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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.



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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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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