Thursday, June 28, 2012

How I Changed My Relationship to Time

by Miki Kashtan

The beginning of this transformation was innocuous enough. I was leading the morning session of a Nonviolent Communication Leadership Program retreat. A significant and unexpected conversation happened in the group, and I wanted to bring our attention back to the planned topic. Just then, someone had one more thing to say and asked to be heard, to be given empathy for what she was expressing. In response, I said something familiar such as: “I would love to be present with you now, and I feel too anxious about time.”

Before I managed to choose what to ask of her to see how to resolve the dilemma, someone else jumped in, rather agitated, saying something like: “I am tired of everything always being about time. Time this and time that. Enough. Time…  time…  time... I can’t stand it any more.” The ferocity of his reaction took me entirely by surprise, and then didn’t. If Nonviolent Communication is about the human needs, then attributing any choice to “time” was exiting the awareness of needs as motivating every action. My awkwardness and confusion turned into serious curiosity. I told him I was eager to explore it deeply and would get back to him. We somehow worked out the agitation of the moment, the decisions about what we would give our attention to were made, and the morning ended.

Time and Needs

Later that afternoon, I sat with some of my colleagues and began my exploration. All I had to guide me was a question I derived from the morning’s insight: if time is not part of the needs consciousness I was cultivating in me and sharing with others, then what does it mean to make all choices based on needs and not on time? I understood rather quickly that the first thing it meant was that I would want to find a way to articulate my choice that was based on needs, not on a concept such as time.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Who Gets to Decide?

by Miki Kashtan

When my nephew Yannai was very young, he confidently walked up to a parent who was giving strong instructions to another little one. “But he gets to decide, right?” he said, completely confident that all other households were run in the same way that his was. It never occurred to him at that time that the overwhelming majority of children in the world grow up constantly being told what to do or not do.

An Executive Director of a non-profit with a large staff presented herself to me as “the one that says ‘no’ to everyone,” accepting that others would not like her because of that. She didn’t conceive of her role as the one making things possible for everyone. I didn’t see any evidence in our conversation that she could envision a collaborative relationship with the staff, where they decide together what makes sense and is doable within the budget.

During an in-service for teachers in a school, I asked the teachers to name the needs that their students were bringing with them to school and which they saw themselves as wanting to attend to. They named learning, safety, care, even meaning. The one glaring omission was the need for autonomy or choice. Teachers in this middle school did not see their students as having this need, or didn’t see it as part of their job as teachers  to support this need. I don’t know which it was. What I do know is that when I brought up this point, talked about how huge children’s need for autonomy is, and made some suggestion about having students be involved in decisions that affect them, one of the teachers responded with great vehemence. What she said has stayed with me for the last nine years. “Oh, no,” she started. “What you are talking about is democracy in the classroom. My classroom is not a democracy. I am the dictator. I am a benevolent dictator, but I am the dictator.” There was no shred of doubt in my mind that this particular teacher was deeply committed to and cared about the well-being of the students in her classroom. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Basic Pitfalls of Using NVC

by Miki Kashtan

When many people first learn NVC, they become so enthusiastic about the possibilities they see unfolding, that they immediately try to put it to use everywhere. Often enough, the results can be disastrous, such that other people become deeply suspicious of NVC. Here is a sample of what people often hear from others in such circumstances:
  • “It’s like I’ve got a complete stranger staying in my house.”
  • “Don’t use this NVC thing on me.” 
  • “What happened to you? Can’t you speak normal?”
  • “You sound so clinical.”
  • “Why can’t you just be honest with me and tell me what’s really going on with you?”
The fundamental issue happening here, as I see it, is that people fall in love with what NVC can bring to their lives and to the world, while attributing that miracle to the language used rather than to the consciousness shift that precedes the choice of words. As a result, they use the language in their interactions with others instead of seeing it as a practice tool designed to support integration of principles and to facilitate navigation of difficult moments with mutual consent. Because of how challenging that distinction between the language and the underlying consciousness is, I want to carefully unpack this paradox.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

It’s Not So Easy to Be Rich

by Miki Kashtan

I had my first true inkling that being rich might have its own challenges in the mid ‘80s, when I was in a relationship with a millionaire. At the time I was living in a tiny apartment on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan, which was still in the early phase of massive gentrification. More than once, I remember him standing at my window looking at the people walking up and down the street, and saying: “They all want to be where I am.” More than the words, it was the unmistakable tone of melancholy that I heard in his voice that affected me. Nothing in his demeanor resembled happiness. I also remember another phrase he often said: “What comes after success?”

One of the mythologies of our culture is that having money is the single most important factor in the choices we make, the most reliable path to a life of happiness, and the ticket to feeling good about ourselves. In some significant ways, money indeed provides access to more resources, such as material goods of any kind as well as services that may not be available to all. Having enough money means a certain kind of immediate ease with all manner of decisions. I don’t intend to minimize the significance of such material benefit.

And still... The more I have come to know the lives of people with significant access to resources, the more struck I am with how many challenges and hardships they experience. Given how easily and often the rich are maligned (a challenge in and of itself), I wanted to offer my intuitive and learned understanding of the plight of the rich. If you happen to have access to money, you will likely recognize some of these dilemmas. If not, I hope you can imagine it. My goal, here as often, is to support our collective movement toward a world that works for all, the currently rich and the currently poor, by reducing the veil that hides our humanity from each other.