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Miki Kashtan
Miki Kashtan
Miki Kashtan is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication and the NVC North America Leadership Program.



Engaging with Privilege: A Personal Journey

Dec4

by: on December 4th, 2014 | No Comments »

unfaircampaignLast week, when I sat down to write in response to the situation in Ferguson, I ended up writing much about my own journey of learning about how to engage the topic of race; I wrote more about that than directly about Ferguson. The difference between that first draft and the piece that finally got posted was dramatic. It was made up of feedback from Dave, my editor and supporter, that initially knocked me out completely in its depth and intensity. This was the point at which I turned to Uma and Ya-Ping for support, as well as my colleague and friend Roxy Manning. After about ten rounds of back and forth with some combination or another of all four of them, the piece that is now on the website came into final form.

As much as I like the result, I was left with all that was cut out of the original piece. Although I wholeheartedly agree about taking it out from that piece, I still want to share it. This is what this piece is. If nothing else, for anyone who is like me, I have always had the experience that understanding a process in addition to seeing the results deepens my understanding and increases the chances of integration and personal application. Also, because I want to spell out what I learned as part of my own continuing learning, and in the hopes of supporting others’ learning about the very complex questions involved in these topics. Lastly, because I want it known that this learning process is neither easy nor comfortable. The two days of feedback were, at times, excruciating and nonetheless I am in awe, I am grateful, and I found immense beauty and depth along the way.

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Responding to Violence with Love for All

Nov28

by: on November 28th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

There are times, and this is one of them, where my ongoing choice to stay away from public events and electoral politics no longer stands up to my inner sense of moral integrity. This is a time where I am just too clear that it’s only my privilege that makes it even an option to choose. No, I don’t think that privilege is “bad,” nor do I aim to make it go away, nor believe it’s possible or even always desirable to do so. Rather, I want to consider my privilege as a resource, and to keep asking myself day in and day out how I mobilize my privilege and use it for the benefit of all.

Ugly history of racist policing

Credit: Vox Media

 

In my position of privilege, I can write whatever I want about Ferguson, and I don’t risk losing a job, alienating people who can make my life miserable, or possibly even more imminent physical risks to my body. I want to be taking the most risk that I can in speaking as much truth as I know, with as much love for all as I can muster, because this is my creed: truth with love, and with enough courage to face all consequences.

This is one small part of a larger aim I have regarding privilege. I want to find ways of getting those of us with privilege to recognize and own it without defensiveness or shame, and to become loving stewards of the resources given to us by the history of racism. Stewarding resources means to me that we know it’s not “ours” to own or use for our personal gain. This is my understanding of Gandhi’s idea of trusteeship, which I see as a major step towards a world that truly works for all. I plan to come back to the very complicated and exceedingly painful topic of privilege soon.

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Why Personal Liberation Alone Won’t Be Enough

Nov14

by: on November 14th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

There’s no question in my mind that the overwhelming majority of people everywhere would like nothing more than to live in a world where they can have the possibility of attending to what matters to them, caring and providing for their families, having meaningful relationships with others, and having a baseline of decency and dignity in human affairs.

good-guy-with-a-gun-cropWhether or not such a world is possible, and what could get us there are not as clear. Far too many of us have been led to believe that such a world can never be because of human nature which is purported to be selfish, greedy, or innately aggressive. Some of us have also, or instead, been led to believe that the only way to get to a beautiful future is to eliminate every last one of the “bad guys.” The sad irony of both of these worldviews is that they perpetuate the difficulties we are facing. If everyone is selfish and no one will care about us, then the only logical solution is for us to put all our efforts into promoting our own needs, or, at the very least, becoming resigned and apathetic. Similarly, if we must kill and punish the “bad guys,” then in the act we become like them.

What’s the alternative? Many of us like to believe that individual transformation, if enough people engage in it, is enough. Others believe that if those in positions of power are reached, either through their own transformation or through mass nonviolent resistance, then change will take place. Despite the elegant appeal of these approaches, I don’t quite see how any of them will bring about structural change. I wish I knew what would, and I don’t, like so many others. All I know is that collaboration is essential, both now and in any future, and hence my own joy in having found my own steps on the uncertain road to the future.

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The Exacting Discipline of Choosing Based on Needs

Oct22

by: on October 22nd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

This past week, I’ve had three meaningful interactions with friends that complemented my own continued inner journey and, together, led me to want to speak, again and anew, about the tragedy of how we’ve been taught to relate to our needs. On the surface, our stories look so different from each other: being let down by friends at a time of crisis; exploding at a partner in response to a small stimulus; being unwilling to talk to a mother; and finding it exceedingly difficult to maintain a mindful engagement with life. It took some focus to see the theme that ties them all together: they all stem from a pervasive challenge about making our needs important enough.

Is this our view of what "needy" has to mean? Credit: Creative Commons/United Way of Greater St. Louis

In a moment, I unpack each of these (changing details to maintain anonymity) to illustrate the theme. For now, I want to start with marveling at how far we are, collectively, from taking our needs seriously and making them a priority. Instead, we have been trained to view our needs as a sign of weakness or dependence, and as something bottomless that cannot be controlled. We have also been told to view anyone who puts their needs first as inherently selfish. I am happy to say that I have freed myself from this myth. Instead I think of attending to our needs, especially within a culture that so devalues them, as a courageous act that requires commitment, attention, and the willingness to face potential reprimand from others. Because what pulls us away from our needs — habits, impulses, obligations, fear, internalized norms, desire for reward, or belief in scarcity — are so powerful, it takes vigilance to keep our focus and intention in the face of all that’s stacked up against it.

As part of my large vision for what life could be like, how the world could be structured, and what we humans could conceivably be like in such a world, I wholeheartedly want to have millions and millions of people who are as committed to uncovering and cherishing their needs, who keep each other company on the journey to full, authentic, and caring living. If this piece inspires anyone to take their needs more seriously, I will be happy for having written it.

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The Canary as Leader

Oct10

by: on October 10th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Ecanaries_coal_mine2arlier this week I was talking with a friend while doing my exercises. It’s a bit of a ritual that we have developed when she started calling me every day some time after the Shiva ended (for my sister, Inbal, see “Loss, Empty Space, and Community“). I do my exercises, sometimes she does hers, and we talk about our day, or anything else that comes up. In the midst of exercising and talking, I realized the obvious: not doing well is just the way it must be during this period. There is no hidden deficiency anywhere in me or elsewhere, and there is nothing I or anyone else can do to make me do well.

Although this bare and simple clarity came to me as a fresh insight, I knew it already when I was scrambling to find ways of creating community. Although I couldn’t figure out how to move towards the kind of community I would most dearly want to have, with people living close by and being involved in each other’s lives, I did take one small step as the Shiva was winding down. I set up a weekly call with a small group of people who happened to be here at that time. That strategy emerged while talking with them about how I could remain mindful, so I don’t fill the spaces with more unchosen things, so I remain true to the intention to have my life be purposeful, chosen, and aligned. The purpose of these thirty-minute calls was to hold me accountable to the task of moving through this period with choice and clarity, without overwhelm, and with support.

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Loss, Empty Space, and Community

Sep26

by: on September 26th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

aitzchayyim_0It’s been about two months since I posted a piece of my writing on this blog. I was deeply immersed in supporting my sister Inbal on her final journey, which ended with her death on September 6, 2014.

One day I will find the words to write about Inbal here. (You can read her obituary here). Over the last seven years I’ve on occasion mentioned Inbal and her ongoing challenge of living with cancer. I don’t recall writing in any significant way about what it has been like to accompany her way of facing cancer. I kept it mostly separate, except when it seemed almost inhuman not to mention it. Now, having accompanied her, being so profoundly involved, learning as much as I have, and anticipating continuing to learn, I know that accompanying Inbal was a way to reweave my personal experiences and my work in the world.

The period of sitting Shiva, the Jewish custom of gathering community for seven days after someone dies, is over. I am now ready to slowly emerge into the next phase of my life, and writing about this period is a small step in that direction.

Trusting Life

None of what I learned about myself and about life through this very demanding experience is new in its entirety; it is a deepening, at times surprising, of what I have known or intuited before; and it is an entirely new territory. I realized at one point that as little as we get prepared for parenting (ultimately everyone has to newly learn it with their own children), there is even less to prepare us for being with a loved one as they are dying. Moreover, this is a topic rarely talked about, whereas parenting is. Most of us don’t know what to say to each other about death, whereas so many easily share their opinions and experiences of parenting, and there are books, norms, and wisdom commonly available.

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Leadership, Separation, and Vulnerability: Snippets

Jul18

by: on July 18th, 2014 | Comments Off

The way I understand it, leadership is almost exclusively about an intentionality, not about our position in society or in an organization. It’s the intentionality of caring for the whole and of taking responsibility for all that matters to us, within and without.

everyone-leadsI want so much to increase the possibility of all of us stepping into leadership. I totally and completely believe that it is only a myth that says only some of us can lead, and everyone else must only follow, not think for themselves, not participate in shaping a collective future, from the personal to the global.

Yes, if everyone were this empowered, we would have to restructure our social and political arrangements, and that’s precisely what I believe is needed for our species to survive and thrive.

I have written and said before: I am quite confident that anyone who saw me as a child would not have predicted that I would end up having a life in which many people look to me for wisdom and inspiration, in which I am visible in the world in a clear role of calling for and supporting transformation on all levels.

And yet here I am.

These past few weeks, I’ve had some extraordinary experiences regarding my own leadership, and I intuitively am drawn to sharing these with you all, my readers. I feel a bit shy about it, because it’s a personal exposure of a kind that I rarely do. It still feels right, despite the nervousness. The reason, most likely, is my hope that my experiences and what I am learning from them will inspire some of you. If I can support some of you who don’t think of yourselves as leaders to stretch your wings further, that would be tremendously satisfying. If I can also create some curiosity in some of you who occupy positions of “official” leadership to consider shifting your approach ever more towards a collaborative and vulnerable path, then I would be doubly satisfied.

These experiences are leading me to nothing short of a restructuring of my sense of self, challenging my overwhelming and defining experience of being other, different, and therefore separate. Here are four of these experiences.

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Does Everyone Want to Be Rich? Reflections on a Trip to China

Jun27

by: on June 27th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

I am writing this piece on the airplane, on my way home from two weeks in China, where I’ve wanted to go for at least 25 years. I wanted to see, with my own clearly biased eyes, what life is like there. In part, to have some pre-rudimentary understanding of another culture that’s had such a long tradition and which has given so much to the world. In part, to understand how a country with SO many people can function. Originally, I also wanted to have some grasp on what real life communism means. Although I guess I missed that boat, I still felt a deep pull to be there.

Liu Yi, at right, and friends with Miki in Shanghai, 2013

Liu Yi, at right, and friends with Miki in Shanghai, 2013

Then the opportunity came when I met Yin Hua and Liu Yi a year ago, while passing through China (see In Defense of Complexity).

My passion for supporting fledgling Nonviolent Communication (NVC) communities in the world, along with my deep desire to offer the tools of collaboration to people working in NGOs, served as the impetus for arranging this trip.

With the warmth and depth of connection I felt with Liu Yi, with her extensive knowledge of and connections within the NGO world, with her willingness to embark on the unbelievable amount of work that it takes to organize a visit of a foreign trainer, and with Yin Hua’s support of the project, the road was clear for the trip that just ended.

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When Relationships Work Easily

Jun5

by: on June 5th, 2014 | Comments Off

Miki (right) and her sister Inbal

Miki (right) and her sister Inbal

So often in my blog I write about what makes relationships challenging, and what we can do to move through conflicts and complexities. Today, however, I want to write some of my thoughts about some key elements that I have learned over the years about what makes relationships work easily.These thoughts are based both on the relationships I have in my life that are entirely flowing, without demanding effort from either party, as well as what I have heard and observed from others’ experiences.

The Miracles

I want to simply name them, because I know that they exist. These are the relationships where things simply line up. I have been blessed to have a few of those, most especially with my sisters and my nephew.

Why do I call them miracles? One of the most foundational premises of the approach I follow, based on the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication, is that all human beings have the same needs.

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From Blame to Power

May9

by: on May 9th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Whichever side of the blame dynamics we are on, the experience tends to be highly unpleasant, and usually results in no one getting what they want. Yet blame persists, and presents us with a challenge, regardless of whether we are givers or receivers.

I am distinguishing blame from its distant cousin – the shared endeavor of identifying what contributed to a painful outcome, what can be learned about and from it, and what can be done differently in the future.

From wherever we are, the human possibility exists to transcend the illusion that blame creates: the illusion that everything gets corrected by identifying the culpable party and, most often, by punishing that person. Instead, we have the option of embracing a shared responsibility for attending to a situation that is clearly not working.

There’s really nothing easy about pulling off this kind of transformation. I know, for myself, that I have written about it, I have coached people about it, and I have thought about it on and off for many years. At the end of all this, what stands out to me more than anything is the persistence of the patterns that blame emerges from.

While I know, for example, that I am pretty close to being free of blaming others, and easily wake up from any unconscious blaming as soon as I become aware of it, I also know that my intense and deep interest in learning from situations that didn’t work leads me to explore things in a way that others often perceive as containing blame or defensiveness. I still have much to learn about how to minimize that risk, all the while knowing I cannot eliminate it, no matter how hard I try.

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