Archives for November 2015

The Seduction of Force

I recently had a very frustrating driving experience that I’m sure many of you can relate to. I was driving in the left lane and knew I had to get over to the right lane quickly in order to be in the correct lane for an upcoming turn. I positioned myself in the space between the two cars on my right and turned my right turn signal on. I waited a few seconds and then began to ease my car into that space. It’s usually a tight squeeze but most of the time people accommodate by making the space a little larger and allowing you in. In this case the person behind me instead honked as I was partly over. I continued on over, as I had already started and needed to get over. I actually said to myself, “that’s why my turn signal was on, you knew I needed to come over”. Well that wasn’t the end of the issue. This person then followed me for the next several miles, through several turns, flashing his bright lights at me. At first I felt frightened, then I became angry. Towards the end of it I actually stepped on my brakes twice with the thought of “take that”! I finally made a turn he didn’t follow and the situation ended.

But not in my mind, I just couldn’t get over how mad I was. I really wanted to figure out what was going on for me. After some contemplation I realized a few things were happening: I wanted to be sure I would be safe and I wanted some fairness (I followed the unwritten rules, you put on your turn signal, they are supposed to let you in. It happens everyday.) Yes, that was a big part of it, fairness.

Then I started working on what that other person wanted. I imagined they wanted to be seen. I really didn’t give them a choice, I moved on over into the space I saw. I wondered if perhaps I had waved my hand in appreciation if that would have helped?

And then I decided to go back and stay in the anger of the moment for a bit and imagine what I would have liked to have done. I imagined I had a gun, a big one, strapped across my chest, and I suddenly stop my car and get out and walk up to their truck and say: “Bring it bitch! What’s your problem now?” Oh, my god, that felt good! I felt such respect and safety! Now you have to understand that I’m a pacifist and I have a fear of guns. This whole imaginary scenario is nothing I have ever imagined before, and certainly wouldn’t approve of in real life. I was shocked at myself.

For the first time in my life I understood a person’s desire to have a gun. It just felt so good to be able to go up to someone and force him or her to respect me and stop doing what they were doing. It felt so easy. That was the need, ease. And then I realized what the seduction of force or power is; ease. Whether we are using our power as a parent, or whether we are using the power of war, we think it’s the easiest way to get what we want. The problem is, the easiest way isn’t always the most effective way.

In my imagination, I may think I’m getting respect and an agreement to do what I want by using a gun, but I can guarantee you the person in the truck will think I’m a crazy lady. With force you are making a demand, and that never leads to what you want. People naturally rebel against demands, and they can do it in the subtlest of ways. That’s what we tend to call “passive-aggressive”. What demands have you made lately? What has it cost you?

“In order to put aside our thoughts of right and wrong—if only

for the space of one conversation—we must be able to find

in ourselves a deep well of trust in the abundance of the

universe and in the fundamentally benign nature of human

needs.” Miki Kashtan

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Empathic conversations about Paris

I have been witnessing wonderful online conversations with a group striving to communicate with empathy regarding the attacks in Paris. I think it might be helpful for more people to see how conversations could happen, rather than much of the blame and anger we are seeing right now.


Someone started a conversation by asking:

“Please help me to understand what needs a militant suicide-killer could be trying to meet? What pain inside could make the Paris attacks seem like a good idea?” (When we listen empathically we know that everyone is doing what they are doing to meet a need, so we listen for those needs. Those needs are universal throughout the world).


Here were some of the replies:

“I just read an interesting article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called ‘How To Defeat Religious Violence’. In it he mentions a very important human need that could be at play with religious radicalism: The need for meaning…I also connected with the needs for contribution and service as potential driving energies, especially for those people who chose to kill or die, and especially if it’s framed as part of a bigger cause”.

“A need for belonging is met, and a need to believe in something more than the life that they see around us.”

“My guess is meaning, identity, expression of pain”.

“Surprisingly I imagine a need for peace could lead to this kind of action. Peace from all of the tormenting thoughts and beliefs”.

“And a deep need to belong”.

“I see the needs of dignity, belonging, contributing to a better world-we must not be confused by the atrocity of the strategies; the needs behind them are strong and beautiful”.

“People seek help with extremists and jihadists as they have a strong need for security, leadership, orientation, and community”.


Along those same lines another conversation was happening regarding the anger and violence seen in some of the responses of Americans to what was happening in Paris. This question was posted:


“I just read a post about how to talk to your friends that don’t believe in war. Basically it said to keep punching them until they realized that sometimes you have to fight back. I felt so angry and longed for a shared reality about the ultimate ineffectiveness of violence. I’m longing to have an open heart for them. Please help me understand why so many people want to choose violence as a response to the Paris attacks.”


Here were some of the replies:

“…people want safety, and their world to come back to its orderly norm.”

“…all I can say is for those who want to react violently, my guess is they’re in pain, so much so they can only react with anger and believe me, I can see why they are upset, terror is SCARY…”

“It helps to imagine they are in so much pain about the fear and anger. It helps me touch a much more empathic place. Maybe it’s because I’m in such pain about their violent words. We can connect at the level of our pain. We share this. Thank you!”


When we can focus on the needs of people, we can stop seeing them as an enemy. When we get at the needs we can choose strategies to help get their needs met in a life-affirming way. We can all get our needs met if we do this. This is the way to peace.


I started from the question of “How come some people enjoy other people’s suffering, so that it makes violence enjoyable, so that people find it heroic to punish people that they judge as bad?” And then, “How come other people in the same society are just the opposite, they get their joy not in believing that there are bad people that need to be punished, but they get their joy in contributing to people’s wellbeing?” So I then saw, that there was quite a different language, and quite a different consciousness on the part of people who behaved in the violent way as opposed to the compassionate way.

Marshall Rosenberg

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Life Can Be A Game

Human behavior is fluid and primarily determined by what we think about the situation we find ourselves in. Connecting Across Differences: Finding Common Ground with Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime


I was watching my grandson’s basketball game yesterday and was so entranced watching his coach during the game. This man was so enjoying the game no matter what the players did. Of course when they were executing plays well and making baskets he was smiling and shouting encouraging words. But even when they weren’t, he was smiling and shouting encouraging words. I was so amazed because I remembered going to my daughter’s volleyball games when she was young and actually hiding my face when things weren’t going well for her. She finally asked me to stop coming. I couldn’t help it. I knew I was grimacing and so would hide my face.

So I found his attitude amazing. He would even joke with the referees and officials about plays.

I wondered how he could be like this? How was he not caught up in the game, in the “mistakes”? How was he not getting frustrated when plays weren’t followed through? I think it’s because the game to him was exactly that, a game. He was enjoying all of it. When things didn’t go the way they were planned, it’s as though he laughed in astonishment, surprise. When we are playing and aren’t wrapped up in the outcome of winning or loosing, we can just enjoy the surprise of unexpected twists and turns. It actually makes the game more interesting.

I realized I was longing not only to be able to enjoy watching my family partake in sports without getting caught up in feelings of disappointment or frustration, I wanted to live my life that way. Marshall Rosenberg suggests we shouldn’t do anything that isn’t play. He suggested we make a list of all the things we think we have to do, and then explore why we are doing them. If we can find life-serving reasons to be doing them, then by all means keep that up. Just the awareness of how doing those things meets your needs will help you bring an entirely different energy to it. For those things that you can’t find life-serving reasons to be doing them, stop. Why spend your life doing things you don’t like, and don’t meet any needs for you?

I asked my grandson how he liked the coach. He told me he was great, he was pretty sure he had passed on an NBA career to coach junior league basketball teams. I don’t know about that, but I do know that man was contributing to a team of kids and enjoying every minute of it. And I’m celebrating that my grandson is getting to watch an adult model how life can be a wonderful, surprising game.

In light of what has just happened in Paris, I want to be clear, I don’t believe life is always happy. I believe we experience losses that stimulate great grief. I’m also celebrating the ability to see these occurrences through the lens of empathic communication. I strongly want to be able to hold my heart open and see the needs of all involved. More on this next week.

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