Pathways to Peace

“Violence is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” – Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication

In a recent interview on the Shift Network, Roxanne Manning discussed the great need in these highly polarized times, to connect across our differences. Roxanne is a certified trainer in Nonviolent Communication, living in the SF Bay Area and originally from Trinidad.

“If we view everyone’s behavior as their best efforts to meet their needs, we can connect more easily,” she stated. When we are in anger or fear, our fight or flight response is triggered, which leads to demonizing and stereotyping the “other.” This can cause disconnection or even violence.

Instead, Roxanne suggests:

  1. Slow down, take a breath.
  2. Ask yourself, “What are my needs?” Our feelings can give us clues to discover our needs.
  3. Can I share that, or shall I find out what the other person’s needs are?

She offered an example of a time when her young daughter excitedly jumped on her when she came home after surgery. She was able to say something like, “Ouch, that hurt! I need care for my body. And I see you’re excited and want to connect with me. Please hug me gently.” (Notice that she shared her own feelings and needs, guessed those of her daughter, and made a specific request, all without any blaming.)

“We all need to know that we matter,” she continued. “When we say no, we can reassure a person: ‘I can’t do the specific thing you’re asking, and your needs matter to me. Let’s find another way to meet your need.'”

Shame, Roxanne believes, is one of the most excruciating and triggering emotions. When we go into shame, we lash out. Human dignity must always be tended to.

“Listen for a person’s needs, without an agenda, with your heart open,” she advises. “Hear what is real for the other. When your needs and mine are on the table, a solution becomes apparent.”

When speaking to someone across a political divide, it’s important to convey: “I know you want what is best for you, and I want to understand your perspective,” until they can say, “Wow, you got it, you understand me.” Then, they will be more open to hearing your perspective. You might be able to say, “I don’t agree with your strategy, but I’d like to know what’s behind that,” and look for their needs; notice which of those needs are also important to YOU, and join with them around those. “Here’s why I’m worried that that particular strategy won’t get us what we want and value… Would you be open to discussing other strategies?”

“Hold each person’s needs as universal, valid, and important,” she advises.

 

Charles Eisenstein and “the space between stories”

charles eisensteinAccording to Eisenstein, who spoke last week in Asheville, we are transitioning from the “old story” of separation to the “new story” of inter-being. The “old story” was domination and hierarchy, competition, judgments, and war; the “new story” is interdependence, relationships, and empathy. “If we really understood one another’s worlds, we would not judge,” he stated. “We would see that our judgments are delusional.” As in the process known as Circling, the question we want to ask in order to inhabit each other’s worlds is “What is it like to be you?”

“Real stories can pierce ideologies like racism and homophobia,” he said, whereas simply attacking police as racists changes nothing. For example, in South Africa there were Truth and Reconciliation committees in which people told their stories of suffering to the perpetrators of apartheid; there was no bloodbath, because people were deeply heard. How can we create conditions for people’s stories to be heard?

Why do we judge?

“Judgment is a deficiency in understanding. Judgment is chiefly a pain avoidance mechanism, channeling it into hatred of others,” said Eisenstein. “So we must learn to feel the pain, instead of channeling it into judgments.” He added that our society does not provide channels for grieving properly. “Judging ourselves for judging does not solve the problem either.”

“What’s wrong with you?!”

Every child hears this growing up, from frustrated parents and teachers. Is it any wonder that most of us grow up feeling deficient, not good enough, and believing there is something fundamentally wrong with us. In the “old story,” goodness or virtue was seen as overcoming our basic nature – like the concept of “original sin.” What if¬†instead a teacher gently asked a misbehaving student, “What’s going on for you?”¬† “From true understanding comes appropriate action,” Eisenstein emphasized.

Why not focus on what is “right” with a person? The story we tell ourselves about others does determine our behavior toward them, and often the outcome. Eisenstein told a story of a woman who held fast to her story that despite their early criminal behavior, “These boys just want an education.” The result was that their behavior transformed for the better!