A few weeks ago I posted an entry about how dissent strengthens collaboration. In that article I spoke some about how to respond to outliers – the people who express a divergent opinion, persist in not trusting, or in some other way stand apart from a group. While some may call them “dissenters,” when my colleague Lisa Rothman started referring to them as “outliers” I immediately took to it. The word “outlier” for me describes something wider than dissent. It can include being apart from a group even if in general agreement with it, and is more emotionally evocative for me. This is not a finished discussion, and I welcome your comments about it.
At the next Fearless Heart Teleseminar, a number of those present were grappling strongly with the topic, introducing an entire new angle: if any of us is an outlier, what can we do from that perspective, so we don’t have to wait for a facilitator or leader to be skilled enough to invite us in? This post was born on that call.
Why Outliers Matter
For the longest time, I figured that the reason to respond to outliers with kindness and interest is simply to model those qualities and to support people’s well-being. I didn’t even pause to think about the topic, even though I myself have been an outlier for as far back as I can remember. It wasn’t an epiphany that brought me to my current thinking, only a painstaking, incremental learning through practice.
Dorothy Thompson in 1920
In late 1931, Dorothy Thompson, then one of the US’s most respected foreign correspondents, interviewed Adolf Hitler. She spoke of “the startling insignificance of this man.” Although she could foresee the possibility that he would create a coalition government with centrist politicians, she nonetheless said: “it is highly improbable that in this case he will succeed in putting through any of his more radical plans.” Within a year of the article’s publication, he began doing exactly that. In 1934, after writing many articles against Hitler and exposing the reign of terror he instituted, she was the first foreign correspondent to be expelled from Nazi Germany.[Source]
In 1922, when Italy’s king reluctantly invited Mussolini to form a government after the liberal prime minister resigned, he didn’t imagine that Mussolini would dismantle democratic institutions and establish a dictatorship that would last about twelve years. He and his advisors apparently were hoping that Mussolini’s popularity within the military might support them in their attempt to “restore law and order in the country, but failed to foresee the danger of a totalitarian evolution.”[Source]
The first time I heard that groups thrive on dissent, I didn’t like the idea. It came up in conversations with Tom Atlee of the Co-Intelligence Institute, back in the mid-1990s. Tom was clear, based on his experience in activist movements and especially on a cross-country peace march, that dissent is essential for groups to function intelligently. So much so that if a group had too little dissent, he advocated for actively cultivating it to keep the group fresh and creative.
At the time, I was still holding on to a different dream: that we can find, somehow, the “right” people, and then a group can finally collaborate because of enough alignment and harmony. Agreement, I imagined, would serve as the glue that brings people together. In this dream, dissent was a form of conflict, and as such, I saw it as a distraction, sapping energy from a group and diverting focus away from the shared purpose.
This dream stayed with me, unexamined, through my earliest years of learning and sharing Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which later became part of the root system for the Center for Efficient Collaboration. I now can see that I was thinking of NVC as a tool for preventing rather than transforming conflict. Somehow, I believed, if only everyone could just speak their feelings and needs and make clear requests – the central skills I was teaching – disagreements would diminish if not disappear altogether.
by: Miki Kashtan on February 24th, 2016 | Comments Off
In my last post I spoke about the immense challenges inherent in experimenting with a gift economy within the current economic structure. In this post, I look at how experimenting with the full gift economy can only take place from a position of privilege, and what, ultimately, we can do to begin and continue these experiments in a sustainable way.
This post started in response to a colleague who, like me, is aching to bring about a gift economy in the world and is willing to take heat and failure along the way without ever giving up on continuing to experiment. Although she is ecstatic to make it possible for people to take her classes, she is frustrated at how hard it is proving to receive enough for her own livelihood. She wondered why it is so hard.
About twenty years of experimenting came tumbling out of me with the most clarity I’ve ever experienced about this topic: what it means to do a gift economy in relation to our work and livelihood; how the absence of systemic support makes it so hard for any of us to succeed; how our internalized messages interfere with uncoupling giving from receiving; and, finally, in part II, how experiments in gift economy intersect with privilege.
by: Miki Kashtan on January 15th, 2016 | Comments Off
Last Saturday, while leading the first day of a yearlong program, I responded unskillfully to a participant I will call James. What happened points directly to the way that the experience of privilege or lack thereof shapes our lives. How we handled it, and what I have learned in the process give me some hope. In particular, I got an important new clue about why conversations across lines of privilege so easily break down and what we can do about that.
Here’s the dialogue, just about verbatim. It happened as we were breaking into dyads, shortly after someone brought to my attention that a female participant had been sitting quietly in the back, behind me, having arrived later than others.
James: Are you going to invite that girl to join the pairs?
Miki: She is a woman, not a girl. I am pretty sure she is older than thirteen or fourteen.
James: OK, that beautiful woman.
Miki: She doesn’t have to be beautiful, just a woman.
Recovering from Unskillfulness
Before continuing with the story of what happened, I hope you can see why I call my response “unskillful”.
In preparation for writing this piece, I read one that I wrote five years ago called “Why I Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions.” I wanted to remember what I wrote to see what I might want to add. I discovered that it was all there… I still don’t make resolutions, for the same reasons. First, because I still cannot and don’t want to make predictions about the future, as I see the very attempt to control the future as one of the core failures of western civilization. Also, because I still worry about resolutions turning into weapons of self-destruction.
Discomfort, watercolor monoprint
What do I do instead? For me, it’s about coming back, again and more deeply, to my choice to embrace discomfort as a path to freedom and integrity. That is what I write about below in greater detail.
Starting a new year is also a time when I think about my plans for the coming year. In just over a week, I am starting what I intend to be my last year of leading Leveraging Your Influence retreats (in Costa Rica, Chicago, and Poland this year) and the yearlong program in Oakland. These are settings specifically designed to support all present, both leaders and participants, in opening up to the task of facing what life at this time in human history means. There is definitely discomfort, and there is learning and joy and opening to life. If you are interested in inner freedom, and if you long to live with greater integrity, I hope you will join me this year.
Discomfort and Freedom
Reflecting about myself, I am still the person who knows that my freedom depends on my willingness to step outside my comfort zone – the habits and beliefs that have been ingrained in me through socialization and trauma. Any time I can do that, I have more trust that I am actually choosing rather than being run by my past and my fears. Put differently, I would say that the most reliable forms of freedom are internal: It is my choices in how I respond to life, much more than what life brings to me, that I experience as freedom.
Recently, I received a question from a student about the compatibility of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) with Christianity given that the NVC worldview speaks of a world beyond right and wrong, and this person’s understanding of Christianity is rooted in those very notions.
Although I have often received and addressed similar questions, this time, because the focus was so squarely on Christianity, and I am neither Christian nor a theist, I chose to engage with others: fellow NVC trainers and friends. Thirty something emails on the topic later, this quest culminated in a conversation with my friend Nichola Torbett, Founder of Seminary of the Street, with whom I often have deep discussions about theology. With all this help, I am now both ready to respond to the question I was asked, and ready to share here some specific discoveries Nichola and I made today, informed, also, by what I learned from others.
The first I heard of the shootings in Paris was on the email list of the certified trainers with the Center for Nonviolent Communication that I am part of. Someone sent a message of sympathy to the French trainers. I don’t check news, so most often I don’t know the details of what happens. After seeing that message, I looked it up, and then I found out there was a previous and recent such event in Beirut, not nearly as well covered. I instantly felt a pang of wrenching despair about the persistence of these differences in reporting.
I did nothing at the time with that feeling.
Then, when a colleague – Christophe Vincent, originally from France, now residing in Brazil – expressed, in his words, what I experienced as a vastly expanded rendition of my own discomfort, I found my own voice in response to his. This piece emerged from that original response. I am grateful to Christophe for supporting me in this unexpected way, and I quote from his writing, with his permission, later.
Which Violence Counts?
Here is how I finally came to understand my discomfort: It is as if the entire world is complicit in some unconscious belief that violence in some parts of the world is unavoidable, part of life, and therefore not important, and only some parts of the world, those that have managed to export violence elsewhere, or created it elsewhere to begin with through the legacy of their actions, those are the parts of the world about whose rare acts of violence news media speak.
When we have conflicting desires, can Nonviolent Communication help us choose a course of action that works? When, as a reader asked me in a comment back in 2013, we have urges to do things that we know are not in our best interest, how can we engage within ourselves to find the freedom to attend to what is in our best interest? When we have an idea about what we should do, and yet act differently, what meaning can we make of it?
These are just a few examples of an ongoing larger inquiry that’s been preoccupying me for years:
How much choice do we really have? This is not an idle question for me, because our ability to choose freely is assaulted from two powerful sources: the external force of social structures and the internal force of trauma.
We are born and raised into specific cultures, classes, races, genders, and more, which shape our worldviews, ways of making sense of life, and our habits and preferences. Most of us, most of the time, go along with how things are, without questioning them or aiming to change them, even when we don’t like them.