Thursday, March 7, 2013

Anger -/- Violence

Today I went in to see a counselor I am currently working with, and we talked about how in my family, people are pretty scared of anger, so much so that if I express any anger, my aunts get pretty triggered and start talking about only wanting to be around happy people. During our discussion I remembered an insight I had a few years ago, about how for most people anger and violence are so linked, they seem almost synonymous. So much so, that I have caught myself saying, "I want to slap that person," when I was angry, even though I didn't really want to. I had just learned (mainly from another particular aunt who frequently made such statements) that that is how you express anger. But if you really look at it, they don't have to be linked! They are not the same thing.

In doing social change work, part of the journey is working with intense emotions. Anyone who has gone to a big rally of any sort will know that. There is yelling on both sides, from the protesters and counter-protesters. (Anger is not the only feeling present for activism--there are others just as important, if not more so, hidden underneath the anger, such as fear and grief and pain for all those who suffer at the hands of our current economic/political systems, but I would like to come back to this more in another blog.)

Activists who embrace nonviolence have already realized that although they are angry, they don't want to express it in ways that perpetuate more and more pain. We tend to think, though, that violence is only a physical act. However, most activists would agree that when a president gives an order for bombs to be dropped on civilians living near an alleged terrorist hideout, the president was being violent. He did not participate in the physical violence. His words led to it, even the thought process that led him to think that bombing people was the best response to the situation.

Over the past 7 years I have become thoroughly convinced that how we think about conflict as well as every word we utter has a profound impact on the degree of violence we experience in our lives and in the world. That is why I am so inspired when I sit with a group of people who have committed themselves to the path of Nonviolent Communication, for example the NorCal NVC Steering Committee of which I am a part. When I sit in a circle with these people, whether for empathy or business, sometimes I get this thrilling feeling that is a cousin to falling in love--the thrill of actually having hope for the world.This is because I have seen how we respond to conflict nonviolently, or at least tried our damnedest, with each other and others in our lives. If what is true on the microcosm is also true on the macrocosm, then forming more circles of people such as this gives me hope for a miracle.

A few years ago I got really into reading Derrick Jensen for a few months with my roommate at the time. Although I feel a true sense of companionship to that man in terms of intense care for the world, I realized after a while why I was so uncomfortable with his response to the world's problems. He truly believed in the victim/perpetrator model of human interaction, and applied this model to the state/corporations and the Earth, which of course isn't exactly a new idea. But the longer I've lived my life, the more I've seen that the victim/perpetrator model is not one that accurately represents reality. Just one of many examples: with my current partner, who is one of the most communicative men I've ever met, I have had friends and even professionals encourage me to end the relationship, because I complained about some aspect of it.

One time I called a support hotline, because I just needed someone to talk to, and the woman was very quick to label my partner as emotionally abusive. In NVC we call this "feeding the fire"--fueling the person's judgments and resentment, contributing to the clouding of their best discernment. This woman had no idea of what was really going on in my life--she heard my unprocessed version of events, when I was angry in a particular moment, and jumped to all sorts of conclusions based on this model she thought was universally applicable. I imagine if Jonah had called and given her his version of events, she would have said that I was the emotionally abusive one! This way of thinking is all about taking sides. But any marriage/relationship therapist will tell you, "You can be right, or you can be happy." Making relationships work is all about cooperation, collaboration, and seeing the other's humanity--not proving who is wrong.

While we can choose who we want to work through intimate relationship challenges with, we don't get to choose who we share the planet with--unless of course you just kill those you don't like, obviously a popular response currently. I think there may be some other, dare I say better?, ways to deal with our interpersonal conflict, on all scales. There is much talk these days of moving from an individualist culture to a collectivist one, because collectivist cultures in general are more sustainable, ecologically and psychologically. For this reason, I invite you to join me for the online and teleconference course "Sharing Power & Advocating Effectively," offered through the University of Earth and starting for the first time March 27th 2013. To register contact Rich Silver at or 530-638-6325. Space is limited so call now!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fighting the Republican Terrorists

A few years ago I had this amazing experience. I was standing in line at the movie theatre with my partner, waiting to see Avatar, and somehow the woman behind us started talking to me about politics. It seemed we generally disagreed at first, but I did something I'd wanted to do for a long time--I used my empathy skills, to triy to connect with her fears and concerns.

With the tools of NVC I was able to do this without indicating agreement or disagreement, simply giving her the experience of being heard. If I noticed any points of agreement, I made sure to highlight those. Then, once I sensed some openness in her, I occasionally inserted a question or perspective of my own that was somewhat challenging her ideas on how to deal with the country's problems--and I had the miraculous experience of being listened to instead of argued with! She met my respectful listening with the same.

By the time the line started moving to go into the movie, I had the sense that I had just had one of the most meaningful conversations of my life. I had dreamed of this for years, ever since I heard of NVC--using empathy to navigate political conflicts--but until that moment I hadn't really applied it. This was partially because I tend to surround myself with friends who agree with me politically, so there was never a chance. It wasn't until a year and a half later that I would actually seek out this kind of challenging conversation.

This was when some local Tea Party activists were trying to pass Measure A in my town, which would have changed the election dates for city council members to a few weeks after finals--discouraging university students from swinging the vote towards the liberal end of the spectrum. My whole town was fired up about this; name calling was spewing from all sides, and even my roommate who was working on the No on A campaign could vent for hours about the evils of the Republicans.

At the time I was partnering with Jonah, my boyfriend from paragraph one, to facilitate a group called Grounding Spirit, which was designed as a safe space for people to process their overwhelm and other feelings about the state of the world with all its crises. After one particularly cathartic evening of this, it came to me that the best thing I could do was approach the Measure A proponents and attempt to converse with them nonviolently, to reconcile with each other's humanity, even if we disagreed politically.

I went up to their booth at the next Farmer's Market, and had a very pleasant interaction, despite firmly stating my intention to vote No on the measure. These people were actually quite friendly to me and I enjoyed talking with them. One member, who was also the president of the university's Republican club, agreed to meet with me to discuss how we could make local politics more respectful and collaborative. Although nothing immediately tangible came of it, I feel that I made a very friendly acquaintance, and we continue to amicably chat with one another when we run into each other around town or on campus. I am hopeful that I can build more relationships such as this, that this can contribute to a peaceful revolution--one where, through dialogue, we--liberals, conservatives, anarchists, and everyone else--admit that things are not working very well for most people, and together find new ways of doing things.

I find myself discouraged when I see the very same people who are opposing war with bombs and bullets abroad waging war at home with verbal attacks. I wonder how we will ever have peace if we don't find a way to respond to conflict peacefully, no matter how passionate we are about a cause. When "fighting the Republicans" becomes as sacrosanct a mission as "fighting the terrorists," I don't think we are really changing anything.

I would love to find more people who want to delve deep into communicating nonviolently for social change. If this is you, I invite you to join me for the class, "Sharing Power and Advocating Effectively" that I am offering through the grassroots wisdom school University of Earth starting March 27th. For more information or to register you can contact Rich Silver: / 530 368-6325. Space is limited so sign up soon!