Archives for June 2016

Dear America: Another Open Letter About Stanford

Dear America,

I have been watching the growing response to the Stanford rape case over the last week. I think you would have to be living in a cave (without internet) not to have watched. First we had the judgment of 6 months in jail and probation for the crime of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. Then the victim released a copy of her statement to the court and we learned what the young man’s father had said to the court. Next, a recall effort was started to get the judge involved in the case removed from office. There was discussion about the fairness of what kinds of pictures to use of the defendant, and then we learned the father had started a funding page for legal fees. The backlash to all of this included open letters here, here and here, amongst others, to the dad, culminating in this letter to the victim from Vice President Joe Biden. The fall out also included a childhood friend of the young man and his ban from any future involvement in swimming the Olympics.


I am frustrated with all of this.


I want to see perpetrators of violence learn to change their ways…

I’m hopeless this will happen in our present justice system.

I want to see these same people given the support they need to be able to face the very difficult truth of the results of their actions…

I’m hopeless this will happen in our present environment of public anger and outcry.

I want to see equity in dealing with people who have violated the rights of others…

I’m hopeless this will happen in our present culture of white privilege and power over.

I want to see people taking personal responsibility for their actions and words…

I’m hopeless this will happen in this culture of blame and shame.

I want to see a country where we watch out for those that are vulnerable…

I’m hopeless this will happen in our get ahead at all cost culture.

I’m longing for more self-awareness and empathy from everyone…

And I’m hopeless.


Here’s what I want:

I want to see our entire judicial system changed from a system of punitive justice to restorative justice. In that system Brock Turner would still have been found guilty of sexual assault and been sentenced to jail, but his sentence would have included the goal of his fully understanding the consequences of his behavior and sharing that understanding with his victim if she wanted to hear. I think she does. I think the most frustrating thing about this for her, besides the act itself, is the fact that she doesn’t have the understanding that Brock Turner fully understands what he did, and feels the deep pain of his choices.

For him to be able to do this, he is going to need some real support. So does his family. Being fully responsible for his decisions is going to be very, very painful. It might take quite a bit of time for him to be able to bear this pain, but that is what is needed for both he and the victim. Blame and shame isn’t going to help. Believe me, there is a voice way down inside of him that has whispered some of the truth to him about what he has done, but he silences that voice. It’s too painful to hear right now. He would rather grab onto the stories that she was willing at some point, or he just had too much to drink and didn’t know what he was doing, or anything else than the truth that he chose to assault an unconscious woman.

I want to see this kind of justice applied to everyone, equally. It’s the only kind of justice that heals, and I want everyone to experience this healing so that I can live in a kinder, safer world. I don’t have a fantasy that the world will become some perfect place, but I do know that the system right now doesn’t work towards making the world safer. With restorative justice we would be more conscious and equitable with our justice system.

I want to see people becoming more self-aware and responsible for what they say and do. This isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about understanding why you are saying what you are saying and taking responsibility for that. Most people are just unconscious about what they are feeling and needing in every moment. We have been taught to be that way. We have been taught to tell ourselves all kinds of stories and speak from that place. We have been taught that so many things aren’t in our power, and to blame what we say and do on others. We have got to claim that power back along with the responsibility.

In doing this we have to find the courage to help the vulnerable. The two men who chased after and tackled Brock Turner found that courage. I wish someone had found the courage to step in and stop the victim before she ended up unconscious behind a dumpster. We are our brother’s keepers. Contributing to others is the most enjoyable part of being human. We have got to find that again.

I’m longing for a world in which we have enough self-awareness to be able to be empathic with those around us. In even the most trying circumstances. I’m longing for us to have the ability to understand that we would have done the same thing Brock Turner did if we had been in his shoes. Yes, we would. If we had the same life circumstances, same beliefs, same thoughts, we would have. Why is that important for us to grasp? Because it allows us to have empathy for him. And we would have ended up drunk, passed out, behind a dumpster if we had been the victim. It’s not about blame and shame. It’s about having an open heart and helping others stand in the deep pain of decisions that weren’t life serving for anyone.

That is my hope.

Please like & share:

Bathroom Issues: A Shared Reality

We are presently seeing a cultural reaction to transgender people and what bathroom they can use. There is a good synopsis of the history of this problem here. In a nutshell, gender-neutral bathrooms started on college campuses at least as early as 2009. As legislation began to spread from city to city, usually more liberal leaning, we saw a backlash that has now culminated in North Carolina’s legislature signing into law the requirement that people use the bathroom that matches their natal (birth) sex. Most recently the White House issued letters to school districts requiring them to allow students to use the bathroom that matched their gender preference. There has already been push back to this move.

This phenomenon is a great opportunity to explore our desire for a shared reality. Curtis Hardin and Tory Higgins first developed a theory to explain how the way we understand the world and our relationships are intertwined. They proposed that “people are motivated to achieve mutual understanding ‘shared reality’ with specific others” for two reasons: to establish and maintain relationships, and to see our world as stable, predictable and controllable. A few years earlier John Jost and Mahzarin Banaji described their system justification theory as a tendency “to justify and rationalize the status quo…a motive to see the system as good, fair, legitimate and desirable.” They proposed there are two motives for doing this: it provides order, structure and certainty to how we see the world, and we also tend to think we are safer when we see the world this way. In other words it provided both emotional protection from the anxiety of believing the world isn’t what we believe it is, and we also believe we have literal physical protection from harm when we are with others who believe as we do.

Jost, Hardin and Alison Ledgerwood have described the overlap of these two theories. When put together they help us understand why we long to have shared reality with one another, and why we struggle with changing beliefs that we have believed to be true. Although “system justification results in negative consequences for some individuals-most especially for members of disadvantaged groups who are harmed by the current state of affairs”, the desire for shared reality, for connection with others, may lead to this.

We can use the lens of Nonviolent Communication as developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg to view these theories and give us a working understanding of what is going on right now for people struggling with this issue. We can see frustration and anger on both sides of the issue. People who can’t understand why anyone would want to use the bathroom that doesn’t match their natal sex probably need some consistency with the beliefs they have always held about this; the belief that men and women are simply just that, and should use the corresponding bathrooms, give order to their world. It keeps the world structured and safe. They honestly do think they will be physically harmed somehow if these rules aren’t followed. These beliefs are woven into a religious community that provides them relationships and community that they cherish. They feel frustrated that everyone else can’t see this “truth”.

Those that believe people should be able to use the bathroom that corresponds to how they see themselves find it difficult to understand why others don’t believe this way as well. They like to believe that people will want to contribute and support each other, that this is their basic nature. They honestly fear that people, who don’t want to support others in this way may physically harm them, could be more violent.

We are going to need to do more than find a compromise if we want to see everyone move beyond where we are now. A compromise means nobody gets what he or she want, we want to come to a place where everyone is satisfied, everyone’s needs get met. That may look impossible at this moment. That is the magic of believing in the process of Nonviolent Communication. There is at least one answer to this. We may not be able to see it, but when we can come to an agreement that neither side is trying to talk the other into anything, and that we are both committed to finding a solution that satisfies all, we will find it.

These theories are helpful because they let us understand why change can be frightening. It helps us see each other as human, not as an enemy. We have to acknowledge the fear and sit with it. We have to have the patience to be with each other in empathy. We can come to this connection not wanting to change the other person’s mind, and still stay in integrity with what we believe. We don’t have to think we will be giving up something. There is no win or lose, just win and win. This is the new shared reality we can have with each other.

“All it takes is a lot of patience, the willingness to establish a human connection, the intention to follow Nonviolent Communication principles until you reach a resolution, and trust that the process will work.” Marshall Rosenberg

Please like & share:

The Master’s Tools: Lets Do Something Different

There was a recent news story that exemplifies a problem we currently have in this country, how to support each other when we have different beliefs. The story involved a tow truck driver that refused to tow a woman when he discovered she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. She had been in an accident and this driver came to tow her car. He saw a Bernie Sanders sticker on her car and told her he wouldn’t tow her car for that reason. He further clarified that God came to him and told him to get in his truck and leave. He felt proud that he was able to stand up for what he believed in.

This political partisanism we are experiencing in our country isn’t much different from periods in our past except for this one thing, we are committed to getting our way at all costs. There is no room for working with the other party. Coming up with a decision that reflects both interests is seen as a defeat. We see each other as right or wrong, good or bad. This partisanism has trickled down to everyday personal relationships, hence the truck driver.

There are two problems that are driving this discord: we have developed an “enemy image” of the other person/party, and we don’t know how to hear what people are really saying. An enemy image, according to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, is something we develop when people do or say things we don’t agree with. We decide they are wrong or bad. This is a moralistic judgment. Of course we need to make judgments in our lives, we all make value judgments, the qualities we value in life. We judge whether or not certain actions meet the needs we value. For example I value connection between people, and on a daily basis I judge whether or not certain actions are meeting that need. But there is a difference between a value judgment and a moralistic judgment. With a moralistic judgment we label actions and people as wrong or bad. The tendency to do this seems to be related to beliefs we have been taught or picked up throughout life. My husband doesn’t like quiche. I don’t have any beliefs about what kind of person likes or doesn’t like quiche, so I don’t care if he doesn’t like quiche. That doesn’t tell me at all what kind of person I think he is. However, I really value respect and support of others, so if my husband told me he thought Mexicans were mostly lazy and dishonest, I would see him as racist (bad) and question how I could even live with him. The problem with this sort of thinking is that judgment will get in the way of us making a connection with the other person to get our needs met.

Another problem with enemy images is our tendency to want to punish them. We have been taught that to change people they need to suffer enough that they see they are wrong and change. What often happens is people become resentful and more intent on continuing the behavior we don’t like. Even if people do change their behavior they are usually not doing it because they see the value in changing, but just to avoid the consequences. Punishment is not likely to help people accept responsibility for their actions and become aware that their well-being is dependent on the well-being of others.

The second problem involves our inability to hear what people are really saying. When people tell us about something, for example, they tell us they support people only using the bathroom that corresponds to the sex they were born with, we hear “you agree don’t you?” We either agree or disagree and the arguing begins. We haven’t learned to hear what the needs of the person making the statement. More than likely what they are saying is “I’m really worried that someone will be using the bathroom to take advantage of me or someone I love. I really want to be sure everyone can use the bathroom safely. Do you understand how important this is to me?” When we hear that, we can continue in the conversation and stay in integrity with out own beliefs. We can learn to hear people with more choices than agreement or disagreement.

Both of these problems were in play with the truck driver. First, he had an enemy image of Bernie Sanders or anyone who supported him. He believed that “those” kinds of people were bad and may not even pay him for his service. He decided to “punish” the driver of the car. She needed to understand how bad her beliefs were and that there were consequences for believing that way. Second, he couldn’t hear her any other way. She didn’t say anything about Bernie Sanders, but he “saw a bunch of Bernie stuff” and heard her beliefs loud and clear. He wasn’t able to hear her say, “I’m really worried that our present economic system isn’t equitable to all. I’m angry that so many people aren’t being heard in our system.” To be honest if he could have heard that he might have been able to let go of enough of the enemy image to be able to tow her car.

This brings me to the bigger picture of politics. We actually have a great deal in common with each other when we look at the needs we have. And that is the crux of the issue. We haven’t been taught to see our world based on feelings and needs. To come to a satisfactory solution when faced with disagreements we don’t want to compromise, we want find a way that meets the needs of everyone involved. Compromise means nobody really gets what they want. There is another way. The steps to this process involve the willingness to connect to each other, the use of a communication strategy focused on feelings and needs, trust that this process will work, and patience. We have to stop trying to get people to do what we want, and instead create a trust that everyone’s needs will be valued and we will work to find a resolution that meets everyone’s needs. This is a very different energy from the one we are seeing presently.


“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never allow us to bring about genuine change.” Audre Lorde

Please like & share: