clear intentions and strong commitment, I have seen a pattern arise that slows down and sometimes even subverts their efforts. The good news is that tips exist for addressing the factors that interact to create this tragic consequence.

Residual Habits

Our intentions are rarely sufficient by themselves to change long-seated habits. Since hardly any of us were raised with models of collaboration, we have learned to retreat or charge, give up or attempt to impose, direct others or follow their lead. For many managers this shows up as frequent bursts of anger. Even when managers embrace the intention to collaborate, without the existence of role models they are likely to revert to anger when they are not happy with someone’s choices. This occurs even if they are deeply committed to honoring everyone and creating a culture of experimentation where choices are never penalized.
Tip: Transforming patterns of angry behavior takes ongoing effort and commitment. Two key practices are willingness to show up vulnerably in our full unprotected humanity when things aren’t how we like them, and the deep work of embracing uncertainty and letting go of making things be exactly what we want.

Unrealistic Expectations

After some years of working in various settings, I have come to believe that many people have very, very little faith that anything can change. They go to their workplace day in and day out bracing themselves for what they don’t like in the environment, especially in terms of relationships with bosses. Even when they care deeply about the actual work they do, they still protect themselves on the relational level. Initially, what took me by surprise was seeing how the longing for respect and care don’t disappear, they just go underground. Once I start doing anything with the management, employees have a small surge of hope which unfortunately lacks any resilience. One city government I worked in, for example, I met first with management and then with the workers separately. I received a unanimous request from the workers to train the management first. Management agreed, and the workers were satisfied with this choice. Then, when I came to meet them again a few weeks later, the workers were entirely demoralized, because they expected to see change happen overnight in order to be able to hold on to any sense of hope that change could happen at all. Given that change of this kind takes consistent effort to integrate and make visible, this is a particularly tragic stumbling block in shifting to a culture of collaboration. 

Tip: One way to address unrealistic expectations for immediate change is to acknowledge the expectations explicitly. For a manager to make such an acknowledgment is consistent with the willingness to show up as fully human. That willingness can offer reassurance to employees that the work and the manager’s commitment are sincere. Managers can also ask for feedback on  their ability to create the shift to collaboration, which sends the message to  workers that their voice counts and that their input may be taken seriously.


Managers are not the only ones with deeply ingrained habits. Time and again I see situations where the person in the position of power is seriously committed to transformation while others continue to respond in a disempowered manner. They withhold their opinions even when asked; they say “yes” when they would rather not do something; they don’t ask for support when they need it; or they put up with behavior that distresses them without ever providing feedback. The net result is that the manager is left too much to their own devices for creating change that in any event is high stakes and difficult to integrate.
Tip: If we are truly committed to creating  change, one thing we can do is to take on employees’ mistrust and go out of our way to support their empowerment to meet us collaboratively. This goes hand in hand with all the other practices. We are called to invite feedback and express gratitude even when it hurts, so that we can continue to learn and  employees have a sense of mattering. We are also called to appreciate people when they say “no” to us so that they can increase their sense of freedom and choice, without which collaboration is meaningless. When organizational norms, often not of our own doing, interfere with more options for collaboration, we can be transparent about what is or isn’t possible, and a focus on facing the reality of the situation collaboratively.

Signs of Hope

The cultural context in which we all operate is not set up for collaboration, leaving us without models to emulate. Most of us grew up in an environment of enforcement and authority, and have likely internalized an either/or perspective that makes it challenging to engage collaboratively when there are differences in perspective or wishes, especially when those are compounded by power relations. Nonetheless, we can move towards greater and greater collaboration through understanding these patterns and embracing the willingness to stay the course for transformation, even in small ways. Change can come from unexpected places, too. As soon as even one employee becomes empowered to tell the truth and work collaboratively with the manager, others can see and learn, and the entire atmosphere can change. Wherever we are within an organization, if we plant seeds of change and water them patiently over time, we can harvest the sweet fruit of collaboration.