Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Exploring Authenticity

by Miki Kashtan
My mother used to say, 'If you will lie, you will steal; if you will steal, you will kill.’
‘That is a bit harsh don’t you think,’ I said. ‘We all lie a little. Sometimes it is a way of being polite.’
Anger flashed across her face.
‘No, no, no, no, no! A lie is a lie. The grace that is the real oil that eases the frictions of life is truth spoken in love.’

-- from Halloween after Ms Sandy (A Short Story)
by Valerie Elverton-Dixon (at right)

Until some time in my mid twenties, I was unable to lie. Except as a child, and only to my parents. It wasn’t exactly a moral decision, more like a physiological impossibility. To this day, although I have trained myself, in some very exceptional circumstances, to manage to choose to lie, any time I assess that the context I am in cannot tolerate the full authentic self that I am, I disappear into some internal void, paralyzed and shut down. I see it as a limitation of mine, an inability to make choices about what I say or don’t say, to whom, and how. I experience this as dramatically different from simply being a value of mine that I choose to live by. Consequently, I gravitate towards those people and places where I feel free to express the fullness of who I am. 

Like so many of us, I grew up imbibing the implicit dichotomy between authenticity and care, truth and love, honesty and niceness. Whereas many people I know have chosen the polite end of this dichotomy, my internal deep demands on myself always painted me into a corner of being honest to the point of being intimidating and difficult for people to be around. Not that I don’t care. Rather, in the frozenness of struggling to find room to be authentic when I believe I can’t be, I found no access to expressing the care that almost invariably is part of the fuel for the authenticity.

When I discovered Nonviolent Communication (NVC) I learned how to integrate verbally what was in my heart to the point where more and more of the time my expression of self also registers as care in those hearing me. Surprisingly, the main vehicle that brought me to this integration has been the path of vulnerability I’ve been on since 1996. The less of my internal energy is consumed by the attempts to protect myself, the more I find peace and calm in expressing the truth that lives in me, and the more room I have inside to find and express the care, naturally.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Moral Dissonance

by Miki Kashtan

The term moral dissonance has a variety of meanings. I learned the meaning I will discuss here in a conversation with a woman who owned a grocery store in a low-income neighborhood in a mid-size town in the US. Her grocery store brought fresh, local, mostly organic food to what had previously been a food desert. It was teeming with life, and served more functions than just being a place where people could get food. Our conversation was about her anguish when she found no other solution than to call the immigration officers as a way to deal with the violence and disruption caused by a group of young men that started showing up in the neighborhood. It wasn’t so much that she was afraid of losing her livelihood if they stayed, she told me in visible distress. She trusted that she would be able to relocate to another district and do well financially. It was her concern that if she relocated there would be no services left for the majority of the local people. 

Her moral dissonance was about inviting in an agency representing aspects of the federal government she actively opposed (restricting immigration) in order to protect something that was precious to her (community empowerment and service). There was no way she saw to align all her values together in making that choice, hence the experience of dissonance.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Defense of Complexity

by Miki Kashtan

When I was a girl, somewhere before ten years old, it was already clear to those around me that I wanted adventure in my life. At the time, I asked my mother why it was that the people and children in the books I was reading had all these astonishing adventures and I didn’t. It is only in the last couple of years that I had the sudden awareness that I did, indeed, grow up to have a life full of adventures, even if I’ve never tracked down a murderer or exposed an international network of crooks, as the heroes and heroines of my childhood books did.

It was this sense of adventure that was ignited when I received the itinerary for my recent trip to Thailand and realized that I had, twice, a six-hour stopover in Shanghai. Without thinking twice, I decided to find my way to Shanghai, to experience, smell, see, walk in that city, feel for myself what it’s like to be in China. I’ve been curious about China for many years, both culturally and politically, and I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity, despite the warnings of the travel agent.

When this turned into actually having people waiting for me at the airport, people from the Chinese Nonviolent Communication (NVC) community, I was so excited I could barely wait. Then I met Yin Hua, the person who’s been most influential about bringing NVC to China, who stayed in Shanghai an extra day after doing a workshop there (unrelated to me, just perfect timing), and the two of us got lost on the subway and barely made it to town. 

The second time I didn’t even know there would be people waiting. I was getting ready to go change money and hop into a taxi when I heard my name, and was greeted by three smiling women, local to Shanghai, who took me under their wings and into a car that one of them had, heading into just the perfect part of town, where old and new, beauty and rush, commercial and residential all mix together. We walked, we laughed, and we ate dim sum Shanghai-style.

Quite apart from this level of excitement, I also had an adventure of the heart and soul. One of the women who greeted me, Liu Yi, spoke English so well that I wondered where she learned it. That’s when I found out that she had lived abroad, in the West, for six years, then four years in a remote province in Western China before going back to her home town. What a story, I thought to myself, so many people would find this choice unthinkable, and yet she was so clearly radiant and pleased to be where she was. The inevitable why jumped out of my mouth, along with letting her know that I was living outside my own country of birth, and we launched into an intensive and satisfyingly connecting conversation. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Myths of Power-With: #5 - All of Everyone’s Needs Are Equal

by Miki Kashtan

One of the core principles that shows up in just about everything I write is the commitment to holding everyone’s needs with care. This, with a specific focus on holding with care everyone’s needs for meaningful choice, is the core guideline I use for understanding how to apply the power I have. For as long as those [in my circle or organization, ed.] with less power than me have access to choice, I am satisfied with my use of power. 

That said, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the addition of the word “equal,” which changes the principle to “holding everyone’s needs with equal care.” Aside from the philosophical uncertainty about how equality of care can even be measured, I don’t see it as either possible or even desirable in all situations to hold all of everyone’s needs equally. In fact, I believe that the insistence on equality of this kind can compromise both the effectiveness and integrity of movements and groups.

This is why I have replaced the word “equal” or “equally” with “full” or “fully.” I can say, with far greater ease, that I can hold everyone’s needs with full care even when I don’t hold them with equal care.

As I see it, power-with means finding the path that, relative to the purpose at hand, supports maximal empowerment and participation on the part of all. That doesn’t necessarily mean equality, though often it would. Here are two concrete examples of when I see a difference.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

When Others Judge Us

by Miki Kashtan

Many years ago I had a dramatic experience when I offered someone extremely difficult feedback, the most difficult I believe I have ever given to anyone, and he demonstrated a way of receiving it that inspired me. As I was almost in panic about what I had said to this person, and yet knew that I couldn’t relate to him without saying it, he looked me in the eye and told me that his practice was that whenever anyone said anything to him about himself, he stretched to imagine it being true, and then attempt to digest it from that perspective. What I had shared with him was that I experienced him as having unusual powers, like a magician, and that I didn’t trust that the power he had was all benign. Having said that and gotten the response I got, all the tension about speaking that I had been feeling drained out of me, and was replaced by admiration and appreciation for this man. It’s hard to describe the oddity of sitting with him, still not trusting his power, and nonetheless appreciating him so much. We then proceeded to explore, together, what could possibly be the source of the “darkness” that I had experienced about his power. The details of that exploration have evaporated from my memory; it’s only the flavor of the interaction, and the intensity of his willingness to explore with me that stayed as a model.

I have often wondered about what made it possible for this man to have such extraordinary and exquisite openness. What did he do with his own need to be seen and accepted? Sadly, I have no answer. At the time I lacked the vocabulary to ask about this, as this conversation predated my involvement with Nonviolent Communication and the awareness of needs that comes with it. Subsequently, life took him to other countries and our collaboration ended.

Regardless of what was true for him, the question remains. I have never met anyone else who could take in such difficult comments with such grace. What makes it so difficult, and what can we do about it?