by: Laura Grace Weldon on February 3rd, 2016 | 1 Comment »
Working in a retail job, you think you’ve become accustomed to bad behavior on the part of children as well as parents. But you are appalled to see a mother use an umbrella to spank a small boy. Will intervening threaten the child or endanger your job?
Walking through a grocery store parking lot, you notice a crying toddler in the grocery cart and a woman screaming at the child as she loads packages in her car. She slaps the child’s face and arms as you walk past. If you say anything will you make it worse?
Looking out your apartment window you see a young man standing next to a motorcycle, pushing and yelling at a teenaged girl from the building who seems to be his girlfriend. Would the police consider this abuse if you called?
Leaving work later than usual on a wintry evening you have the feeling you’re being followed. As you turn a corner you see an ill-dressed youth close behind you. He holds out a gun and asks for money. Are there any options that don’t leave a victim?
Driving past a cluster of youths on a city street, you realize that they are clubbing a boy with a piece of wood. It’s safer for you to continue in traffic, but you want to defend this teen from his aggressors. Can your heart and head agree on a course of action?
Violence is familiar. It’s highlighted in news, movies and video games. It erupts in our homes or homes nearby, even if few people admit it. It’s insidious and damaging. Violence at all levels, from the personal to the global, is highly ineffective in creating lasting positive change.
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.
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.
Thank you so very much for your help in making it possible for the the major powers of the world, the U.N. and most of the people of the world to confirm the deal with Iran which will prevent them from developing nuclear weapons for the next ten to fifteen years.
Your support for the Tikkun position, (a position we articulated in full page ads we bought in the NY Times, the Hill magazine read by most Congressional people and staffers), plus your willingness to share your reasons for supporting the nuclear deal, eventually became part of a powerful surge of voices that created the context critical to the ability of Democratic Senators to feel that they could reject the pressure from the right-wing of the Jewish world, represented by AIPAC, The Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations, the American Jewish Congress, and many local Jewish Federations and synagogues and instead embrace a deal which, while flawed in some ways, was far better than any achievable alternative. (See, sometimes us little guys can make a difference if we pool our energies and resources.)
It was sad for us to see the Reform movement in Judaism unable to take a stand on this issue–the movement that had once proudly proclaimed itself a voice for tikkun olam, but we can have compassion for the leadership that feared it might lose some of its support in being in favor of a deal that raised fears among many Jews who had been influenced by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s manipulation of PTSD flashbacks from the Holocaust. Yet this is the same reason why so many Jewish leaders and rabbis fail to take courageous stands countering Israel’s horrendous treatment of the Palestinian people, behavior in sharp violation of the Torah’s commands “Do Not Oppress the Stranger/the Other.” The excuse of fear of breaking your organization apart or losing some of their supporters starts to wear thin, don’t you think, as we approach the 50th year of Occupation (in 2017)? It would be great if American Jews could push for an end to the Occupation (not just for less abuses inside the Occupation) with a focus on demanding that it be ended by 2017. And, as in the campaign for the nuclear treaty, such a campaign would necessarily require powerful involvement of non-Jews and the next President of the U.S. so check to see if your candidate, whoever that might be, would join such a campaign (the terms of a peace treaty to end the Occupation are spelled out in detail in my book Embracing israel/Palestine which you can get on Kindle from Amazon.com or in print from www.tikkun.org/eip).
Editor’s note: The two perspectives articulated by Uri Avnery and Rabbi Arthur Waskow below deserve to be well known and discussed. We at Tikkun have a slightly different approach: we believe that the hate-filled and barbarous approach of ISIS will continue to manifest in a world that is fundamentally unjust, creates huge amounts of suffering in daily life for at least 2 of the 7 billion people on the planet, and privileges military power over kindness in its expenditures of money and in the organization of nation states. We have long argued that what we need is to convince the Western powers to privilege generosity over domination, and to launch as a first step in this process a Global Marshall Plan to once and for all eliminate global poverty, hunger, homelessness, inadequate education and health care, repair the global environment, resettle refugees, and eliminate the unjust global trade arrangements (read our proposed version at www.tikkun.org/gmp). Yet Uri Avnery and Arthur Waskow, both strong allies of Tikkun, have proposals which differ from our approach and from each other, though because they fit into the “realistic” dialogue of power politics both might be achieved sooner than our plan, though Arthur’s seems much closer to us precisely because it does not envision the direct use of force but only the power of the US to implement it. In my view, it is more likely to get the US population behind a fundamental change in worldview called for by the Strategy of Generosity than to get a piecemeal acceptance of Iran as an ally in the Middle East reconciled to Israel, unless we were simultaneously challenging the notion that their security depends on power over enemies (the Strategy of Domination). But these are the kinds of debates that ought to be taking place in national elections in 2016, so you decide if any of the candidates are even approaching this level of discourse on foreign policy—and if not, what you could do to get them to address this kind of discussion. Rabbi Waskow and Uri Avnery present important ideas for your consideration. –Rabbi Michael Lerner firstname.lastname@example.org
September 12, 2015
The Real Menace
I AM AFRAID.
I am not ashamed to admit it. I am afraid.
by: Tikkun on August 21st, 2015 | 5 Comments »
Editor’s note: Noam Chomsky’s analysis (read below after reading this) is an important counter to the endless drum of US propaganda from both parties about the threat from Iran. So much self-deception is thrown at Americans that we are not to blame when even the best among us begins to repeat analyses that forget or obscure the actual role that the US plays in the world today, as Chomsky begins to outline (though he doesn’t really explore the more powerful distorting role of global capitalism, which is not to be blamed solely on the US). Unfortunately, Chomsky underplays the anti-Semitism that the Iranian mullahs have fanned in Iran. They may never have explicitly called for Israel’s physical destruction, but they had plenty of time to clarify what they’ve meant by what seems like code language with such destruction in mind—all they needed to do to eliminate what Chomsky considers an unfair charge would be to publicly affirm that they don’t intend or seek to eliminate the state that was created as a refuge for Jews.
We at Tikkun have sent that request to Iranian leaders, but they haven’t responded. Nor have they repudiated past Iranian governments’ attempts to deny the Holocaust, and there is little doubt that the constant calls for “death to Israel”—while not translated into death to the Iranian Jews who claim to be safe in Iran and who support the Iranian nuclear deal despite Netanyahu’s opposition—are rarely perceived by Iranians as somehow distinct from “death to the Jews.” And the mullahs’ near-genocidal policies toward the Baha’i and repression of other religious minorities are outrageous, as has been their suppression of dissent and countless human rights violations. (As an aside, I want to express compassion for the Jewish people whose Holocaust-rooted post-traumatic-stress-disorder still generates a fearful attitude that makes us so easily manipulated by opportunists and militarists like Netanyahu and his AIPAC, American Jewish Committee, Conference of Presidents of Major (sic) Jewish Organizations allies, manipulation that leads many Jews to support policies that are actually destructive to the best interests of the Jewish people, the US, Israel, and the peoples of the world. To consider just two examples: maintaining the Occupation of the West Bank, rather than helping the Palestinians create an economically and politically viable Palestinian state living in peace and harmony with Israel; or the too-widespread Jewish vocal opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran, though most Jews support the deal. Tragically, and unjustifiably, this tilt toward militarist and ungenerous policies may eventually be the foundation for a resurgence of anti-Semitism globally. I have compassion for my people, just as I have compassion for the many middle-income and poorer Americans who end up supporting right-wing policies that are actually destructive to their own long-term best interests—but that compassion should must be accompanied by our powerful challenge to the policies they support and the racism that is too often a component of their fears.)