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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.



Ego, Mind, and Culture

Nov22

by: on November 22nd, 2013 | 3 Comments »

The idea for this piece came to me when I read a comment on an earlier blog post. The specific content of that post (which was about race), is not the issue here. Rather, it was two references to “ego” which caught my attention and got me thinking for all these months. Here they are as context:

“The only use for these false values are to enhance the ego’s sense of separateness, be it through conceived superiority or inferiority.”

“One result of acting upon true values is the freedom from the ignorance to which the separative ego tenaciously clings.”

There is nothing unusual about these sentences. They simply capture a way of speaking that I have been aware of: attributing intention to what is, ultimately, an abstraction. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so noticeable to me if it weren’t for a second aspect: the intention being assigned to this abstraction called “ego” is one that has a negative connotation with it.

It was a sad surprise to me when I learned that the entry of “ego” into the English language was in large part the result of choices made by Freud’s translator, James Strachey. “Ego” was introduced as a translation of the word in German that simply means “I,” thereby changing the meaning and tone of what Freud wrote. “When one says ‘my ego,’” says Mark Leffert, “one can always distance oneself; when one says “I,” no distance is possible.”[Footnote 1]

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Money, Value, and Our Choices

Nov18

by: on November 18th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

In last week’s piece, I looked at some fundamental questions related to money and resources. Today, I want to move from the general and abstract to the personal and practical. There are various reasons for wanting to make it personal, ranging from my desire to support people in making their own personal choices about money with much more awareness to the modeling of transparency in talking about money. As this mini-series is unfolding, I am seeing just how much ground there is to cover. For today, I am focusing on “just” two questions, central to the process of using money to mediate transactions in which goods or services are offered.

How Much Money Do I Pay?

This is a question that’s been haunting me for years. We are so accustomed to supply and demand logic, that I imagine most of the time many of us don’t even think about it. When I look at it deeply, however, I really cannot understand, on the human plane, why I give the woman who cleans my house less money than the acupuncturist or naturopath who attend to my body. The “obvious” answer is that they invested years of their life getting educated. Setting aside the huge question of who gets to be educated and how that gets determined, there is still an embedded assumption in this answer. As someone on a recent teleseminar based on one of my blog pieces said simply: “Why are people with education more valuable than others?” This is precisely the part that haunts me. In effect, setting up the system in the way that it is means that some people’s needs are valued more than others.

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Money, Needs, and Resources

Nov7

by: on November 7th, 2013 | Comments Off

My vision is of a world in which needs are routinely met, in which the experience of need satisfaction is the norm rather than the exception. Considering how far this vision is from what we mostly know in our modern world, the question of the possibility of meeting human needs takes on a great deal of significance.

In this excerpt, I am skipping the section that deals with some theoretical questions related to this problem, as my intention is to focus on the practicalities.

Ultimately, the question of need satisfaction can only be answered in practice. Unfortunately, as far as I know, no human society has been solely dedicated to meeting human needs, and the data for assessing this question on a large scale simply doesn’t exist. However, on a smaller scale, my work over the years has shown me beyond any doubt for me that more satisfaction is possible even before changing social conditions.

This brings me to some deep questions that so far humanity as a whole has not found a way to answer. What would it take for optimal need satisfaction to become a societal goal? How can we produce and allocate resources in a way that’s most conducive to meeting everyone’s needs? What societal and individual changes are most likely to change patterns of consumption to make resources available more widely? In large part, these are the questions that led me to embark on the project of writing this book and its sister, Reweaving Our Human Fabric: Working together to Create a Nonviolent Future, which I imagine will be out in the summer.

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Personal Change, Structural Change, and Nonviolent Communication

Oct31

by: on October 31st, 2013 | 2 Comments »

One of the questions that keep coming up in discussions within the community of Nonviolent Communication trainers is how to become more effective at bringing Nonviolent Communication (NVC) to a level where it may support significant cultural change. Most recently, someone calculated that in order to train, for example, the UK armed forces, it would take 7,000 training days just for a basic level of training of 12 hours in groups of 50 people. This calculation helped me reach even more clarity about a question I have been wrestling with for a long time. The starkest way of framing the question is this: can the training model be a strategy for social or cultural change?

Workshops and Culture

Although much of what I write about below is about NVC, my fundamental question is far beyond NVC. I see it as being about any attempt to create fundamental change using a model of change that focuses primarily on individuals changing their behavior or ideas.

Seeing the numerical analysis above immediately suggests to me that the training model is limited, not just that the number of existing NVC trainers is small. There are several reasons for this. The most obvious, given my sense of the urgent need for transformation in the world, is that I simply don’t believe that we can reach enough people fast enough in this way. This is one of the reasons why in my own work I am focusing on understanding how to change structures and systems. That is not a substitute for personal transformation. It just makes it easier.

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Language, Meaning, and Consciousness Transformation

Oct24

by: on October 24th, 2013 | Comments Off

There is no question that my love of language is an inherited trait. My father was a lay linguist, in addition to being a teacher, writer, and public intellectual. In the last few years of his life, in his fifties, he went back to school to get a Ph.D. in linguistics, a project he didn’t complete due to illness. Not having a degree didn’t stop him from writing and continuing to perfect a book about common errors in usage of Hebrew until he got sick and had the book finally released for publication. My mother also wrote a book about language, explaining in detail a unique method she developed for teaching Hebrew, both to native speakers and as a second language. I hope she gets to publish it in her lifetime. Our family culture was suffused with intellectually stimulating conversations about politics, society, Judaism, psychology, social critique, and deep engagement with all of our daily experiences. In among these topics, we always had extensive discussions about language and meaning, about the source of words, and about how changing words, even word order, can change meaning. It’s no wonder to me that I landed on a language-based practice as a primary passion and my calling.

I continue to carry in me the deep reverence for precision and clarity in use of words that unites our family. Which words we choose to say is not “just semantics,” as so many often say. Rather, I see each word that we choose as carrying a specific field of meaning. If we change the words we use, we change the message we send – both to the person who hears it as well as to our own brain. I have a distinct experience that a language-based practice such a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can most literally change the wiring within our nervous system.

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The Saga of Writing about the Government Shutdown

Oct18

by: on October 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish. — Mary Parker Follett

A couple of days ago, I was approached by someone asking me to videotape some responses to the government shutdown. His hope was that having a YouTube video in response to the crisis could possibly travel wide and result in the possibility of an invitation to support dialogue. As it turns out, I’ve been sick (finally I am getting better), and the prospect of recording my voice was singularly unappealing. And so I decided to write a blog piece instead. My contact was super happy. I read the background information he sent me, and then some, and proceeded to write a piece. Then I sent it to two people whose opinion I value. They didn’t like it. They had some pretty strong things to say about what I had written, two of which were that what I wrote was “oversimplifying” and “naïve.”

I was ready to can the whole thing and write about something else, when I got a new suggestion from my contact’s partner. She suggested that I write about this whole process – getting the request, writing about the situation, getting the feedback, and everything in between. Given my predilection for transparency, I was inspired. Then, before I got a chance to come back to this, one of my critics sent me a new piece to read, and it all came together. The result is here in front of you.

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Gandhi, Trusteeship, and the Commons

Oct10

by: on October 10th, 2013 | Comments Off

As much as I have read and heard about Gandhi for years, it is only recently that I have become acquainted with the complex vision he had of trusteeship. In essence, as I understand it, Gandhi proposed that anything material that goes beyond the elusive notion of need satisfaction (which I discussed last week) be viewed as held in trust for service.

In preparation for writing this piece, I had a long discussion with a friend, let’s call her Nadine, about the ramifications of what this approach could possibly mean. Nadine, a woman who lives in great simplicity, far beyond any I can claim, was talking about a computer she had acquired some time ago, and what it truly means to view herself as holding this computer in trust. At present, it seems straightforward: since she is using the computer almost exclusively for the purpose of supporting her service work in the world, she is at peace. What would happen, however, if she stops doing her work? Would trusteeship mean that she would be obliged to give her computer away to someone else who would use it for others’ benefit? Would she be able to part with it, to undo, within herself, the visceral sense that this computer is “hers”? That was the moment we both understood deeply that trusteeship calls into question one of the most sanctified pillars of a market economy: the institution of private property. Trusteeship means we don’t own anything; we consume what we need, and the rest is ours to use for the benefit of all.

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Gandhian Economics, Universal Well-being, and Human Needs

Oct2

by: on October 2nd, 2013 | Comments Off

As this entry is being posted, it’s Gandhi’s birthday. Given how much I have been influenced, even transformed, by learning from Gandhi about nonviolence, I wanted to write something to honor his legacy. Because I’ve recently started a mini-series on money, I decided to focus on a lesser known aspect of Gandhi’s work: his views about economics.

At first sight, many of Gandhi’s basic economic thoughts seem entirely irrelevant to our very different time, culture, and context from the one in which he operated and wrote. For example, the idea of village cottage industry, which might have been feasible in early 20th century India, is very hard to imagine now as a primary way forward for industrialized economies. Delving into it a bit deeper, I see a number of convergences between his ideas and the direction that many are advocating today, such as simplicity, localism, and decentralization. Rather than an exhaustive introduction to Gandhian economics, which can be found through a search on the web, I chose, instead, to look more deeply at two core principles that resonate deeply with me and the path I am on with regards to thinking about money and the economy. This week, I am looking at the question of what constitutes universal well-being and how we approach the conundrum of attending to human needs. Next week I plan to look at Gandhi’s notion of trusteeship and connect it with current unfolding thoughts about the Commons.

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The Powerless Are Not Necessarily Pure

Sep25

by: on September 25th, 2013 | 4 Comments »

I am not so keen on the idea that power corrupts, and have already discussed this to some extent in an earlier post. My difficulty with this framing is multiple. For one thing, this saying maintains the pervasive belief that power is bad in and of itself, a belief that can only result in perpetuating itself, since it will keep many people away from taking power lest they oppress others.

As I see it, coming into power does not create the fundamental desire to have things be our way; it only provides access to resources that make it possible to do so. In the process, extraordinary harm can be done to others, sometimes millions of others. Whatever our sphere of influence, and whatever our vision or personal goals, our power gives us access to extra resources, and thus can multiply both our benefit and our harm. There is no substitute for meticulous attention to the effects of our actions. I see it as an enormous challenge to come into power and live its attendant responsibility without creating harm. I am concerned, in part, that less of this work will happen for as long as we continue to believe that the issue is power rather than what we do with it. My hope remains that that we can all recognize that we can have power and still not use it over others.

Another difficulty that I see stemming from associating power with badness is the corollary move of associating powerlessness with purity. I cannot imagine finding a way to say it any clearer than MLK:

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Dialogue, Decision-Making, and Mattering

Sep19

by: on September 19th, 2013 | Comments Off

One of the cornerstones of our modern culture, the great reward that arose from being freed from earlier feudal times, is the idea of personal rights, the freedom to make decisions for ourselves. In the countries that are categorized as liberal democracies, this freedom is often sacrosanct. Once we reach adulthood, and assuming our specific group is not barred from having civil rights (as in women before being allowed to vote, blacks in the South before desegregation, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories), we don’t have to ask anyone for permission to move, to vote, to enter or exit spaces, to eat or not eat, to befriend people, or to do anything else we want to do provided it’s not specifically illegal. Granted, in our workplaces, we trade this freedom for money. We accept that our bosses can tell us what to do – within limits. Still, we do this freely (or so we believe).


So enamored are we with this particular version of what freedom means, that the idea of involving other people in our process of making decisions appears to many of us to be the same as asking for permission. When I used to work with couples, often a sore spot was when one of the partners would be making decisions that affect the other person without consulting with the affected person. More often then not, when I invited the person to check with their partner before the decision, they would balk. Many of them found it really difficult to discern the difference between asking their partner for permission and asking their partner for feedback about the effect of the decision on them. Back in the workplace, when I work with managers, they often struggle with the idea of involving the people they supervise in decision-making. Again, I sense that they associate any form of dialogue about a decision with loss of autonomy.

I believe that one of the best kept secrets about the rewards of choosing interdependence is the wisdom and the richer freedom that are often unleashed through entering dialogue with others as a path to making decisions: together, in complete autonomy, honoring everyone affected. To make this secret more available to more people, to help usher in a possible future, I want to share three stories about how dialogue created shifts that resulted in an outcome that served everyone better than before. Each of these stories illustrates one of the challenges that we face on the path to full integration of autonomy and interdependence.

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