Friday, August 31, 2012

Some Thoughts about Trust

by Miki Kashtan

Trust, like safety, runs deep. When we don’t experience trust, as when we don’t experience safety, we shut down, protect, and hide our vulnerability. We also, in both cases, tend to place responsibility for our experience on the outside. It is extraordinarily challenging, when we don’t experience trust, to recognize it as our experience instead of assuming that whoever we are not trusting is simply not trustworthy. It is similarly difficult, when our experience tells us that we are not safe, to step outside of the conviction that “it” is unsafe to be where we are.

Before proceeding much further, I want to make it clear here that I am talking about trust and safety as they relate to the emotional and social aspects of life, and I am not addressing situations in which physical safety is at risk. Only a rare few of us are able to maintain choice and presence in the face of physical danger. As inspiring as such stories are, they are not within reach of most of us, and I am therefore choosing to exclude physical safety from what I am focusing on. That said, I nonetheless want to stress that my readings so far in life have led me to believe that the human possibility exists that even when what’s at stake is our physical safety, accepting our vulnerability and our ultimate inability to control ourselves or the environment, we often have more ability to transform our inner experience and to affect our outer environment.

From Trusting People to Trusting in Life

Some people are slow to develop trust. They check out new people for a while before lowering their guards and trusting them. Whether by grace or naïveté, my own responses have been different. I usually have a great deal of ease trusting people when I first meet them. I extend my heart, expect the best, get excited about possibilities, and open up fully.

Some people lose trust with someone instantaneously and have an extremely difficult time restoring it. I’ve had chilling experiences with people, times when I did something that affected another person negatively, and that was the end of any communication between us. Or times when one false move resulted in such profound loss of trust toward me that I couldn’t imagine what I could do to restore trust, ever. A distance descended on the relationship, either in the form of coldness, or in the form of avoidance of meaningful engagement, keeping things on a safe surface. I’ve also had experiences when people responded in dramatically different ways, and approached me to engage in order to restore trust, which we were then able to do.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Long Arc of Commitment

by Miki Kashtan

One of the challenges that many people must transcend along the way of integrating the radical freedom that living from within our needs spells is the temptation to ignore commitments we made at a certain point because of a more pressing and live need that arises in the moment. At a recent workshop, the difficult task of balancing spontaneity and intention came up. In the conversation that ensued we used a metaphor that helped us understand more fully both the challenge and what we can do about it.

Whenever we make a decision to do something to attend to a need or some needs, the metaphor goes, we are drawing an arc between the moment we are in and the completion of what the decision is about, ideally the fulfillment of those needs. If I decide to go to the market to get vegetables for dinner that arc is much shorter, and therefore closer to the ground, than the arc that would signify a decision to go to graduate school and get a Ph.D. in sociology. At any moment in time, any number of arcs are active at various places on the trajectory. I, the person who always decides what I do next, choose among the many of them which I will give my attention to. On the way to the market I encounter a friend I haven’t seen in years, and am faced with the choice of delaying the vegetables and the dinner they promise. While in graduate school I find myself impatient with the book I am reading for a seminar and I want to take a ride to the beach. Having decided that I want to dedicate my resources to supporting people working to transform the world, I am faced with an invitation to work with a corporation, at a time I am financially strapped.

What is it that helps me stay the course with the initial, longer arc, when the immediate needs keep arising? Is this even what I would want to do, in all circumstances? How do I discern fruitfully? “I am not a slave to my own decisions,” a friend said one day when he lit up a cigarette within days after deciding to quit. What does freedom really look like in those moments when an earlier decision that may no longer feel alive, relevant, or real, encounters an immediate call to our attention, another need that is born from within the flow and reality of the moment? It “feels”, often, freer to ignore the past decisions and only respond to what’s in the moment, one of the challenges that anyone who seriously applies themselves to the study of Nonviolent Communication learns sooner or later. Is that the real freedom, or is there another kind of freedom in being able to stay true to an earlier decision, to follow the arc of life inherent in the moment in which the commitment was made?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Our Habitual Responses to Authority

by Miki Kashtan

I have known for some time now that the models of authority and leadership we have inherited are deeply flawed and fully embedded in the either/or paradigm which underlies our way of living. We lack forms, models, and habits of collaboration which are essential for transforming the way we use power. I have looked at some of the dilemmas and challenges that this presents to any of us who take on responsibility and leadership anywhere and want to do it with care and integrity. One of the obstacles to collaborative leadership that I have looked at is the tragic phenomenon of pervasive disempowerment which makes the challenge of collaborating from above that much more difficult. People hear demands when they are asked to do something by a leader; they remain cynical about efforts to solicit their input and participation in decision-making; or they persist in not expressing themselves honestly even when a leader is committed to creating a no reprisal environment.

Once I began to recover from my despair about not finding ways of changing relationships with people from my own position of limited power, I recognized, sadly, that the same forces that shape how those in power act also shape our responses to those in power. Unless we put deliberate attention into it, we accept without much questioning the notions of power that have been handed down to us as the only version of power there is. When I lead workshops about power, I almost invariably find that people have a deeply suspicious relationship to power. Invariably, this has been because of what they associate with power: lack of care for others, top-down unilateral decision-making, and power-over relationships. We accept, in particular, another either/or aspect of the prevalent power paradigm: that the only possible responses to power are submission or rebellion.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Are Judgments Wrong?

by Miki Kashtan

This piece was born out of my ongoing confusion about how to talk about the vision of living beyond right and wrong thinking. Two questions repeatedly arise, and I am not always satisfied with my responses to them. As different as they may seem, both, to me, are indicative of the same challenge. One question is some version of: “Are you saying that it’s OK to kill someone?” The other takes the form of: “Aren’t you saying that judgments are wrong?” My one word answer to both of them is simply “no.” So, what, then, am I saying?

Our Words Have Consequences

My rather arbitrary starting place in disentangling the many threads in this knot is to explore the significance of our choice of words. Saying that something is “wrong”, or “right”, or “beautiful”, for that matter, has consequences for the speaker as well as for the person hearing the words. This form of speaking assumes a standard of what these words mean that is external to the speaker and the listener. The speaker is not taking full responsibility for being the one making that judgment. The listener is subtly invited to agree with the speaker rather than to understand the speaker. The ensuing conversation, if one takes place, is less likely to be one of exploration and connection than one of making pronouncements and, in the case of disagreement, debate, possibly acrimony.

If, instead, the speaker speaks of their experience, what they say becomes incontrovertible and invites a different quality of relating. No one can argue with me about whether or not I liked a certain movie. Anyone could argue with me about whether or not this was a bad movie. Speaking of our own experience, our own inner frame of meaning, and taking responsibility for that being my frame instead of some truth that lives outside of me, has different effects.

For myself, based on years of learning, practicing, and teaching, I can say with definite clarity that I prefer the consequences of speaking without judgments to what happens when I use judgment words. The quality of connection and dialogue, and the capacity of people to work together to create something they can both live with, increase with the former. In part, this is because saying things from a personally owned perspective tends to be more vulnerable and therefore, again in my experience, invite a response that is also more vulnerable. In part, this is because when the speaker expresses things in that way, there tends to be more of an explanation of a “why” that the other side can then relate to.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Would You Help Support Our Work?

by Miki Kashtan

In a recent post I mentioned that we have had a serious crisis here at Bay Area Nonviolent Communication (BayNVC), the organization I co-founded ten years ago. I expect some people who read this blog have not heard about this crisis, as I have not previously written about it here. The organization is recovering extraordinarily well: we have restructured our operations to operate within our means and, thanks to an amazing response to our fundraising efforts, have already retired about 60% of our debt.

But we still have a ways to go and I realize that some who read my posts might like to support either my writing and work specifically or the work of BayNVC in general. We have set up a way for you to give regularly -- even as little as a few dollars a month on a regular basis would be a huge help, both for retiring our debt and for creating the new ways we want to bring Nonviolent Communication to the world.

My own writing and work: Although some people do make income from blogging, this has not been true for me. If you like what you’re reading here I’d love you to consider giving a regular monthly amount. I’m also deeply involved in writing books: I have just fully come to terms in the last week with the realization that the book I wrote last year, Reweaving Our Human Fabric, is actually four books, as I prepared volumes two through four for a publisher who is considering the first one. There are six more books on other topics in the pipeline! More and more, I am called to writing as a way to reach many more people than I can reach through teaching.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

All At Once

by Miki Kashtan

On my post this past week I wrote about my desire "to enjoy in full and mindfully the good times, and to accept and savor the bad times." I was delighted to see that in his comment a reader, Ron Greenstein, included the lyrics to a song he had composed, "For Each Hill", about accepting the good times and bad times, the sane times and mad times. In response I want to offer this poem of mine, which I have never before shared publicly.

All At Once


Across centuries and continents
the web of life is holding us
unknown to each and all.
We are never all asleep
or all awake.
Someone is always carving a face
in a stone, from the Earth.
Someone is always selling a face
to another.
Someone is always smiling
someone is crying.
Endless rows of cars flow incessantly
while a million nimble hands are
creating toys
caring for those who cannot.
All at once.
Bombs fall and
babies are born
birds and animals wither away
covered with spilled oil
never able to know why
and some awaken to life
and understand for the first time.
All at once.
One kills
and one tends to the wounds.
All at once.
The ocean rises up and 10000 are wiped out
and grace visits others.
All at once.
All at once.
The scream in me
explodes and reverberates
echoes from mountain tops
descends into the rivers
floats into the ocean
which still cannot quiet it down.
So loud that
the music of the gods
comes in barely audible.
I cannot remember the time
before the scream but
I know the smell
of the freedom beyond it.

Miki Kashtan, Oakland, July 27, 1996

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Global Art Project: The Dragonfly

by Miki Kashtan

For years I've been quoting Sharif Abdullah (at left) and referring people to his book Creating a World that Works for All

He recently posted a blog entry in which he describes a fictional global cooperation project that touched me so much that I want to share it with those who read my blog and may not know of his. 

Here are the first few paragraphs:

The Global Art Project:  The Dragonfly  

[Most of the time, my topics are deadly serious.  However, that’s not the only kind of writing I do.  I’d like to share a piece I wrote awhile ago, the seriousness hidden inside the humor.  It’s actually based on a dream!  It was nice waking with a smile on my face, having dreamt this!]  


Imagine a delicate dragonfly, with glass wings, a metal body and spindly metal legs.  It’s thin, outstretched wings shimmer iridescence in the sunlight.

Now, imagine this dragonfly 100 miles long and 75 miles wide.  You see it above you in the sky, because it’s in low Earth orbit.  The first global work of art.

What did it take to create the dragonfly?

All it took total human cooperation.  All of the nations of the Earth had to come to consensus.  It took most of the productive output of humanity for 50 years.  For decades, all the people of the Earth had to work on Project Dragonfly.

All of the money, every penny of it, that was spent on killing and oppressing other humans was diverted to Project Dragonfly.  (This provided more than enough money for several dragonflies.)

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Demon of Doing Well

by Miki Kashtan

Some time in May, it became clear to all of us at BayNVC, the organization I co-founded in 2002, that we were in such financial difficulty, that even after laying off three of four remaining administrative employees, including the executive director, we were facing a significant debt, much of which was to me or in my name (you can read more about what happened, and how we are responding to this crisis, here). This came at a time when I was very depleted and in need of a break from responsibility. The level of crisis I felt was acute, sharp, visceral. It affected me physically with unprecedented intensity of stress. One of the more challenging aspects of my experience was the utter sense of helplessness, seeing no way in which I could make any choice that would attend to the magnitude of the crisis and still attend to my longing for balance, for a way to care for myself.

Taking on responsibility for the whole is part of how I respond to crisis, personal or otherwise, so it’s no surprise to me that it took four weeks to envision a different path forward, one I could embrace with integrity, which took me towards releasing myself from responsibility. It took another four weeks, and much inner work, both conscious and unconscious, to regain my sense of freedom, to see a way that I could focus on what was most important to me with far less cost. Meanwhile, the most immediate initial ripples of the crisis were subsiding. Fundraising efforts and other ingenious ideas were beginning to bear fruit. The group of collaborative trainers working with BayNVC coalesced into a sweet community forging a way forward together, making decisions that made sustainability possible. Some conflicts that emerged during the transition were dissolving, and new opportunities began to emerge.

Then, one morning, I woke up feeling good. The sense of crisis was gone. I felt back in my life, full of energy and a sense of possibility. Challenge was still there, and it didn’t detract from this fundamental sense of well-being. Then, immediately in the wake of this lovely feeling, I was filled with dread about the next bad thing that was going to happen. This experience filled me with sadness, even though I understand the many experiences in life that created this expectation within me. The sadness is not because I have any illusion that there could ever be good times that would just last forever. Rather, I was sad because I wanted to be able to enjoy my well-being while it lasted instead of losing it right away because of the fear of losing it later.