Thursday, January 31, 2013

The What and the Why in Human Needs

by Miki Kashtan

Anyone who becomes acquainted with Nonviolent Communication (NVC) quickly learns about the critical role that human needs play in this approach. In my own mind, placing human needs front and center is the core insight around which everything in NVC revolves. This is the aspect of NVC that challenges prevalent theories of human nature; the entry point through which collaboration becomes possible in groups; the engine of the kind of healing that happens through engaging with an empathic presence; the mechanism through which conflict mediation proceeds; and the path to personal liberation. Because of their centrality to my thinking, spiritual practice, and work, I almost invariably refer to human needs in my blog pieces and when I speak.

So I wasn’t surprised that a friend who is not trained in NVC wrote to me with the following question that emerged from his own efforts to write a document relating to human needs.

“I want to include emotional needs on my list. The NVC list that I have seen is long, and I want to know what the mention of ‘basic needs’ means. If we consider, for the moment, that the most basic emotional needs are on the same level as the most basic physical needs (shelter, food, fire, water, air) and that all other needs are ‘useful and beneficial extras,’ what would you consider to be the most basic emotional needs?”

I don’t quite know why it is that this particular question finally got me to realize that with all the writing I’ve been doing about human needs, I’ve never written a piece dedicated to the topic. What an oversight!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Some Things I Am Learning from Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Miki Kashtan

In 1990 I celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for the first time, and in the most significant way I remember. The entire day I was sitting with my partner at the time, and we were focusing on our dreams, our big dreams, our biggest dreams, way beyond just ourselves and our own lives. 

Although the relationship is long gone, the effects of that day are still with me. It was then that I had the startling realization that there is really no reason why Dr. King did what he did and I, or anyone else, can’t. That may have been the day I took on with explicit clarity the responsibility to do all I can to contribute to the dreams I have, some of which I have carried in one form or another since I was a small child.

Early on Monday morning this week, I received an email from a friend who forwarded a number of Dr. King’s quotes to me, some known to me and some not. I was thinking about them all day, and I decided to dedicate this week’s blog piece to sinking into the depth of meaning some of these quotes have had for me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Invisible Suffering of Children

by Miki Kashtan

Intense and terrible, I think, must be the loneliness
Of infants… 
– Edna St. Vincent Millay (untitled) the time [the infant] is taken to his [sic] mother’s home (surely it cannot be called his) he is well versed in the character of life. On the preconscious level plane that will qualify all his further impressions, as it is qualified by them, he knows life to be unspeakably lonely, unresponsive to his signals, and full of pain.
 – Jean Liedloff, The Continuum Concept


I am not a parent, and I cannot speak with the authority of a parent. I closely followed one child’s upbringing, which has been one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had, convincing me, despite being a sample of one, of what’s possible. Sadly, I am limited in my ability to talk about the glorious vision of that possibility of parenting without alienating at least some parents. I am quite concerned that this piece, in which I talk about my own pain about how children are raised, can do exactly this instead of inviting reflection, dialogue, and mutual exploration to find ways of supporting both parents and children to find meaning, peace, and joy in their shared lives.

Before completing this piece, I spoke with a few people, including two parents, about this limitation of mine. I deeply long to find full, vibrant compassion for the extraordinary challenges that parents face, especially in today’s world, where the support systems for parents are so limited, where the harshness of the life we have created is reaching intense proportions, where the entire future of our species is uncertain. I hope very much that these conversations helped me move closer to embodying this understanding, and am explicitly inviting you, the readers of this piece, to give me feedback, especially if you disagree with me.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Nonviolence, God, and a Theology of Not Knowing

by Miki Kashtan

I’ve been somewhat haunted by the notion (or perhaps concept, or metaphor) of the hungry ghost since the early 1990s, when I learned about them during a time that I had some significant exposure to Buddhism through a community of writers I joined. Hungry ghosts, according to my own limited understanding, are mythical creatures characterized by an emaciated body with a huge and empty belly, combined with narrow necks and tiny mouths. The result is that they are hungry all the time, yet it’s almost impossible for them to feed themselves, or even to be fed by others who care for them, because the passage is so constricted. This image keeps coming back to me because it symbolizes so dramatically in a physical way the emotional condition of our time: profound hunger for love and connection that cannot be satisfied because we have been trained in isolation to such a degree that most of us cannot receive sufficient love, even when it’s offered.

Recently, I’ve been plagued, again, by the tragic nature of this pervasive condition. Caring for the hungry ghosts, wanting to find a way – personally and collectively – to leave no one behind, has been one of the consistent motivating factors in my continual efforts to do my work. Although I believe that just about any of us has some degree of this affliction, some people, for reasons we may never know, are so extreme in their insistence on being given what they cannot receive, that they become self-fulfilling prophecies: every community they join eventually discards them; every relationship anyone enters with them eventually ends; and they remain isolated and in extreme agony, often without understanding why. If they happen to be people in positions of power, they may be surrounded by people who do what they want and say “yes” to their requests and demands, and yet their experience doesn’t become better, because they know it’s done without really wanting. Since I am in essence working for the possibility of a world where everyone matters, the hungry ghosts are of paramount importance to me.

The other day, being particularly agonizing over one such person, someone I care deeply about and have enormous tenderness for, and yet do not know how to support at all, I put the question forth to a friend who is somewhat of a Buddhist scholar. “The hungry ghosts,” I said, “how are we ever going to get into a future that works for all people if we cannot find a way to generate sufficient love for the hungry ghosts to be able to receive it and heal?

Today, on my weekly walk with my one friend with whom I talk theology (funny, given I live in a god-less world), I brought up with her the startling response I got from my Buddhist friend: “According to Buddhism there will never be a future that works for all people. There is radical acceptance there of the suffering inherent in the lives of humans, animals, hungry ghosts, etc...” I wanted to talk with my friend about this because, although she is a practicing Christian who does preaching, and I am a non-practicing Jew who doesn’t believe in any god, we nonetheless have a compatible theology. I thought, given this unique conjoining of the Buddhist, the Christian, and the Jewish, and with the lens of nonviolence shining light on our conversation, we will get somewhere. And we did. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

What I Learned while Buying a Car

by Miki Kashtan

Last night I bought my first new car ever - a Fiat 500. I want to share some things I learned about how we approach buying and selling, and about human connection in general. 

I went to one dealership (at right) to see if what I had in mind in terms of budget would actually get me a new car. I encountered an almost overly friendly car salesman. I was only mildly taken aback, virgin to the world of car sales. His numbers were higher than I could comfortably stretch into. Thankfully, I remembered a lesson I’ve been working on for so long – that I really never want to make decisions on my own; I want the support of others in my extended circle, always. I am so exhausted by the level of individual responsibility, I yearn for more and more recognition of and reliance on our human interconnectedness. So he gave me two days to consider: so far so good. 

I wish I had brought a friend with me when I returned, because this time things didn’t go so well. Whereas before I clearly understood that there was lots of room for negotiation, suddenly there wasn’t, and he said I hadn’t heard him right previously. The whole interaction was back and forth with a manager I never got to engage with directly, the salesman taking long chunks of time where I just sat and waited while he talked with the manager, only to come back and say that I was being unreasonable and offering me essentially no wiggle room from the original offer.