News & Events

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Are you Overwhelmed with the Trayvon Discussion? How Can We Do it Differently?

As our daily news highlights the events around the Treyvon Martin case, I can’t help but feel a swell of pain around my heart.  Not just for the tragedy itself but for the way that it lives on in our daily interactions and discussions.  When will we use such events to actually grow in our interactions and our dialogue, instead of continuing a debate of right and wrong which only perpetuates some of the same thinking that likely led to this event?  When will our media and our officials step up as leaders to learn new ways of sharing information and help our people to hear one another?  Almost every segment of our society is steeped with judgment and this blame mentality – who is right, who is wrong, who is the good guy, who is the bad guy – all the while missing the opportunity to really know one another.

I’m not some utopian; I understand the many crises and tragedies in our world.  I’m just waiting for us to wake up and say we want to do things differently.  Wouldn’t healing and harmony be the greatest legacy we could leave to Trayvon?  I’m not talking about some pie-in-the-sky ideology, I’m talking about real, concrete, skills we could all use to learn to heal and connect with one another – black, white, Muslim, Christian, Jew, and so on. 

Instead of just blaming  – let’s begin to listen and learn empathy.  I’m not talking about the kind of empathy and listening you probably already think you have.  Check out Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication (NVC) work.  If you are telling yourself, “I’m not violent in my communication,” think again.  This kind of empathy involves listening to another with pure presence, understanding (not agreement), and figuring out the underlying needs of that person.  How many of us can do that when we are charged about something?  If we could learn to hear each other and hold conversations without judgment and with this kind of empathy – we would be on a whole new path for healing the race relation issue that seems to still pervade our country.

So, instead of taking a position, or consoling, or giving advice, or correcting about the facts or all the number of other ways we tend to respond in conflict situations, the next time someone starts the Treyvon discussion, try keeping your full attention on the person and listening without judgment and without an agenda.  Try to really hear that person’s NEEDS behind his/her words and connect with those needs. This does not mean giving your power away.  You do not have to agree with the point of view, but you can learn to care about the underlying needs the person is trying desperately to convey, while keeping away from judgment which only keeps the cycle of violence alive.  If you, yourself, are too triggered to be able to hear another, then get empathy yourself – from another person.  I’m not talking about someone to agree with you (that will likely only increase your trigger), I mean get someone to listen deeply and be present to your needs.  We can do this on an individual basis or even during our panel discussions and town hall meetings.  We must first connect deeply before we can ever begin to find solutions. This is the initial step in healing the hurt and finding solutions that work for all. 


How to Handle Awkward Conversations?

Do you ever find yourself in awkward conversations with friends or family where they are putting someone down or voicing an opinion that is uncomfortable for you?  What to do?  Until now, most of us have had one of three options. Choice #1:  Change the subject as quickly as possible or remove yourself.  “Excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom.”  Choice #2: Joke about it. Choice #3:  Go along to get along.  You know what that looks like.  You put a fake smile on and you go into agree mode – even if something in you doesn’t feel totally honest.  After all, how else CAN you respond?  So you kind of skirt the conversation as best you can but every now and then say something that you don’t actually mean.  That’s painful right?  

I recently had one of these experiences.  Friend A was voicing her opinion/concern about another friend of mine (Friend B) who is in the midst of building a mansion.  I, too, had a lot of uncomfortable feelings just after viewing the construction site.  It took me a while to figure out the needs related to my discomfort.  I felt happy for Friend B because I know she works hard, and I want all of us to celebrate her success.  On the other hand, I had thoughts about inequity and global resources and found myself mourning awareness, care, and shared values. 

I think Friend A was concerned about these things as well and she went on to say things like, “I just don’t know.  If I had that money, I just don’t think I would spend it like that.”  There was more said, but you get the point.  I was left frozen.  I could agree but I really wanted to avoid judgmental comments, or I could just change the subject (which would have been difficult and awkward) or perhaps make a joke, which has never been my forte’.  So I did that thing of kind of agreeing but not feeling totally cool about it.  Yuck!!  Was there a way to respond without judgment and with an ability to hold everyone with dignity?  

After the fact, I realized there was another response which would have been more connecting for all and more in integrity with how I want to show up in the world and in daily interactions.   In NVC I actually teach empathy – being present, understanding, and listening for the need underneath all the words.  Darn – how could I forget that?  The good news is that there will always be another opportunity – another time when I’m in one of those awkward conversations, and as I grow with the NVC process I have hope that I will remember this option more often than not.  Besides, now I have a story to share with the hope that you can live through me and remember the empathy a bit quicker in your own evolution.  Here’s to peace – internal, external, worldwide! 


Even a 5 Year Old Can Give Empathy! Can You?

A former student of mine posted the following experience on my Facebook page a couple of weeks back. 

I received some empathy from my 5 year old last night, which made me think of NVC. Boy W is in the tub and I walk in and say in an exasperated and melodramatic voice, "There's water all over the floor!!" And he looks at me for a few seconds and replies, "You're tired?" I had to smile at his wisdom and natural empathy. 

Wow, it’s actually in our nature to give empathy, and sadly somehow we lose that capacity over time - especially when we have an experience of “being attacked.”  Yet, it is this core practice which can stop conflict in its tracks.  I’ve seen this magic over and over again in working with others and experienced it first-hand in my own interactions.  Honestly, the NVC process is the most powerful way I have seen to make peace go from this abstract concept to a real world, concrete, in our daily lives experience. 

To that end… my mission continues! 

I have so much going on to help our NVC community continue to blossom.  Please join me or send people to join me to any/all of the following events.  My next Communication Solution Intensive is June 22 and 23.  You can see more details to the left of this writing as well as a link to sign up.  I also have a Taste of NVC Event coming up this week and the ongoing weekly practice session

Lastly, just want to share that I will be teaching NVC for 10 weeks at the Palmer Monroe Teen Center to approximately 30 teens who have been referred by the Juvenile Justice system to the Community Connections program which is run out of the Teen Center.  This is a dream come true for me – to be able to share NVC with individuals and plant these skills of peace and connection at a ripe age.  Please send loving thoughts as I take this ride; I’m guessing it may be challenging and I’m so grateful that I have NVC skills to navigate the journey.