by: Miki Kashtan on February 24th, 2016 | Comments Off
In my last post I spoke about the immense challenges inherent in experimenting with a gift economy within the current economic structure. In this post, I look at how experimenting with the full gift economy can only take place from a position of privilege, and what, ultimately, we can do to begin and continue these experiments in a sustainable way.
by: Ariel Gold and Tali Ruskin on February 23rd, 2016 | 9 Comments »
Ariel Gold and Tali Ruskin sing outside of a Shabbat celebration in the West Bank. Source: Ariel Gold and Tali Ruskin
On a Friday afternoon last November, about 50 Jewish Israelis set up tables covered with white tablecloths, candlesticks, wine, and a Shabbat meal under a canopy of olive trees in the historic West Bank city of Hebron. Some even brought with them sleeping bags and pillows to spend the night under the stars.
While this might sound like a beautiful way to celebrate Shabbat – eating and singing and sleeping outside, surrounded by the warmth of prayer and community – the intention and impact of this encampment was anything but beautiful. The Shabbat encampment took place outside of the Youth Against Settlements (YAS) Center in Hebron. The intent of the encampment was to intimidate and harass the Palestinian organization that uses the tools of media advocacy and nonviolent activism to resist the occupation of their city by Israeli settlers and soldiers. This Shabbat encampment was deliberately set up to obstruct access to the Center, an emblematic example of the restriction of Palestinian movement that is ubiquitous in a city under occupation.
This incident was one of the many egregious attacks on Palestinians that we, two Jewish American women, witnessed while we were spending time in Hebron working with activists at the YAS Center and documenting the daily human rights violations they face.
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: 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.
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.
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.