Friday, November 30, 2012

A Thread of Creative Hope

by Miki Kashtan

More often than I like, when I look around me, or hear the occasional news that breaks through my voluntary media fast, or in some other way come in contact with the world at large, my response to what I notice and observe is one of grief. This past week, three different pieces of news caught my fancy and brought a smile to my face. Then I saw a connecting link, and that’s when I decided to write about them here. 

Supporting Those Affected by Hurricane Sandy

For anyone who believes that Occupy is dead (I sort of did myself, with quite a bit of sadness), I urge you to learn about one of its latest incarnations. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a massive grassroots effort in New York City that’s come to be known as Occupy Sandy emerged from the movement in order to support people who’ve been hit by the hurricane, especially in low-income areas. Rather than duplicating information that’s widely available elsewhere on the Internet, such as this on HuffPo, I want, instead, to highlight some of what’s been most striking for me about this initiative.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Holidays, Families, and Fairness

by Miki Kashtan

One “secret” about me that is quite well known to those who know me is that I actually know very little about mainstream media - television, most magazines, celebrities, and the like. So it would hopefully come as not too much of a shock to my readers that until today I didn’t know of the existence of Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, one of the better known advice columnists on the web. I became introduced when Dave Belden, who offers all manner of support with my creative projects (if you love the pictures on this blog, he’s the one who selects them, for example), sent me an exchange from her column and urged me to write a post about it.

Holiday Family Dinners

The exchange, which I copy below in its entirety (excerpted from this week’s Dear Prudence column), relates to the perennial challenge of political differences during holiday family dinners:

Q. Maybe a Not-So-Happy Thanksgiving?: I am recently married, and will be spending Thanksgiving with my new in-laws. They are a very, ultra conservative group and dislike our president. I, however, voted for him, and have tried to stay away from the political banter. My sister-in-law recently sent my husband a message asking if I was a "closet" Obama supporter. Quite honestly, it's none of her business, but I took it upon myself to respond to her directly instead of through my husband. I know she has told his family that I support Obama, and I know it will be an issue at Thanksgiving (we live four hours away from them). Luckily, my husband is amazingly supportive and has stated that he will stand by me no matter what. I'm just not sure how to handle his family. Thank you, I don't want a fight.
A: The answer to are you a "closet" Obama supporter is no, because you are a proud and open Obama supporter. You are also right that your political views are none of their business, unless they want to make it so. You and your husband need to plan this out before the assault on mashed potato hill. If you start being goaded you can say, "I know it's painful when your candidate loses, so let's talk about more pleasant things." Or, "I'm happy to discuss the issues, but probably everyone's digestion will be better if we don't." Ignore the random Obama put-downs—during them you can recite to yourself, "Yeah, and that's 332 electoral college votes for my guy." If it becomes intolerable your husband should be prepared to interject that it's time the subject got changed, and then ask what teams people think are going to the Super Bowl.

I’ve been asked questions similar to the above dozens of times. So much so, that I dedicated a segment of the Conflict Hotline to addressing this topic. I’ve witnessed so much pain in people related to this topic, and I want to support people in finding solutions that truly allow the warmth of family to be primary instead of the bitterness of disagreements to prevail. I am doing a segment of a teleclass about it in December through the NVC Academy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Myths of Power-With: # 1 - Everyone Can Be Included

by Miki Kashtan

The terms power-over and power-with were coined in 1924 by a woman who has mostly been forgotten - Mary Parker Follett, while writing and lecturing about management theory and practice. Her approach, which centered on human relations and collaboration between management and workers, stood in stark contrast to the mainstream management practices of her day, which were rooted in what was then called scientific management, pioneered by Frederick Taylor

I don’t know, nor do I imagine it easy to trace, how these terms migrated far away from management theory into the realm of social justice movements. Along the way, they have acquired iconic status. Power-over has become a symbol of domination, is equated with hierarchy, and tends to be seen as “bad.” Power-with is promoted as the be-all and end-all of “good” practices, and is often equated with an absence of leadership. This has been a huge issue in the Occupy movement: its “leaderlessness” has been the source of both admiration and condemnation by its participants and those who wish it well but don’t join in.

I am embarking on writing this piece and sharing my thoughts about this topic with a fair amount of trepidation, the kind that comes from fear of upsetting people. Here is my dilemma: I am profoundly committed to using power with other people and not over other people. In fact, I am temperamentally averse to imposing anything on anyone. Nonetheless, over years working with groups, both within organizations and in community settings, I have come to believe that a certain rigidity surrounds these terms and results in loss of effectiveness for groups and causes I dearly want to see thrive.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Thoughts on Hospitals and Healing

by Miki Kashtan

For many hours every day for more than two of the last three weeks, I was in a hospital setting, supporting my beloved sister’s recovery from a major surgery. I have a lot of very personal experiences - of sorrow, helplessness, and moments of grace - that are now part of who I will forever be. This piece is about what I learned from all of this about why so many of us hate being in hospitals and what it would take to create hospitals that are truly designed to support healing.

Despite everything that I am about to say, I am confident that all of us who were with my sister during this time would rate the care we received as excellent. We were in a hospital ranked in the top 5% in the US. Nonetheless, my overall conclusion is that hospitals, as currently conceived and designed, are not conducive to healing. I have no research to cite for any of what I am saying, only my own deep intuitive humanity that speaks to me, my soul’s mourning about what I saw. This mourning is made especially poignant given that I have absolutely no doubt about the dedication, care, and commitment to the well-being of patients on the part of everyone we encountered while at the hospitals. I am not talking here about the rare individual whose spirit has been so damaged that they end up taking their suffering out on other people (commonly known as sadistic). I am talking about a system and a setup in which people whose hearts shine are unable to create a healing environment.

To clear up any confusion there may be, in talking about healing I am making a distinction between healing and curing. A quote from the book Choices in Healing, by Michael Lerner from Commonweal, an organization dedicated to individual and global health, might help make this distinction clearer: “A cure is a medical procedure that reliably helps you recover from an illness. Healing is an inner process through which the human organism seeks its own recovery--physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.” There is no question whatsoever that hospitals are places where people’s lives are routinely saved, where multiple diseases and conditions are treated with stunning success, and where everyone is committed to supporting such processes in happening.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Empathy Hurdles

by Miki Kashtan

A few months ago, my sister Arnina, who lives and teaches Nonviolent Communication in Israel (, was telling me about someone who had just taken an action that was very painful for her. Part of the pain, as is almost always the case in such situations, was caused by the familiar enigma: how could anyone do this? Then she said something that has stayed with me ever since: “I can explain his behavior, but I don’t understand it.” I have quoted her often, because this simple sentence captures, for me, the profound and slippery distinction between empathy and analysis. However compassionate our analysis might be, it remains external. We see from the outside. If we explain another’s behavior through knowing or imagining their personal history, or we do so by imagining what human needs could lead to the behavior we struggle to understand, we maintain some distance from their own lived experience. We don’t fill in the gap between the history and the present, or between the need and the particular choice of strategy to meet that need.

I want to hear others through the lens of the meaning their actions have for them rather than through the effect their actions have on me. The very root of empathy resides in this fundamental shift. Whenever someone’s actions are at odds with our own needs, most of us, most of the time, do the latter. In that way, we keep our attention on ourselves rather than on the other person. We cannot be in empathy when we are focused on how things affect us.