Friday, April 26, 2013

The Paradox of Why

by Miki Kashtan

In an astonishing number of situations, knowing the “why” – why someone did what they did - is what helps us make meaning, be motivated, transform our assumptions, or open our hearts. At the same time, the “why” question – “why did you do that?” - is often the most difficult to hear, leading us to defensiveness and contraction. Both parts of this paradox have clear reasons (their own “why,” if you will). Once we know them, we can find ways to support ourselves and others in knowing the “why” that are less taxing for all.

Why “Why” Matters

For myself, understanding the “why” is the fundamental bridge between me and another. When I see another person’s action, decision, or choice, or hear their request of me, and I don’t know the “why” – either by being told, or by managing to imagine it effectively enough – a gap forms within me, made up of lack of understanding. The gap may be tiny and temporary, or it may be the beginning of growing and ongoing mistrust. This gap is likely bigger and lasts longer the less the other person’s movements align with my own preferences.

I have heard similar themes often enough to trust that in this particular way I am not that different from others. Just think of the last time someone didn’t show up at the time you expected them and you were irritated, then you found out the why and the irritation disappeared. Without knowing, we tend to fill in the gap of understanding by providing our own “why,” creating our own stories about what someone’s behavior means.

This is where our historical legacy can backfire. Only few of us, as far as I can tell, are truly able to live the assumption of innocence in its fullness. As a result, when we don’t like what someone else does, many of us are prone to coming up with explanations that dehumanize the other person: “She set me up to suffer because she is sadistic” or “He only did this for the sake of having more power” or “This decision came from left field; they don’t know how to plan anything.”

On the other hand, when we do hear the why, something changes magically. I’ve been in rooms where employees heard, for the first time, why a certain decision was made by a boss, and noticed the power of the shift that ensued. I’ve seen people receive a request and tense up only to relax into a comfortable “yes” when they understood why the request was made in the first place. It only works when the reason makes sense and allows us to see the emotional logic. Then we can plant ourselves in the shoes of the other person even if we disagree. This is a clear example of the immense power of empathy, and the distance we still, collectively, must walk to inhabit a spontaneously empathic response to life.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Learning from Life – A Journal

by Miki Kashtan

In the last few weeks, since I returned from Europe, I learned so much through the experiences that I found on my path, without planning to learn anything, that it became clear I wanted to write about the experience of learning all the time. I decided I wanted to expose the bits and pieces below for the purpose of showing, both myself and others, how everything that happens, happy or not, can support our movement toward where we want to go. If you are reading this blog, you know that I am plagued by a fundamental and deep impatience fueled by a deep longing for an entirely different way for us, humans, to live on the planet. The vision is strong, and what I most want is companionship, many people willing to join me on this amazing journey to a profound personal freedom that will allow us to take a stand and, together, turn the tide. I am dedicating this sampling of my learning, these very personal reflections, to this bold vision, without quite knowing what connects to what.

Immersing in Love


At some point in the last few weeks, since being back from a month of workshops in Europe, I reflected on what made this trip so profoundly satisfying for me. Yes, it’s always satisfying for my work and offerings to be received enthusiastically, and yet I know that wasn’t it. The answer, when it came was deeply resonant. Everywhere I was in Europe, I was with people who love me and whom I love. When surrounded by love, I can breathe differently. I don’t have it at home, not in this same way. The many people in my life that I share love with are not with me all the time. Some uncertain part within me is still insisting that there is something unusual about wanting it, that this is not how life works. I refuse to believe this part, because I think I know better. I think I know that my experience is accurate to being human. We live, in my opinion, so far from what evolution designed us for: to be in ongoing connection with others. The isolated life of modernity doesn’t suit me. I know that for sure. I suspect fully that it’s not satisfying for others, either. Of course I can’t know, and I want to remain humble about it. It may, indeed, be that I am unusual in not being able to rest in a place of full individuation, living as a separate and unique one person. How ironic, considering how much I feel myself to be different, other than most, and still, I want and long to live surrounded by and immersed in love. I am not willing to give up any more, even if it doesn’t ever happen.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mourning Our Way to Acceptance

by Miki Kashtan

For years and years I’ve been mystified by the idea of acceptance. I could point to it as a need on the list that people who study Nonviolent Communication consult for their learning and growth. I could understand, in some general sense, what people mean when they say that they want to be accepted. I even included a commitment called “Accepting What Is” in the 17 Core Commitments. Still, all the same, there was something that simply didn’t make sense. So much so, that I didn’t even know exactly how to talk about it.

The core question that was so unsettling for me is remarkably simple: What does it mean to accept something we don’t like?

One loop I would go into in trying to understand this was the experience of the person who hears, from another, “I want you to accept me the way I am.” What’s the person hearing this to do if they don’t like the behaviors that the other person does? This would come up again and again with couples, in friendships, in groups I was leading. I couldn’t shake off the idea that, essentially, there was some subtle way that the person asking to be accepted is really, deep down, asking to be liked. What is the difference?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Behind Every Complaint There's a Vision

by Miki Kashtan

Managers, at all levels, often tell me how little patience they have when they hear complaints from the people they supervise, how their disempowered nature drags them down. Those who get pegged as repeat complainers are often avoided by their coworkers.

Outside the workplace, I also hear the echo of all the times I’ve heard parents tell their children to stop complaining, often with an irritated tone of voice. There’s something about complaining that most of us find very unappealing to be around – unless, of course, we ourselves participate in that workplace “ritual” that, for so many, is the only way to get through the day. Even then, when asked, we all know that our complaining arises from a sense of powerlessness, of having little faith that anything will ever change. Somehow, it serves as an outlet, and some subtle agreement exists about when and how to start and stop.

I know that even when a friend appears to me to be complaining I find it challenging, even, maybe especially, if I love the person. One of my most significant friendships took almost three years to bloom because I kept some distance in my heart. I couldn’t bear to see her act in ways that seemed so powerless to me. Then, one day, almost by some miracle, a window opened, I saw her power, and a new world of friendship opened up for us. What’s most amazing is that since then I have never heard her complain any more, though I am sure she didn’t change her ways of speaking so much all at once. Rather, I think that what changed was between us, not in her. We co-created a new dynamic of engaging with challenges in her life. With both of us connected to and seeing her power, we found ways of responding that were novel, connected, and focused on moving towards what she wanted instead of what was happening that she didn’t like.