Archives for December 2015



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May The Force Be With You

ahimsaI recently wrote a post about Christmas, Be Careful What You Hear During the Holidays, and got some interesting responses in the comments. The woman in the story who had corrected the child about saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” didn’t deserve “some bogus ‘understanding’ that Christmas is important to her. She’ll never recognize her prejudice that way…I can’t give slack in the form of an attempt at ‘understanding’ to someone so short-sighted. To me that’s enabling negative behavior.” To another, “this is bullshit. We don’t to make excuses for others bad behaviors.” I realized they weren’t understanding the power in empathy.

The work Marshall Rosenberg has done regarding Nonviolent Communication is in part based on the Ghandian principle of Ahimsa, the power unleashed when the desire to harm is eradicated. In short, Marshall realized that by helping someone to self-connect, a power enters the discourse, a power to change the entire understanding happening in the discourse. He tells a story about hearing a cab driver speak negatively about Jewish people (Marshall is Jewish) and what he went through with the cab driver to get him to a place where he could hear and understand the pain Marshall felt when he spoke like that. Marshall knew that giving empathy to the cab driver would help the cab driver get to the place where he could hear Marshall. That is the power of Ahimsa, nonviolent communication.

This is what I tried to explain to the commenters to my article. Empathy isn’t about “being nice”; it’s about connection and authenticity. I had just seen Ant Man recently and had a vision in my head of what I was talking about. The woman in my story that was angry about not hearing “Merry Christmas”, as well as the commenters that were angry I was trying to given empathy to this person, were like an angry giant, yelling and thrashing at everything, unable to hear anything. Ant Man rides his flying ant around to the back of this thrashing giant where he can see wires that are disconnected. He jumps on the back and struggles to get the wires connected back into the giant. When this happens the giant shrinks back down to a normal human size and calms down; he’s able to listen now. This is the power, the force, of nonviolent communication.

I used that power when responding to the first comment. Her comment was very long, and full of frustration. I responded back by hearing that, “It sounds very important to you that people have awareness that we all may have different ways to celebrate this time of year and you are longing for a world in which we respect that. Am I hearing you correctly?” She replied back, “We can dream” and continued on with the response about enabling negative behavior. Her response was much shorter and didn’t have near the amount of frustration in it, she was being heard. At that point I talked about the power of Ahimsa and why I was so invested in using it for change. I could have listened to her more, to help her self-connect even more. I could have responded, “I’m wondering if you want to be sure that the response to this woman won’t encourage her to do this sort of thing again?” and we could continue the conversation with my hearing her until she is understood well enough that she is open to hearing me.

That is the power of nonviolent communication. That is how we stop the pattern of yelling at each other, with neither of us really hearing what is going on for the other. That is how we stop seeing each other as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘teabagger’ or ‘libtard’. There is an overwhelming creative, loving force that can be released when we engage in nonviolent communication, and we can change the world with it! To use a Star Wars analogy, “The Force” is “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together”. Let’s tap into this force.

May the force be with you!


“Empathic connection can sometimes happen silently, but in times of conflict, verbally communicating to another person that we understand their feelings and that their needs matter to us can be a powerful turning point in problems situations.” Inbal and Miki Kashtan

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A Little Empathy Won’t Kill Us

Recently Minnesota Public Radio ran a column about the responses of people to the news that a pedestrian and a bicyclist were struck and killed in two different areas by a light-rail train. The focus of the column was how people were responding with a “serves them right” attitude, without thinking about the feelings of the family and friends of these victims. I’m sure we have all seen those kinds of posts, where something tragic has happened, and you see people blaming the victims.

Why do people make those kinds of comments? I believe it’s lack of self-awareness. Most of us aren’t aware that everything we say is either “please” or “thank you”. Everything. When we say something we are either sharing our appreciation for something that has happened, or making a request. And it’s good to remember that everything we say has everything to do with ourselves, not the other person. Something we have seen or heard may have stimulated some thoughts and feelings in us, often unconscious, that causes us to respond in a way that is either asking/demanding or thanking. But it’s still just about us.

I opened my Facebook page this morning and the first post was a news article about the boy in the bubble in the early 1970’s, and the first comment was exactly what I’m talking about. “The saddest part of this story is that his parents were dumb enough to produce him after they lost a previous child to the same thing.” And more comments continued: “Oh and don’t forget the free government help that the family’s get because of their defective offspring.” “Selfishness.” Some people will say they are just being honest. Saying what you are thinking, and being self-aware are often two different things. All three of the people above are expressing frustration, but we would have to guess at their unmet needs. Perhaps the first person would like to trust that parents would only choose to have healthy children. If a doctor advises parents against having children, that they would honor that. That second person sounds angry, and perhaps wants to be sure that his tax money is used wisely. The third person, I’m guessing would also like to trust that parents make altruistic decisions when it comes to having children.

All of those are valid needs, but would you expect the family of this child to meet those needs? In other words, when we post on social media we are yelling our needs to the whole world. I wonder if we could be more self-aware about whom we are yelling our needs to? Again, some would say, well it’s social media; they put it out there. But many times we are making comments like the above to news articles, or some type of media that the people involved had nothing to do with.

I also wonder if deep down inside all of us have this belief that if we just follow the rules, live life right, we will never suffer. When we see suffering, we get angry because they must not have followed the rules. Not only that, but we are telling ourselves that they now expect us to be responsible for them.

What would it give me if people were more self-aware when they communicated? Ease and connection. When people aren’t self-aware it takes effort on my part to hear their feelings and needs under what they are saying. It is worth the effort, but I long to have communication with others that is easier. It is also so fulfilling to connect with someone on that level, to share what is alive for each other in that moment. I would love to see that kind of commenting in social media.


“If I cannot be with you in your reality, it is because I cannot be with something within me that has been stirred.” Chiara Guerrieri

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windward empathy


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No fear

no fear

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Unmet Needs

unmet needs

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