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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.



If I Were a Rich Man – the Inner Dimension

Mar6

by: on March 6th, 2017 | No Comments »

In last week’s piece, I wrote about what I might do in the world if I had a lot of access to resources while having the same values, sensibilities, and beliefs that I have now.

In answering that question, I skipped over the major issue that values, sensibilities, and beliefs are not neatly divorced from access to resources. Had I been born into wealth, or even acquired it individually, I would most likely have become a different person. Conversely, with my existing way of being, it’s very unlikely that I would acquire wealth or hold on to it if it came to me. Still, this is a thought experiment, and such stories do happen. The most likely scenario: I was born into or acquired wealth, and I have gone through some awakening or personal change, maybe through loss or confrontation, that transformed me into the person that I know myself to be in this real life.

Before I would ever be able to do the things I wrote about last week, I would need to be able to face the reality of my situation, and come to a new version of myself where the outside and the inside are aligned.

Personal Alignment

I’ve never been surprised by the fact that alcohol and drug use tend to increase in higher-income individuals. Many reasons are cited in the places where I have looked, starting with easy access to money, and including the challenge of separating a sense of self and relationships from the association with the money that is so integral to the identity of the family.

What I haven’t seen, and seems critical to me, is that alcohol and drugs can be a response to a moral and spiritual challenge, not just material or emotional. Simply put: knowing that my needs are met and prioritized in relation to other people’s needs is an enormous struggle for the human soul. Looking at it directly, without numbing ourselves, without justifying it through the notions of “deserving”, and without any denial, is probably beyond most people’s capacity. It just makes sense to me that there would be a real incentive to medicate that gap, to obliterate that pain. That incentive appears to me as one more powerful reason alongside those usually mentioned.

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If I Were a Rich Man

Feb27

by: on February 27th, 2017 | No Comments »

The question is simple: what would I do now, in this period of human history, and especially as we are all adapting to this new presidency, if I had a lot of access to resources while having the same values, sensibilities, and beliefs that I have?

There is, of course, a whole question about how likely this premise is, and how I would orient myself in the world if I were rich. Knowing some wealthy people has taught me it is not at all as simple as the rest of us often think. I focus on these questions in a second half of this piece, next week. For now, I want to assume that this person I am imagining myself to be is real, and that I am fully aligned to make the best use of my resources to respond to the current times and the new and intensified challenges they bring to us.

Fundamentally, I see three areas of gravest concern. First is an intensification of the politics of hatred. Second is the dismantling of support networks for people and the environment, and the increasing danger of getting climate change fully out of control faster than ever imagined. Third is increasing tension and instability in the geopolitical field.

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Working for Change in a New Era – How?

Jan15

by: on January 15th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

At an anti-Trump rally in Baltimore, MD, Nov 10, 2016.

We are only days away from the inauguration of a president for the United States of America that probably most of the people of the world believe is a disaster for humanity. Those of us living in the United States who are frightened of what his reign might bring are thinking long and hard about what we could possibly do in this new climate.

This disquiet has been showing up time and again on both the free calls I host: the Fearless Heart Teleseminar and the Facing Privilege calls. On one recent call, someone asked a very pointed question: if I had the opportunity, somehow, to speak with Donald Trump for 30 minutes, what would I say to him?

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Accountability, Love, Shame, and Working for Transformation

Dec22

by: on December 22nd, 2016 | Comments Off

“All through history, and for many of us in our own experience, there are deeds done, causes furthered, and values proclaimed, that must be regarded as destructive, motivated by hate or greed, harmful to humanity on whatever scale, local or world-wide. These things may all be ‘good’ in the eyes of those who do them, but what of us? What do we really see, or think, or say and do? Are we justified in doing anything to stop harm being done? Are we even justified in speaking about it?” (from a reader, in response to an earlier post)

It happens regularly: I speak of love, understanding, compassion, and working to transcend separation, and in response, people raise the question of what to do in the face of harm done. As if accountability must be punitive, shaming, or harsh, while love would mean not confronting people about their actions.

For me, the path into the freedom and transformation I seek includes going beyond any divide between love and accountability, acceptance and action, nonviolence and the strength to speak up and work for change. It’s all about how we do accountability; what kind of action we take and with what motivation; and what our movements for change will look like.

This is where my many years of practice with Nonviolent Communication, deeply informed by my engagement with the legacy of Gandhian nonviolence, has supported me so much in seeing freshly.

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You’re Not a Bad Person: How Facing Privilege Can Be Liberating

Nov25

by: on November 25th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

“Having wealth is unjustified, but the Rockefellers justify it by doing good. I had to cut through all this and understand that there is no rational justification for my family having the amount of money that it has, and that the only honest thing to say in defense of it is that we like having the money and the present social system allows us to keep it.” — Steven Rockefeller, 1983

There’s no way around it: facing our own privilege is uncomfortable. Just now, before completing this piece, I was talking to a friend who told me, in so many words: “I am ashamed of being a man, and I am ashamed of being white.” He is far from alone in this discomfort. Because we live within modern, capitalist cultures which are highly individualized, we often don’t see the structural dimension. Many of us then struggle to separate out privilege from attitude. In this context, having our privilege pointed out to us often sounds like we are being told we’re a bad person. This makes conversations about privilege highly charged and often ineffective.

After almost two years of facilitating Facing Privilege calls, I have come to believe that something better is possible. We can frame things in a way that shows the reality of structures of privilege and minimizes any unnecessary challenge.

It starts with recognizing and naming that since privilege is structural and not individual, it has nothing to do with goodness or badness. It’s plainly a factual reality about life. The key is to focus on two distinctions: systems as distinct from individuals, and having privilege as independent of choosing how to engage with it. Since both of these distinctions tend to be obscured, I have found that people often find relief in teasing apart these two aspects of privilege.

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Protecting and Learning in a Time of Hatred

Nov17

by: on November 17th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

Like anyone who is profoundly disturbed about the election of Donald Trump as the 45th US president, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, reflecting, and talking with other people. I wrote an immediate response to the elections the day after. Now, having digested the results for longer, I have more clarity about what I wish to see happen as we grapple with this new reality.

I want to start by saying that the results are not affecting everyone in the same way. That eight transgender youth killed themselves on the day of the elections is a clear indication of the fear and despair that this extremely vulnerable group is experiencing. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks all manner of hate crimes, harassment and other ways of targeting certain populations have documented over 400 new incidents since the election. While anti-Semitic incidents are also very much on the rise, including swastikas and spray painting “Heil Trump” on a wall, and I am also female and an immigrant to this country, I am not at present targeted, and darker skinned and visibly queer people are. Whatever else happens, whatever else any of us say or do in the coming years, I want us to keep this in mind: some people are suffering immediate consequences, and they need immediate and ongoing protection.

437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center Nov 9-14, by type


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A Nation, Divided, with Liberty and Justice for the Few

Nov10

by: on November 10th, 2016 | 2 Comments »

I am one of the few people who predicted (not in writing) that Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the US since early in 2016, at a time when everyone else said it was just plain impossible, providing a long list of facts and figures that proved, for them, that there was no way under the sun that he would be elected.

Back in April, I wrote a piece called “What Will We Do if Trump Is the Next President?” In that piece, I talked about things from the distance of not knowing. I wanted to be prepared. I still stand behind everything I said then, and yet now it’s the morning after, and I am directly in the reality I was only imagining back in April. So I am shocked, truly shocked, even as I am not surprised.

I am shocked, because I consider Donald Trump’s election as perilous for humanity through actions and policies that are distinctly unpredictable, as everything is about him. In this context, I experience a need to reorient myself in a profound way, and that’s what the shock is about: as much as I have been critical of the status quo, and as much as I believed that we were already marching towards more and more destruction, it was familiar. A Hillary Clinton presidency, from my perspective, would have been more of the same. It would have allowed me to continue to live my life and do my work with some lull, some small and subtle denial of the global situation we are facing. With Donald Trump being elected, that luxury is no longer possible.

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The Challenge of Connecting Dots

Sep16

by: on September 16th, 2016 | 7 Comments »

Alice Walton and Jim Walton, children of the Wal-Mart founder, at the 2011 Wal-Mart shareholders meeting. Each has assets of over $30 billion.

I am often haunted by moral questions or conceptual puzzles, sometimes for years on end. In the last couple of months, I made some leaps in my understanding about several such issues.

For many months now I was haunted by my inability to understand, from within, members of the Walton family, the owners of Walmart. This practice, of understanding from within, is one of the core foundations of how I do my work, both when engaging with people and when writing. I do not include anything analytical in it, because the analysis separates, and I am looking for connection, for the felt sense, the vibrant humanity. And I couldn’t apply it to the Waltons, because I couldn’t find a way to explain to myself how, as a Walton, I would live with the knowledge of having billions of dollars to my name while my full-time workers need food stamps to cover their most basic needs. I couldn’t fathom what I could only understand in terms of a colossal lack of care.

Last week, I finally put the pieces together and “solved” the puzzle. What I realized in a moment of sharp and instantaneous insight that came from nowhere and hit me at the core was utterly simple: the Waltons and Iseea different reality.

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Social Justice and Theater at a Time of Crisis

Jul14

by: on July 14th, 2016 | 1 Comment »

Augusto Boal at Riverside Church, NY City, in 2008

All of last week I was at a Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) training. I was drawn to the intensely evocative and provocative forms first created by Augusto Boal in the 1960s, designed to support marginalized groups in creating social change. Intuitively, I sensed these practices could support the rudimentary role play forms that are part and parcel of learning Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and dramatically (pun almost not intended) enhance NVC’s social justice applications.

This week became a thick, rich, powerful, challenging entanglement of the personal, the symbolic, and the political as a group of 36 of us from across many social divides and several countries grappled together with our experiences and all else that unfolded that week. By necessity of care for our agreement to protect the specifics of what happened in the room, most of the below is only about my own experiences and lens.

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Instead of Being Silent

Jun14

by: on June 14th, 2016 | Comments Off

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is something about people dying that I cannot fully make sense of. When it’s a group of people, and even more so when it’s at the hands of other people, I have nothing inside me that feels prepared to know how to make sense of it, what to say to myself, to others. Silence then becomes appealing. Yet silence allows hatred to continue.

What does love look like in the wake of violence I cannot grasp? What does love mean when one of two contenders for the most powerful political position in the world is responding with targeting entire groups of Muslims?

It is love, for me, to explicitly say that the killing in Orlando wasn’t actually the largest mass shooting in US history, no matter how often this message is repeated. Why? Because it’s an invitation to remember people who, at the time of their mass killing by the hundreds, were considered other, and to have their lives count, at least now: the 400 Tolowa Indians in Yontoket in 1853 and the 300 Black people in Tulsa in 1921, as just two examples.

It is love, for me, to note to myself that this recent carnage brought together in a terrible tragedy three groups of people all of whom are made other, all of whom are targets of violence, violence which often goes unnoticed: LGBT, people of color, and Muslims. My heart sinks at the horror of imagining that a subtle hierarchy of whose life counts is woven through the fabric of US culture. Today, Islamophobia is on the rise. In Trump’s world, for example, the fact that these were mostly Latinos, another group he has maligned, shrinks in comparison with the killer being a Muslim. No, I won’t go for that. I want to go for love, for knowing and proclaiming that all violence counts. I want to join Alan Pelaez Lopez in remembering “that xenophobia teaches us to only celebrate and empathize with white immigrants,” and to claim that all humans are precious. As Michael Lerner said: “We are one global ‘we,’ and we must never let any part of us become the target that is somehow made a ‘legitimate’ target.”

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