Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How Do We Create An Egalitarian Society?

Last Fall, on the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement, C.T. Butler spoke with our local Occupiers about the importance of egalitarian decision-making structures, among other things. I have long been a fan of the consensus process, on which he wrote the book, and I'm in complete agreement with him on the importance of collaborative communication processes. There was one thing that I disagreed with him about though: the idea that in order to be an effective movement, we have to define who is in the movement and who is not. He said this would be demarcated by goals or values, that it doesn't make sense to try to collaborate with people who have different goals.

While I see his point in terms of efficiency, order, and perhaps even safety for the members of a cause, I think any kind of exclusion defeats the purpose of the Occupy movement, and in general the kind of movement I would like to see happen--one where as an entire society, we come together with our neighbors and community members to re-evaluate how we are going about business as usual, and see how we could do it better--for all of us. I don't think consensus alone is going to work for this endeavor, because it automatically excludes people who are more familiar and trusting of "power-over" decision-making methods such as majority rules (democracy) or executive orders (dictatorships).

Unfortunately I don't think there is an easy, painless way to go about including everyone, but I think the tools of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) can help, because unlike consensus, NVC does not require buy-in from all parties to facilitate egalitarian conflict resolution and decision-making. Certainly these things would be easier if all parties were using NVC, but not downright impossible as in the case of the consensus-based GA's, where those not skilled in the process with a lot to say could disrupt an agenda so much the best solution we could think of locally (and in many other places, that I've heard) was to ask them to leave.

What I love about Nonviolent Communication is that it offers tools to work collaboratively with whoever shows up, even if they are initially unfamiliar or uncomfortable with egalitarian models of decision-making. Because how can we truly have a successful society if we don't include everyone? Then those people who aren't included will just organize into a warring faction...legally, verbally, or physically.

For example take someone who is against the environmental movement. It might be easy to think that those of us who value the integrity of our ecosystems cannot work with someone who does not. However, NVC would teach us to identify the universal human needs that both parties share. These may be: hope for the future, security & safety, freedom/choice/autonomy, respect, and consideration (of self or others, including other species). Many of these would needs would apply on both sides of the debate, so that at this point it stops being an either/or dilemma where one side is asked to sacrifice for the other (either jobs and the economy or wildlife and habitat) but a process of integrating the concerns of all affected beings.

Obviously this is actually quite similar to consensus in principle and in ideal outcomes; the process is simply different and more inclusive because even one highly skilled person using NVC could direct a group towards this kind of conversation, without all of them agreeing to participate in any particular structured process. NVC has a bit more flexibility in terms of negotiating specific situations.

Of course I still value consensus a lot and think it's a crucial tool for sustaining an egalitarian culture, which is why I'm including it in the upcoming distance-learning class I'm facilitating for the University of Earth, in which I will mainly be sharing Nonviolent Communication and how to apply it for social change. This has been my passion for many years, ever since I learned of Marshall Rosenberg (founder of NVC) and his work doing mediation in war-torn areas such as the Middle East and Rwanda. With NVC, I have sincere hope for the possibility of a better future.

If this you would like to learn more about NVC, I invite you to join me for this combination online/teleclass called "Sharing Power & Advocating Effectively: Essential Tools for Sustaining an Egalitarian Society," which will go from March 27th to May 30th. For more info contact me (Meagan, 530-205-3569) or to register contact Rich at University of Earth (rich@UofEarth.org / 530 368-6325).

Monday, February 4, 2013

Healing = Empathy

I was looking through the journals that are a part of the curriculum for the Bay NVC Leadership Program, and came upon this question: What is your understanding of NVC empathy? I have answered this question so many times that I just glossed over it, as I would a worksheet with the question: 2 +2 = ?. I have such an emotional feel for what empathy is, that the word and the feeling that goes along with it are one and the same, just as 2 + 2 and 4 actually feel like the same exact thing, there is no difference between them, so its pointless to translate.

As I continued to look through the journal prompts, though, I felt some discomfort arise in me. If I want to teach NVC, I better be able to explain what empathy is verbally, since I can't communicate this felt sense telepathically. So I started trying to write how I felt when I thought of NVC empathy. What came up to the surface is that empathy is healing. Soon I realized that to me, they seem like synonyms. Empathy is healing and healing is empathy.

What is healing? Think of all the healing tools you've ever heard of: massage, EFT, even a hug. All of these things have an empathic element to them. They allow space. They say yes, when they are effective. The massage therapist says "yes" to the pain, by being gentle with what hurts, providing movement and touch that works with the pain, rather than against it. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) also says yes, yes to our realities, loving and accepting all our of our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. And a hug definitely says "yes," definitely allows space.

Empathy is spaciousness, spaciousness for whatever is real, and in that space, healing occurs. I might go so far as to say that it is the only time when healing can occur. Other treatments--approaches that say "no" to the experience, such as certain types of affirmations, or any type of healing arts practitioner that says no, don't work, they make it worse. Think of a massage practitioner who keeps applying pressure when you say it hurts--not only would that be wildly out of standard protocol, most people experiencing it would probably not go back to that therapist, not feeling physically safe with them.

Similarly, listening, to be empathy, must say "yes." Not agreement, as we always say in the NVC community, but validation of the person's experience. Agreement that they are having that experience, feeling what they feel! That is why when I think of empathy, I think of healing. Because skilled NVC empathy, in my experience, can accomplish what all these other approaches can, combined--its not specialized like some healing arts, its broadly applicable. It can give a sense of healing to almost any sort of emotional pain, whether a harsh word from a co-worker or the trauma of childhood abuse

Of course NVC teaches techniques to convey this sense of "allowing" using words, and they are very supportive. It's hard to know how to say yes to someone's experience without agreeing with their perspective, if you don't have the tools. If you would like to experience the healing power of saying yes to our experience, and you live in Chico or surrounding areas, join NorCal NVC for one of our upcoming events. I'm doing the following intros this month (February 2013):

"But I Don't Communicate Violently!"
An open introduction to NVC's basic concepts and consciousness. Feb. 16th 5-7:30pm, 2155 Park Ave

Needs Awareness for Direction & Empowerment
Feb. 20th, 2:30-5pm, 2155 Park Ave. A 9 week series will follow this free introduction.

Weekly Drop-in Class: Honoring the Antsy Mind
 An empathic meditation class, Fridays (Feb. 8th, 15th, 22nd) 5-6:30pm

For other events that are more current (if you are reading this in the future! Woah time travel!) check out norcalnvc.org