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Miki Kashtan
Miki Kashtan
Miki Kashtan is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication and the Center for Efficient Collaboration



Nonviolence in the Face of Hatred

Nov16

by: on November 16th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

Anita was present at almost every one of the 34-sessions of my online course Responding to the Call of Our Times. I have sometimes wondered what this course would have been like without her steady willingness to explore the depths of nonviolence. I was counting on it as a thread tying us together, inviting others into more willingness, inviting me into more daring capacity to excavate, find truth, find love. I thought Anita could not surprise me any longer. Then, two weeks before the end of the course, she surprised all of us.

Anita was one of very few people of African descent in the group, and the experience she described was totally related to her background. Some weeks before, her one remaining sister shared with her for the first time that years ago, when she was living in the South, there were a few times when the Ku Klux Klan broke into her house and dragged her out into a field towards a burning cross.

Probably 1958, from the North Carolina State Archives

Anita was bringing this up for a very specific reason, fully fitting with the focus on leadership that the course was on. Although this was very tender for her, she wasn’t bringing it up for empathy or sympathy. She was bringing it up because she wanted to find a way to transform her thinking about what her sister had shared with her, so she would know what to do with the violent thoughts that were populating her mind and challenging her commitment. Out of respect for her dignity and choice, I never asked for the specific nature of the thoughts.

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Moving from Fault to Cause: Looking for Systemic Solutions to White Supremacy

Sep14

by: on September 14th, 2017 | 2 Comments »

Downtown Charlottesville, by Bob Mical

The recent events in Charlottesville have brought even more attention and public conversation to the growing phenomenon of visible, explicit calls for white supremacy. Much of what I have since read and heard is horror and disgust at what has happened, and an intense inquiry about what can be done to make a dramatic shift, and quickly.

Although I experience myself as entirely separate and different from the torch-marchers, from their slogans, actions, and hatred, I consciously choose to maintain the discipline of remembering that they were not born this way; they are not in any special category. There are reasons why more and more people are drawn into such groups, and I want to know the causes, not what’s wrong with the people. Like many who’ve been writing recently, I am confident that fighting back, name calling, shaming, denouncing, and other similar tactics I’ve seen used recently are feeding rather than quelling this upsurge.

Clearly, we are facing a huge problem here; one of many that are challenging our overall ability to sustain ourselves as a species. One of the benefits that our very large brains give us is that we are, as a species, amazingly capable of responding to major challenges by solving complex problems. We know, without having to learn it very much, that to solve a problem we need to understand its cause and then look for solutions based on understanding the cause.

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Why Patriarchy Is Not about Men

Aug4

by: on August 4th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

In response to my recent newsletter, which I named “Tenderness, Vulnerability, and Mourning as a Response to Patriarchy“, I received two comments from men that led me to choose to write this piece. In two very different ways they pointed me to the reality that the word patriarchy is used in many ways; that some of those ways lead to a lot of misunderstanding; and that, in the process, men in particular get targeted in ways I never wish they did. In this piece I hope to rectify this a little bit. I start with pointing to what I mean by patriarchy, since I don’t yet have a definition that I am fully satisfied with. Most significantly, I speak to what patriarchy does or does not have to do with men and what it has to do with all of us. I also aim to make it clear what my very deep concerns are about continuing within the patriarchal paradigm that’s been with us, at least those of us who are part of Western civilization, for about 7,000 years. And I end by what I believe every single one of us can do about it.

What Is Patriarchy?

One of the things that make it difficult to speak about patriarchy, or any other system, to a mostly North American audience, is that the capacity to see systems as distinct from the individuals that live within and are affected by them has been systematically rooted out of most people’s awareness. Instead, everything is seen as an individual issue with only individual solutions.

This is, sadly, also the reason for why the main accomplishments of the 2nd wave of feminism (about which more below) in the US, for example, have been at the individual level, such as access to more kinds of jobs and to education, or increased reproductive choice. There has been very little change in the system that I call patriarchy, nor have the individual changes been open to women who are darker skinned and/or of limited economic means.

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Addendum to Privilege, Responsibility, and Nonviolence

Jul20

by: on July 20th, 2017 | Comments Off

After posting my recent post, I received a comment that completely surprised me, in which I was challenged about what I thought was the opposite of what I said. Given what was written in the comment, I believe it was a person of color writing it. Given my overall commitments, including the ones I wrote about in that piece, it was vitally important for me to take the comment seriously as important feedback. This meant focusing on what I may have done to contribute to the misunderstanding rather than on trying to explain myself.

In reflecting, and in further conversation with a colleague, it didn’t take much to recognize what it might have been. What I discovered is three things I didn’t say rather than specific things that I said. Because of these omissions, my piece ended up vulnerable to being interpreted through the lens of shifting blame to the marginalized. The purpose of this piece is to make explicit what was left unsaid before.

Naming the Audience

The first was a very major slip; something I intended to add to the piece and was still thinking about where to add it most effectively, and then I forgot to close that loop and sent it off for publication without it. I am deeply chagrined about this slip, and want to correct it now.

It’s the failure to name the audience.

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Privilege, Responsibility, and Nonviolence

Jul15

by: on July 15th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

When I first heard Marshall Rosenberg, back in 1994, say that the actions of another person are a stimulus, and never a cause, for my feelings, I was shocked. Little did I know that this statement would become the nucleus of my growing understanding about what has come to be called self-responsibility in the community of practice that I belong to: those who have chosen to adopt Nonviolent Communication (NVC) as a core organizing principle of our lives and work. This is a spiritual practice that is surprisingly demanding in moments when it’s so tempting to think that I am having the experience I am having, or that I am doing what I doing, because of what someone else is doing or some other force that is outside me. Locating the source of my inner experience and my choices within me has been the most difficult and most liberating aspect of my practice.

Equally liberating, and far less comfortable, has been the twin practice of taking responsibility for my actions and choices and their effects within an interdependent world. The juxtaposition of the two conjures up mystery: my actions, however harmful they may be, don’t cause the feelings of another, nor are their feelings unrelated to my actions. The nature of the relationship is elusive and complex, as all interdependence is. When you add power differences to the mix, responsibility, all around, becomes an achievement few of us can step into fully, without blame of self or other. Teasing apart this complexity is one of the ways I aim to use whatever privilege I have in the world in service of transforming the structures and effects of privilege.

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Staying Open to Life despite Losses

May9

by: on May 9th, 2017 | 9 Comments »

When I sat down to count the number of times that I lost a friendship by actions of another, I didn’t imagine I would reach the number 29 in the last 27 years, almost all of them close friends, or other people with an ongoing connection, who chose to sever contact with me. Each a story of its own. Some with reasons I understand. Some without any reason ever told to me, though surely with a reason that made sense to that person. The worst was a condensed period of two years during which I lost seven of seven close friends, and then had no new ones for more than six years. The most recent last month, during my visit to Israel, one of the extremely few people in my life I was sure beyond any doubt was a friendship for life. No more.

I decided to write about it when a friend who heard about it wrote: “Wow. Just Wow. It’s a miracle, and a testament to your tenacity, that you continue to trust and to open your heart.” Even though I know that such cutting off is traumatic, and that I have endured most likely a higher-than-usual rate of these, reading this response I realized more strongly that what I was doing, how I was responding to life, was perhaps something useful to reflect about publicly. Specifically, a look into what is making it possible for me to trust and open my heart, and how far does this openness go.

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When Effects Are Invisible: From Comfort to Freedom

Apr10

by: on April 10th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

“When a behavior becomes the norm, we lose our ability to view it as dysfunctional.” Jeff Garson, Reflection #42, Radical Decency (URL temporarily inactive).

“To reinforce the majoritarian dream, the nightmare endured by the minority is erased.” Ta Nehisi Coates, My President Was Black.

What is it that makes the existing global system continue to function with our ongoing participation, when so many of us know how close to the edge of catastrophe we are? Without pretending to know the “answer”, I have figured out some bits of it that make sense to me.

For some of us, it’s because we actually buy into the system’s values and ideals, and we feel aligned with it, or because we recognize it as not working, and yet don’t believe anything better is possible. For some of us, it’s because we feel overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the necessary changes, both individually and globally, and thus buy into the illusion that we can opt out of the system and just have our own very individual lives, as best we know how. And for some of us, it’s because we don’t even know the significance and effects of our actions, especially collectively. Much of the time, all these factors combine to give us an internal foundation of either acceptance or resignation that sustains our capacity to continue to make choices that are destructive to self, others, and/or the web of life.

Looking at it that way, I can have more compassion for all of us – very much including myself – for all the ways that we uphold and sustain that which we may wish to be different. It’s with this kind of compassion that I want to share two vignettes that in the most concrete and personal way illustrate some of the challenges we have about seeing the direct and indirect consequences of our actions. Along the way, my hope, as always, is to also provide a guide for action for any of us who want to continue to walk the path towards turning the tide and learning to steward life and all the resources of this one planet for the benefit of all. Although the vision is, as always, on a system level, the choices that we make are, by necessity, personal, and their individual effect, usually, minuscule beyond our own small sphere of life. Still, from my own experience, these kinds of choices are life altering in the only direction where we have complete power as human beings: internally.

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If I Were a Rich Man – the Inner Dimension

Mar6

by: on March 6th, 2017 | Comments Off

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 | Comments Off

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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