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.
“Do we have to involve everyone in every decision for it to be collaborative? … Because if we do, I’m quitting my job.” I hear different versions of this question all the time. In the final weeks leading up to the launch of the Center for Efficient Collaboration, it showed up again – this time in a compelling story from a former-CEO-turned philanthropist. I’ll call him Brian.
We’d been introduced by a mutual friend who asked me to tell Brian about the breakthroughs I’d seen during my work on collaborative lawmaking in Minnesota. I sensed that Brian wasn’t deeply engaged. Indeed, he soon stopped me to express his doubts about the power of collaboration.
Brian told me about taking over a company when it was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. He had an idea about how to turn things around, and he ran it by others. No one liked it. He went ahead with it, and some months later, everyone saw the benefits. This happened a number of times throughout his tenure as CEO, he told me, with what I saw as a mixture of pride and a sense of mystery and humility. The company went on to become a major success story. Had he listened to the others, Brian concluded, the company would have folded.
Brian’s point: in the end, someone needs to make the tough decisions, and that can only be one person. No matter how much collaboration there may be, how much listening to others, engaging with them, asking questions, or discussing options, the buck ultimately stops at some leader’s desk. And that leader’s unpopular decisions may have better results than anyone else expected.
It takes a team. By High Spirit Treks, CC on Wikimedia
A couple of months ago, while leading one of my Leveraging Your Influence retreats, I spoke for the first time in public about the fact that I have four people with whom I connect, on an open, intimate level, on a daily basis; about fifteen more with whom I connect on the same level, regularly and frequently; and about fifty more with whom I connect deeply whenever we connect, without any particular pattern of frequency. Speaking about it, in the context of that retreat, was transformative, because it showed me, for the first time, the direct link between the way that I choose to live and do my work, and the necessity of so much support.
I have known that these riches are not common; that most people, at least in this country, live their lives with orders of magnitude less support and connection. I have also known that this is an essential ingredient for my sanity, for my ability to do the work, without quite knowing what made it essential. I had been thinking of it in terms of strengthening me because of having unusual sensitivities and therefore needing more support than others.
by: Miki Kashtan on July 27th, 2015 | Comments Off
"My New Teacher Desk
Carla (not her real name) works in an organization that brings violence prevention programs to schools. She described her challenge in bringing the program to a particular school where she sees a clash of worldviews. This is an alternative school with values of inclusion, equality, and such, and yet many in the faculty tend towards a more authority-based worldview. She was wondering how it might be possible to get differing worldviews to move in the same direction together. Would a needs-based approach be sufficient?
In thinking about Carla’s school, I told her I would not be focusing on worldviews, because to do so separates and polarizes. I would, instead, be looking for what’s really important to all, regardless of what paradigm they live in. I call this the “noncontroversial essence.” In my last post I wrote about how I facilitated opponents to reach a solution to a decade-long acrimonious legislative dispute by first establishing what they held to be the noncontroversial principles on which they could agree.
“Let’s just face it… There’s a philosophical difference here, and there’s no point in dialogue. Some of us think that a presumption of joint custody is just not a wise thing to do, and that’s all there is to it.” Ben (all names are fictitious), one of those present on a conference call in November 2012, said something like this. He was representing a group of lawyers, and this was his way of letting me know that he wasn’t going to support the attempt to bring everyone together to seek a collaborative solution to the acrimonious debate about child custody legislation that was raging in Minnesota at the time. It’s a classic example of how many of us have been trained to think: since there isn’t a way to resolve differences of this nature, the only path is to duke it out, and whoever gets the most votes wins (our modern “sublimation” of fighting it out physically).
Until that moment, we were going back and forth and round and round in that conversation, with people being, at best, lukewarm about the prospect of sitting in a meeting for a day with other stakeholders. The tension, and the mistrust that gave rise to it, were high. Still, within minutes, we had the first breakthrough in what became a succession of extraordinary moments over the course of two legislative sessions.
What I am writing about today is what I did in that moment, and in countless other moments in that project and in everything that I do when I work with groups, organizations, and even individuals.