Archives for August 2015

I Don’t Blame You For Being Racist

My earliest memory of racism in my life is as a young child in grade school. The class is all out on the baseball field playing some sort of game that requires you to run the bases holding the hand of a partner. The partner chosen for me was probably the only black girl in the class; I’m white. I remember feeling awkward just having to hold her hand. This was back in the early 60’s in Kansas, and I came from an upper middle class, liberal family. I have felt shame for many years thinking of that story. Thinking of the awkwardness. Knowing in my heart that there is no difference in the value of people based on race, and feeling shame with my awkwardness in relating to Black people. It’s only recently that I’m beginning to touch my anger about this. My anger about having been brought up in a society so permeated in racism that my desire to be “colorblind” is thwarted on a deep, insidious level.

There are wonderful writings about the concept of racism and white privilege that you can find here, here and here. I find it interesting to read the comments to the writings. The comments I believe reflect the reaction we are seeing today to the Black Lives Matter movement. “When will we be doing something about the overrepresentation of Jewish Americans in higher paying jobs?” “This article is a vain attempt by a white person trying to prove their racial ‘sensitivity’, but the only thing proven is the extent of her idiocy.” “I still believe that, regardless of any of these factors, if you are a decent, hard working person who is a good steward to those around you, you should never feel pressured into apologizing for your background or personal choices.” This last one I think gets to why we have such a difficult time having a real race conversation in this country; white people are hearing themselves blamed for racism. I’m not saying Black people are blaming, I’m saying white people are hearing blame.

In “The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Find the Gift”, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg shares a personal story about racism. Dr. Rosenberg is Jewish, and he gets into a cab one morning with another man and hears over the cabbies intercom a direction that someone needs picked up at a Synagogue on a certain street. The man sitting next to him says, “These kikes get up in the morning early so they can screw everyone out of their money.” Dr. Rosenberg felt very angry, but he was aware enough to know that this person wasn’t causing the depth of his anger and fear. These emotions were running very deep, and were connected to a lifetime of memories. And he wanted that man to understand that, to understand the depth of the pain that was stimulated by his comments.

He also knew the only way that man was going to hear his pain, was for Dr. Rosenberg to hear what was going on for that man first. And the only way he was going to hear what was going on for that man, was to give himself some empathy. He imagined the things he would like to say and do to that man, some very violent things. And then he used those thoughts to connect with the feelings and needs underneath. He went from his head to his heart. When he made that heart connection, when he got to the pain, there was a release, an ability to hear the other man.

And so he began guessing at what the man felt and needed. “It sounds like you’ve have some bad experiences with Jewish people.” The man looked at him and said, “Yeah, you know those people are disgusting. They’ll do anything for money.” Dr. Rosenberg then said, “It sounds like you have a lot of distrust and you need to protect yourself when you’re with them about financial affairs.” The reply was “Yes.” And the conversation kept going in this manner and in a few minutes the man was just pouring out all kinds of sadness and frustration and the conversation moved from Jews to Blacks and some other groups. This man had a lot of pain. After about 10 minutes the man finally felt heard and stopped talking.

This was when Dr. Rosenberg said, “When you first started to talk I felt a lot of frustration, discouragement, because I’ve had quite different experiences with Jews than you’ve had, and I was really wanting you to have much more the experience that I have. Can you tell me what you heard me say?” The man replied, “Well, look, I’m not saying they’re all…” at which point Dr. Rosenberg interrupted him and said, “Excuse me. Hold it, hold it. Could you tell me what you heard me say?” The man was now confused, “What are you talking about?” So Dr. Rosenberg said, “Let me say again what I’m trying to say. I want you to hear, really hear the pain that I felt when I heard your words. It’s really important for me that you hear that. I said I felt a real sense of sadness because I’ve had such different experiences with Jewish people and I was just wishing that you could share a different experience than you’ve had. Can you tell me what you’ve heard me say?” Now the man was feeling angry, “Well, you’re saying I have no right to say that.” And here is where the important piece comes in. Dr. Rosenberg replied, “No, I really don’t want to blame you. Really, I don’t have any desire to blame you.” Blaming is too easy; guilt is too easy. If someone hears blame and feels guilty, they aren’t going to hear what is going on for you. People don’t have to agree; they don’t have to change their behavior, we just want them to understand.

When we see people defending, they are hearing blame. And when they are hearing blame, they can’t hear us. It’s that simple. And this is why we in White America, can’t hear Black Americans. We are hearing blame. The fact of the matter is we are all victims of this racist society, although certainly not in the same way. I, as a white woman, have some unearned privileges that I take for granted. I also have unearned disadvantages, just as we all have varying degrees of unearned advantages and disadvantages bestowed upon us at birth. And underlying this whole system of advantages and disadvantages is the belief that there isn’t enough in this world for everyone.

I have been discussing my thoughts about racism and my personal experiences lately with my family. My adult daughter was shocked that I considered myself racist, she doesn’t consider herself as such. My husband didn’t have any stories from his childhood like mine; he just has memories of having Black friends in early high school. Both of these responses at first just angered me. How could you not have these thoughts and experiences? I think this anger was my defensiveness again, my push back at hearing blame. When I realized this I was able to go deeper to the real sadness I felt. I’m very sad that I was brought up in a society that insidiously molded me to feel awkwardness with Black people. I’m longing to have ease and openness with everyone.

So I don’t want to hear blame, I don’t want to feel shame. I don’t want others to hear blame, or feel shame, because they won’t be able to connect with others and hear and see what is going on around them. This is going to take a lot of work; we have centuries of this imbedded in us. But I believe with time and open hearts we can start to heal others and ourselves.


“When my consciousness is on another human being’s feelings and needs, I see the universality of all of our experience.” Marshall Rosenberg, PhD


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Thank You For Being a Friend

Have you ever wondered why you have the friends you have? I am sure some friends are closer than others. Why? The theory I want to present is we have the friends we do because they meet our needs. Sounds simple enough doesn’t it. We have friends because they “hear” us, “understand” us, “love” us. We can think of all kinds of needs that are met by using the strategy of being with “friends”, people who meet our needs. If this is true, and I think it is, then why do we change friends? I have very few friends I had when I was younger. Many that I was close to in high school or even college I never contact or speak with. Why? Of course there are various factors that come into play such as moving, changing views, etc. but why no contact. As needs change so do friends. Now take a moment to understand this. We all have the same needs all the time, but some needs take priority in our lives and situations. Maybe you have been in the situation where you had a friend who needed to talk with someone about a very private situation – during that time you were with them, you listened to them, you even got pretty close to them because the situation was very personal and private. Then after the situation passes, you don’t seem as close as you were before. Needs change – relationships change.


About a decade ago, my wife Heather and I were very close to a couple. They were our “Best Good Friends.” We golfed together, ate together, even vacationed together. Then our relationship changed. They moved away and Heather and I changed our ideology on certain things of life. We have not really spoken in several years. Why? It is not because we hate each other, not because someone “did” something. No, it is because needs changed. The need of ease, maybe, the need of community, both of us wanting to be with those who “thought” the way we did. Who knows, but needs changed. I know this because if needs did not change or needs were not being met in another way, we would still be as close as we were before.


I believe this theory comes into play in the work place as well. I work at a place that documents progress of goals of the participants who attend our program. Now, it is pretty simple to document if a person meets a goal, however, the “subjective” aspect comes into play when documenting if the person is “appropriate” while at the program. Do they do things as the program thinks they should in the manner the program thinks they should? The ones who have a glowing report are the ones who meet the needs of the one doing the documenting. In other words I like “so and so” because he never causes any trouble (ease), I like “so and so” because he will do what I ask him to do, (ease). I like “so and so” because he doesn’t need a lot of attention (ease). See how it works? The ones who make my job easier, allows me to have integrity, competency, etc. get the “good” reports, and I like working with them more than those who are the opposite. I like to work with those who seem to want to contribute to me. Those who are the opposite simply do not contribute to me meeting my needs and I don’t like working with them or even being around them.


The real opportunity is to understand the needs are being met in the relationship. Why are you with the people you are with? Through NVC we are able to gain that understanding, we are able to connect to the needs being met through the relationship and celebrate that relationship. Through NVC we are able to meet our needs and the needs of those we are in relationship with – to quote Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, connecting with each other is “the language of life.”

Mark Schlessman

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Moralist judgement

judging people

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Why Being Nice is Not So Nice

I recently came across two of my coworkers having a conversation. One looked up at me and said, “Oh, this could relate to you, you do that nonviolent communication thing, right? I think I’m naturally nonviolent, I always try to be nice. I don’t like confrontations”. Then the other person responded, “but I don’t like passive, aggressive either”. The other person was on to something.

Nice isn’t always nice. When most people say nice, they mean they don’t want to say or do anything that will end up with confrontation. They agree, sometime just to get along. Having a “nice” conversation is the primary concern. Why are some of us so intent on being nice, not causing waves?

Screen shot 2015-08-23 at 11.15.38 AMI think part of the “nice” strategy is self-protection. Some of us have beliefs that tell us that if other people are unhappy or angry when having a conversation with us, it is somehow our fault. We are taking responsibility for things that really aren’t ours to own. So we want everyone to be happy when talking with us. This protects us from the terrible thought that we just “caused” someone to have unpleasant feelings and the ensuing feelings of shame or guilt that come with that. When we tend to own another’s issues, we want everyone to be happy because it’s easier for us.

Nonviolent communication isn’t about being nice; it’s about being clear on your needs and communicating in a way that allows you to compassionately connect with others. With nonviolent communication you are very clear on what issues are yours, and what belongs to others, and you are striving to connect in a way that allows you both to have your needs met. Nonviolent communication never requires you to do anything, and certainly not anything you don’t want to, because there is always a cost involved with that.

Amanda Fama talks about the five struggles of “overly-nice people”. First, they are a “universal doormat”. What is really happening is they are choosing to make everyone else happy at their own expense. Although in the short-term, they think it’s for them because they manage, for the most part, to avoid those feelings of shame or guilt; at some point their need to make their own choices will come through. Whether that is by saying one thing and then doing the thing you really wanted instead, or blaming others for the choices you made. This is where the idea of “passive-aggressive” comes in. The most life-affirming thing you can do is to be clear with others what you need, and to only do the things that bring you joy.

The second struggle is being mistaken for being naïve. She describes how nice people like to look at the cup as half-full, and think about happy things. This can be very frustrating for people who want someone to hear about the problems they are having. It’s really difficult to hear someone else’s pain if you think you have to fix it. It’s so much easier if everyone would just be happy. But they aren’t. Nonviolent communication teaches us to hear what is going on for another, to be with them in the discomfort, and to realize that by trying to fix it, unless asked for advice, we are simply trying to make ourselves comfortable at the other’s expense. It would be more authentic to just say, “I see you are really having some problems with this, and I wish I could hear you but I can’t get past this thought that I have to fix it.” Believe me, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to share something painful with someone, and they tell you to look on the bright side.

The third struggle is nice people are rarely taken seriously. She talks about laughing at any awkward situation and smiling all of the time. When that happens she doesn’t think people take her seriously. Again, it’s about self-connection. People will always take you seriously when they know you are being authentic. When someone is sharing something that is very important to them, nonviolent communication teaches how to really hear the needs in what they are saying. When I am focused on listening for this, I’m probably not going to be smiling unless you are smiling. But when we are connected and finding ways to have both of our needs met, it is a very joyous occasion!

Forgiving and forgetting too easily is the fourth struggle. Fama describes how she forgave people too quickly and regretted it. There is no forgiveness in nonviolent communication. Forgiveness implies that someone has done something wrong, and with nonviolent communication there is the understanding that there is no “wrong” just people trying their best to get their needs met. Now sometimes those strategies aren’t life affirming and they may be regrettable, but we don’t forgive in nonviolent communication, we understand. And we also hope the other person is willing to understand how their action impacted us in a life-alienating way. But that isn’t necessary for our understanding, and that understanding also guides us in future interactions with the person.

The final struggle is nice people love fast and fall hard. It is true we do get great joy in contributing to others. And when we can be clear on our own needs, we can make requests to have those needs met. In other words, I want you to be happy because that makes me happy, and I’m hopeful you will want the same. When you can be clear on that, you can be sure to find people who make your happiness a priority for them as well.

I don’t want someone to be nice; I want them to be self-connected and interested in compassionately connecting with me.

“What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.” Marshall Rosenberg


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The Poor Will Be With You Always or Fear Of Lack

Jesus is quoted in the Gospel of Matthew as saying, “The poor will be with you always.” What an amazing prediction. I have heard several interpretations regarding this passage. I think Jesus was foretelling what he saw as a problem in his time and is still a problem – the poor are still here. In today’s society, just as in the time of Jesus there is a reason there is still poverty – it is the fear that there is not enough to go around and those who are in need are simply too lazy, drugged out, and useless to matter. In our society today we can hear all kinds of fear in our conversation. Again, there is talk of being lazy drug addicts who suck off the teat of others. There is true fear that those who are in need are taking what is rightfully mine, something I have worked hard for. They will take my job, my money, my food. To protect myself I will buy a gun, vote for laws that keep them away from me, ignore them on the street, and believe all the fear that politicians speak of regarding the poor. The poor are still with us because we have placed them in a never ending position of being poor. Let’s look at some of our fear as we examine “The poor will be with you always.”


One theory of fear is that those who are poor and need food stamps or welfare are drug users. That’s why they don’t have a job or any money, all of their money goes for drugs. An untruth of fear. There have been 6 states that have promoted this idea into laws, laws that have those who need food stamps or welfare take drug tests before they can receive any type of help. I have even read, “I have to have a drug test before I can get a job, they should too before they get any of my tax dollars.” Sounds impressive and something that is to be believed, only it is a statement made out of fear. Those six states mentioned have spent over $1,000,000 for drug tests for those who receive government assistance. Their finding was that less than 1% of those tested failed the test, less than one percent. You might be thinking, Mark, that is a lot of people, except that it isn’t and the national average of those who fail is closer to 9.6 percent. In other words the ones who complain that their tax dollars are being given to drug users fail the drug test at a much higher rate that the ones receiving the support.


I have heard at church board meetings regarding this passage that the poor are just so lazy, they don’t want to work and they will only take the money and buy drugs. Again, fear of lack. The push is if we offer assistance to the poor then we will not have enough for our own family and livelihood. Everywhere you look that is the message that is given. Don’t help the poor because they will hurt you, take advantage of you, they really don’t need your help. The message of fear is widespread and prominent. Why? Because if we believe the message of fear, promote the message of fear, feed the message of fear then we think we will have enough. If we “protect” what we have then it will be alright. Think how we reinforce that message daily. The news can find one person who takes advantage of food stamps and the entire system is full of lazy freeloaders. The poor will be with you always. Less than one percent of those receiving services use drugs and the system is full of lazy freeloaders. The poor will be with you always. Twenty percent of children under 12 go hungry. The system is full of lazy freeloaders. The poor will be with you always.


I recently found out in the state of Oregon a person is not eligible for food stamps for three months if they quit their job. THREE MONTHS!! Why? Fear of lack. We will teach those freeloaders not to quit their jobs and rely on the state for any assistance. They should keep working, even if it is unhealthy, so they can keep food on the table. You know they are lazy or else they could keep a job and want to work. So, for three months the person and family will need to rely on charity organizations, savings, or beg on the street if they want food because there is not enough food to feed someone who has quit their job. After all they quit just so they could have free food. Again, the poor will be with you always. Why does Oregon do this, fear. There is a fear that if we help those who need it we will prolong their laziness and hence prolong their need. If only we give people a swift kick in the butt they will wake up, get a job and not need government assistance. Again, all untruths that we tell ourselves due to our fear. I recently read that the money used on the Iraq war could alleviate hunger worldwide for 30 years. FOR 30 YEARS!! Can you imagine – no hunger anywhere for thirty years? So, guess what happened? There was a debate about how much money has really been spent on the war and how much it would really cost to get rid of hunger. Amazing!! Instead of realizing the way money was misspent for war there is a discussion on the amount spent. You see, if we realize that we could actually alleviate hunger that would remove fear and the grip that fear has on us. The poor will be with you always – make that the hungry too.


Many times I wish Jesus would have been more specific in his comments – I wish he would have removed all narratives but that is not the case. Instead of saying, “The poor will be with you always” I wish he would have told us why. I believe the statement would have been this: “The poor will be with you always because you will fear that there is not enough to go around. The poor will be with you always because you will continue to believe untruths about those who are poor. The poor will be with you always because if you keep them poor you mistakenly will think you are better because you are not them. You will dominate over them and make up various types of false concerns about them. The poor will be with you always not because they are lazy or misrepresent reality or do drugs. Nope, it is none of that. The poor will be with you always because you fear there is not enough to go around and hoard money, food, jobs, health care, and life sustaining love. The poor will be with you always because you will forget what I have said and done and twist your faith to protect your fear. The poor will be with you always because your faith gives space to a Creator who would create “less” than enough. The poor will be with you always because of you, not because of what they have done or will do, not because God said there would always be poor, not because God did not create enough, but because of you and the fear you have that there is not enough.


I have learned that when we fear our needs are not being met. Think about it. When we have fear of lack and we hoard whether it is money, food, or anything – do we ever have enough? No, of course not. Fear does not meet our needs. What we need is understanding that there is enough and that the Divine will provide. We would like to trust that all will be well. In our world of fear this does not happen. Look at our world. Fear of everything and our strategies do not work. There is no peace, not enough food, health care, housing, jobs, etc. There is not enough of anything. Imagine, imagine there is. Imagine there is enough of everything. Go to that place of plenty. When you go there, and stay there, understanding and trust will come and guess what, we will prove Jesus wrong. There will be no more poor. There will be just us, together with plenty. Thank about it.

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The Poor Will Be With You Always


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Let’s Talk About Shame, Baby

The death of Cecil the lion by an American dentist, Walter Palmer, has been in worldwide news in the last few weeks. The outpouring of grief and rage has been overwhelming with calls now to extradite him to Zimbabwe to face charges. Yelp had to frantically scrub its website of angry comments. Yelp even had to defend this process to angry commenters. The general belief is this shouldn’t have happened. That is obvious if you don’t support hunting, but even hunters don’t support what appeared to be an unfair hunt.


Involved in all of this was a desire to see justice, and most people seem to think this involves shaming Dr. Palmer and hopefully at least closing his practice. According to Dr. Brene Brown shame is lethal. She describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging”. Leland Beaumont describes shame as a sense of our own incompetence or powerlessness.


But we aren’t going to see justice with shame, at least not restorative justice. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg describes restorative justice as “restoring a state in which people care about one another’s well being”. What this takes is an understanding of the consequences of our behavior. Dr. Palmer needs to understand the pain people are facing because of his actions.


It’s hard to find examples of people having redeemed themselves in the public eye, and that’s because restorative justice isn’t easy. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg worked with prisoners who had raped women with this concept of restorative justice. The prisoners wanted to apologize, but Dr. Rosenberg would tell them that wouldn’t work, it’s too easy. They had to listen to how their actions had affected the woman’s life, and then repeat that back. They were unable to do that. So Dr. Rosenberg played their part for the woman, and repeated back all of the pain he heard, and how her life would never be the same. He had to repeat this several times for the prisoners to be able to really hear what had happened to their victims. This is healing for the victim; she is getting empathy.


This is what needs to happen to with Dr. Palmer. He needs to be able to show that he understands the pain his actions have caused. This is also going to take some self-reflection on his part. Why did he do what he did to begin with? Our lives are driven by our beliefs. Most of these beliefs lie under the surface and are just taken for granted as truths. One belief is that there isn’t enough of everything in this world. Linked to this is the belief in competition; that we have to get our needs met at the expense of another. That it is heroic and joyful to win, to defeat someone else. I believe this is a part of the culture of hunting, particularly for sport. There is a sense of satisfaction in winning, in killing the prey.


Shame doesn’t work because it involves self-pity; we believe there is something wrong with us. With that we require empathy, and in this instance most people are going to have a hard time giving Dr. Palmer empathy. And guilt isn’t going to be helpful either. With guilt we believe we have done something bad. Again, what we require is empathy. When we are feeling shame and guilt, it’s very difficult if not impossible to give empathy to others. We are too consumed with our own needs.


What is more helpful is to understand that everything we do in every moment is our best effort to meet our needs. We couldn’t do any better in that moment, and not only that, anybody else in those same shoes would do the exact same thing. When we have that understanding, we can instead feel regret that we didn’t have the ability to come up with a strategy that was more effective at meeting our needs, and wasn’t as costly. But we won’t feel the embarrassment that comes with shame and guilt. And we will be more likely to give empathy to those our actions have affected.


We also want to trust that the regret people show is genuine. One way to do this is to do work to try and correct what you regret doing. For Dr. Palmer that might be establishing or working with organizations that promote the protection of endangered species. But these actions can come too soon. If we don’t believe there is real understanding and regret, we won’t see the actions as authentic. In the wake of the death of Cecil the lion, Kirk Douglas came out and described a memory of big game hunting in Africa when he was younger and his true regret about this. This sounds genuine. Mr. Douglas had nothing to gain and everything to loose by sharing this memory.


So let’s talk about shame, baby. Shaming people isn’t going to get us what we really want. Let’s talk about understanding, about restorative justice, about caring for the well being of all living things. How can we get that to happen?

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