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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.



The Exacting Discipline of Choosing Based on Needs

Oct22

by: on October 22nd, 2014 | No Comments »

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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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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