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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.



Leadership, Separation, and Vulnerability: Snippets

Jul18

by: on July 18th, 2014 | No Comments »

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 | No Comments »

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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Remarkable Conversations, Unexpected Outcomes

Jan30

by: on January 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Perhaps because this year I am teaching a yearlong telecourse (in four independent parts) on The Art and Craft of Dialogue, I’ve been more deeply attuned to the largely unknown power of dialogue to create entirely unexpected results. In those moments, when the veil of separation drops, at least momentarily, and we stand in the magic of finding a path forward that truly works for everyone, I often feel both elated and profoundly sad.

The elation is directly the result of having visceral evidence of the simplicity and elegance of the path. Rosenberg, the man who created the practice of Nonviolent Communication that informs everything I do, says about this phenomenon:

“So many times I have seen that no matter what has happened, if people connect in this certain way that it is inevitable that they will end up enjoying giving to one another. It is inevitable. For me my work is like watching the magic show. It’s too beautiful for words.”

I confess that for years I was dubious – how could it be “inevitable”? I didn’t truly believe it, though I loved hearing it said. Over time, I realized that it is, likely, inevitable. The catch is more in the “if” than in the outcome. The question, for me, has then become simply about how to create the conditions – both inner and outer – that make it possible for people to connect in this way.

Which brings me to the sadness. I find it so tragic that so many people are likely to live and die without having access to this experience, without knowing it even exists, without trusting that such transformation is so possible and so simple.

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Israel, Palestine, Home, Me – Part II

Jan4

by: on January 4th, 2014 | Comments Off

I know that Israel is home, even after 30 years, because when I landed, exhausted and disoriented by the bitter cold and fury of the worst storm in decades, all I wanted was to go eat the food every child in Israel knows, the food I thought was Israeli until I learned it was actually Palestinian, adopted and adapted by the Jews who came to live in that land. Going home, after millennia, to the symbolic land of their ancestors, in the process destroying and displacing the actual homes of others.

I wanted to eat hummus, and tahini. So we went to Jaffa, still populated by many Arabs whose ancestry there far precedes the young city of Tel-Aviv which forcibly absorbed Jaffa. Jaffa is a site of an uneasy coexistence, eroded by the constant push of modernity and gentrification. We found the food, unquestionably what I had hoped for, in an Arab restaurant, or would they call themselves Palestinian? Did their ancestors?

I know it’s home because the sights and the sounds and the smells compel me even when I don’t like them. Because the intensity of stress everyone lives with feels like it’s just been yesterday even though it had been three years since my last visit. Because despite my distaste for the gruff mannerisms, I still love the immediacy, the unmediated access to people, the directness. Both this time and last time, my sister Arnina and I had post-movie conversations in the bathroom with total strangers, conversation that traversed meaning and slices of everyone’s personal lives. I still miss the particular brand of kindness and generosity that means anyone can ask anyone for anything and mostly they will just do it. I recognize the longing, unmistakable, for some way of being “real” that I simply don’t find in the US, the place I have made home and never feel at home in. A longing which surprised me with its intensity when a group of local Israelis in San Francisco started gathering once a month to sing the songs we grew up on. The first time I simply cried, in recognition, familiarity, and unbearable sweetness.

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Israel, Palestine, Home, Me – Part I

Jan2

by: on January 2nd, 2014 | 1 Comment »

I imagine it’s not just me; that visiting a country we’ve left would be a complex mix for anyone, regardless of reason for leaving, assuming we had leaving as an option. I am writing this piece on the airplane, going home, to where I live, from the place that still feels like home, the home I still wouldn’t wish to go back to. And I’ve been writing this piece, and the next one, inside me, in small increments, some of which I’ve already forgotten, since the day I landed, on December 11.

Putting Meaningful Drops in a Vast Bucket

Shadow in Baghdad, a documentary movie I saw while in Israel, taught me much that I didn’t know about the life of Iraq’s Jews until the 1950s. The protagonist is looking to uncover what happened to her father who disappeared in Baghdad one day after the rest of the family fled and he chose to stay behind, trusting that the growing persecution and violence against Jews was only a temporary crisis. At one point she is talking with a contemporary of her father, who says to her that she is trying to empty a bathtub with a spoon, and yet she must, that we all must use what we have to do the work we do.

This is how I feel about the 4-day Convergent Facilitation training I led in Beit Jala. Beit Jala is one of the few places that both Israeli citizens and Palestinians can legally come to, which is why I chose it as the site. It worked. We had people from Europe, North America, and even Thailand who came and studied alongside the locals. The group also included Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Christians, and Moslems, secular and religious. If I had any doubt left we are all kin, it is now gone, as so many in the room could “pass” as any of the others.

After thirty years, I finally came back to this land with something I know to do about the horrors. Like the woman in the movie, I have only a dropper, and the bucket is bigger by the day. I have no illusion I can personally create the change I want to see. Still, one of the many reasons I was crying at the closing circle was because finally I have something I know to do to contribute.

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Why Do We Do What We Do?

Dec18

by: on December 18th, 2013 | Comments Off

Recently, one of my colleagues posted a question on the listserve that we share, where she asked us to comment on how we differentiate between needs and motives or motivations. Since I’ve been thinking for a long time about similar questions, I decided to take up this opportunity to engage with this question, which I find both intriguing and deeply significant.

Varieties of Motivation

One of the fundamental premises of the practice of Nonviolent Communication is that everything any of us ever does is an attempt to meet core human needs. Much can be said, and I have written about it before, about what exactly counts as a need, and the difference between needs and the many strategies we employ in our attempts to meet them. There is no claim within this practice that we are all the same; only that we share the same core needs, and they serve as the only reason for us to do anything.

If everything is motivated by one or more human needs, then why am I even talking about varieties of motivations? It’s because what varies is the degree of awareness we bring to the relationship between our needs and our actions. As far as I can tell based on my exposure to a number of cultures, our various cultures don’t generally cultivate in us the practice of knowing what we want. On the contrary, much of socialization is focused on questioning what we want and telling us any number of reasons for acting other than because we want something. This, to me, is a tragedy of enormous proportions, because what then happens is that what we want goes underground: we continue to act based on our needs without knowing what they are, and therefore with far less choice than we might otherwise do.

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Sex, Vulnerability, and Power

Dec6

by: on December 6th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

If I thought I was treading difficult territory when starting to write about money, writing about sex feels even more risky. It’s even more private, in some ways more charged, and equally considered off limits. I am only doing it because the conversation I had with a dear friend was so inspiring to us, that it seemed to me that what emerged might offer something of value to others, and I was encouraged by my friend’s enthusiastic response. I hope I don’t live to regret this choice.

The starting point of our conversation was a recognition of a peculiar way in which so much that is related to sex gets talked about as if we have no power or choice: either sexual attraction is “there,” and we “must” follow it; or it’s not, and we “can’t” enter a sexual relationship.

Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Erotic

For years I have felt a persistent discomfort when people around me talk about sex. One of the most important things in the world for me is something about honoring human dignity. Within this, I’ve always wanted speaking about or engaging in sexual relationships to be done in a way that honors that human dignity.

I often wonder what life was like in earlier cultures, before the split between the sexual and the spiritual was institutionalized, before the body became the site of sin, before being spiritual became associated with celibacy, asceticism, and withdrawal from the world. Were the conversations different? Did the experience of being sexual feel different?

When we have a powerful desire for something that has been associated with sin, or is seen as “animal-like,” this creates a strong tension. If, on top of that, we have been trained to believe that in order to sustain the social order we need to suppress what we want, the complexity of what happens can easily lead to a complex response that allows us to choose to follow the desire by playing with the edge of “badness” while telling ourselves that we have no choice, that the very experience of sexual desire takes us out of control.

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What We Know and Don’t Know

Nov27

by: on November 27th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

A week ago Sunday, a friend sent me a link to a story about Time Magazine covers. According to the article, the magazine has different covers for its US edition as compared to its three other editions (Europe, Asia, South Pacific): the former focus on personal issues and feelings while the latter on international events of significance. Although the assertion itself has been questioned by some who commented on the story, this story sparked some conversations and reflections for me that led to my deciding to make it this week’s topic.

At the time of receiving this link, I was leading a retreat. Later that same day I led a session in which I described some of my vision and thoughts about money and resource allocation. Little did I know that, in the end, an interaction I had during this session would lead to my having more understanding about the significance of this difference in cover stories.

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