Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day of Mourning

This year I took the opportunity to attend an event that I have heard of for many years: the 'National Day of Mourning'.

I wrote last year about my ambivalence about Thanksgiving: on one hand, it's important to be grateful and thankful for all we have, and on the other hand the irony of a holiday where we are grateful for what our ancestors took through genocide and slavery. (See Giving Thanks, 11/26/09.) I mentioned the Day of Mourning that is held by the United American Indians of New England. This year I went.

It's important for white US folks to pay attention to how we ended up with the privileges that we have. When I wrote my series on US History I covered the treatment of those who were living here when the Europeans arrived. (See USH3: Finding a New World, 1/9/09, and USH5: The Nation Grows, 1/17/09.) Basically the native people helped them out and the Europeans enslaved and killed them in return.

For Thanksgiving, 1970, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held a banquet to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. An Aquinnah Wampanoag man named Frank James, or Wamsutta, was asked to speak. However, when they got a copy of the speech ahead of time, they 'disinvited' him, claiming "...the theme of the anniversary celebration is brotherhood and anything inflammatory would have been out of place." The inflammatory things that he pointed out included that "The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt's Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians' winter provisions as they were able to carry."

On Cole's Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, is a plaque that explains the rest: "Since 1970, Native Americans have gathered at noon on Cole's Hill in Plymouth to commemorate a National Day of Mourning on the US Thanksgiving holiday. Many Native Americans do not celebrate the arrival of the Pilgrims and other European settlers. To them, Thanksgiving Day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of their people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture. Participants in a National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience."

It was an honor to be part of this remembrance. Unfortunately, most of the native people in the US today are among the poorest people in the country. They are still treated badly. We need to change that, just as we need to change the way we treat immigrants, African-Americans, poor and working class people of whatever color, etc, etc. I don't ever want to forget that there were a people living here that are still living here and they cared for the earth and still do. We need to be honoring them, and learning from them, and asking their pardon. We need to do more than just treat them better. We need to support them.

Quote of the Day: "This is a time of celebration for you - celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.
"... We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people." - Wamsutta (Frank) James

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Nonviolent Communication

In my last post (Seek to Understand, 11/11/10) I talked about the connection that I saw between Stephen Covey's ideas about 'Empathic Communication' and Marshall Rosenberg's 'Nonviolent Communication' (also known as 'Compassionate Communication' and 'NVC'). In some ways, Rosenberg's writings seem an expansion of Covey's 'habit' of Seek First to Understand.

There are two parts to NVC: expressing what we want honestly and 'receiving empathically'. In the book Nonviolent Communication, Rosenberg seems to reverse the order that Covey set up in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as 'Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood'. Marshall Rosenberg begins his book by first teaching people how to communicate requests effectively. There is a chapter each on how to give clear observations, how to express feelings, how to clarify the needs, values, and desires behind the feelings, and how to make clear and reasonable requests. Only after all of this has been described does the book go on to listening. Yet Rosenberg writes, "I would recommend allowing others to fully express themselves before turning our attention to solutions or requests for relief."

I think the reason that the lessons on expressing ourselves come before paying attention to others in the book is because Rosenberg believes that it is essential that we can differentiate observations from evaluations and judgements, that we can tell what is really a feeling from an interpretation disguised as a feeling (he points out that terms like 'misunderstood', 'ignored', and 'abused' are all interpretations, whereas 'hurt', 'sad', 'irritated', and 'discouraged' are real feelings), and that we can identify the needs and beliefs behind feelings rather than putting the responsibility for our feelings on others. The need for this becomes clear as Rosenberg trains us to then listen for feelings and needs as others speak. Similar to Covey, Rosenberg suggests that we should reflect back to others by paraphrasing as well as asking questions that try to clarify the observations, feelings, needs, or requests that we hear in the communication of others.

Not that this is easy to do. I mentioned in my last post that I have become part of a group focusing on learning NVC. One of the members of our small group is a housemate of mine. Unfortunately, at our last house meeting I lost it about some trivial request another housemate was making. She was very attached to doing it one way and we started yelling at each other before I realized that it really wasn't that big a deal and I backed down. Afterwards, the housemate that I am in the group with said to me, "Don't worry, I won't report you to the NVC police." It was pretty funny, but I was also wishing that I had been able to listen to my other housemate's needs and feelings rather than get so caught up in my own stuff. Understanding all this is one thing, actually being able to do it is another.

In another real life example, I was also part of a group that fell apart rather dramatically one evening (with four group members walking out on us). I felt helpless and even think that some of what I did may have made things worse. But one woman in the group was marvelous--she stayed calm and compassionate and really seemed to be listening and being right with each person.

I asked to get together with her in the wake of the group's demise, so we could try to figure out what happened. When I pointed out to her how helpful she had been that evening she said, "I've been studying Nonviolent Communication..." When it works, it's powerful.

Quote of the Day: "I continue to be amazed by the healing power of empathy. ... What is essential is our ability to be present to what's really going on within--to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment." - Marshall Rosenberg

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seek to Understand

As I've been reading through Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, very slowly, trying to deeply understand each chapter, each of the habits seems to have resonated with what was going on in my life, right at that time.

Covey's first habit ('Be Proactive') came as I was trying to take control of my life and after being highly influenced by a workshop I took with 'David' (see my post on Deciding, 2/19/10, for more on this). As I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I was reading the chapter on 'Begin with the End in Mind' (see my post, Goals, 5/4/10). Then, as I began to try to figure out how to organize my life, there was his chapter on 'Put First Things First' (which I wrote about in Priorities, 6/26/10). I talked about wanting to take a break from writing about these 'habits' but then I started a thread on this blog about how we could be in a world headed for collapse, which begin focusing on how we could benefit others, and his next chapter, on 'Think Win/Win', fit so beautifully in with this, I had to write about it (see Win/Win, 7/30/10).

Now I have taken a break, mostly because I have been struggling with the content of Covey's next habit--one that may be critical to the way I want to make my life and one that's been very hard to for me to implement. Fortunately, without any planning on my part, a small group coalesced around me and we have been focusing on 'Nonviolent Communication' (aka NVC, which I will write more on in my next post). NVC, which was developed by Marshall Rosenberg, seems a deeper, more developed version of Covey's fifth habit, which he calls, 'Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood'. The amazing back and forth of reading Covey and Rosenberg, reminds me on the way I was supported on learning Covey's first habit by my workshop with David. It's almost as if life really wants me to learn these habits and is giving me the support that I need, right as I need it. (I will talk more about this in my next post.)

Covey talks about four 'autobiographical' (as in, more related to what is going on with us than what the other person is saying) responses that we usually give others: we evaluate (do we agree with this?), we probe (asking questions that come mostly from our own frame of reference), we advise (counseling others from our own experience), or we interpret (figuring others out by how we see motives and behavior).

He also talks about the four stages of what he calls 'empathic listening': the first is just to mimic content--reflect back just what the person is saying. More advanced is to rephrase what the person is saying. Even more advanced is to reflect back the feeling from the person rather than the content. Covey's fourth, and most advanced stage, of empathic listening is to combine a paraphrase of what the person is saying with reflection of the feeling.

Stephen Covey is clear here that this just can't be a technique. You need to be serious and sincere to do this right. That's why this is the fifth habit in the book. All the character building of the first four habits are used here. You need to be real, you need to be present, you need to listen, and you need to let the other person know you are listening through giving them back both the content of what they are saying and the feeling behind it. Sometimes you won't get it right but you need to stay with the person and what they are saying until both of you are clear that you indeed understand.

Beyond this, you need to be able to then make yourself understood, but only after you have let the other person know (through empathic listening) that you have understood them. Covey cites a Greek phrase: ethos, pathos, logos. Ethos is your character, your ethics. Pathos is the emotional, empathic response. Logos is logical, rational side of the explanation. He points out that the order is very important. First, build your character, then, really understand the other person's feelings, and only after all that, apply reasoning to what you are trying to say.

All this is related to his last habit, 'Think Win/Win'. First, you have to believe it's possible. This is how to achieve it.

Quote of the Day: "'Seek first to understand' involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. ...
"Empathic (from empathy) listening gets inside another person's frame of reference. You look out through it, you see the world the way they see the world, you understand their paradigm, you understand how they feel. ...
"Empathic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with. Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you're dealing with the reality inside another person's head and heart." - Stephen Covey

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Deserving Love

Turil has a blog that I sometimes comment on, just as she sometimes comments on my blog. A little while ago she wrote a post entitled 'Why do you deserve to be loved?' She raises a lot of good points in this post: the fact that many people grow up without understanding that they deserve love and the fact that many who are bullied about their sexuality commit suicide, feeling that they are unlovable. She asked readers to respond to why we deserved to be loved.

My response was (and she asked me to clarify it) was that being loved was our birthright, that we deserve love simply for being human. For me real love is unconditional--we don't 'deserve' it any more than we 'deserve' food or air.

This isn't to say that we always get unconditional love. Unfortunately many parents, who themselves have never gotten unconditional love, put a price on their affection ('I will love you as long as you... ') or, worse yet, give the message to their children that they are unlovable.

But love is not about conditions. Love is not about being good or bad or being any particular way. Love is, as someone said, like the sun, it shines on everyone.

Love is at the core of most religions. According to one source I found on line, it says to 'love your neighbor' eight times in the bible. My favorite is where Jesus say to "love your neighbor as yourself" which, I think, clearly implies that we must love ourselves. Jesus even says to love our enemies. And the Dalai Lama claimed, "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness." Love, kindness, and compassion are what real spirituality is about.

This is a blog about social change, and I believe that love is also at the heart of real social change. Che Guevara put it, "At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love." Love is what changes the world.

It is simple, as far as I'm concerned. Everyone needs love and everyone deserves love.

Quote of the Day: "Love, the strongest and deepest element in all life... Love needs no protection; it is its own protection. So long as love begets life no child is deserted, or hungry, or famished for the want of affection." - Emma Goldman

Monday, November 1, 2010

Death, Decay, and Impermanence

While my spirituality has been changing recently (see my post Evolving My Spirituality, 3/5/10, for more on this), I still have a pagan soul. Each year I have written a post on Samhain (see Darkness, 11/1/08, and Out of Darkness, 11/1/09), which is one of them most important of the pagan and witch feasts.

Samhain (it's a Celtic word and actually pronounced sow-wen) is about darkness, death, and decay. Many believe that it is a time when 'the veil between the worlds is thinnest'. This is the time of the year when the leaves fall and the trees are bare, when the plants die and the earth becomes dormant.

For me this relates strongly to the Buddhist concept of 'impermanence'. (I wrote on Impermanence on 7/9/10.) Nothing is static, everything changes. We are born and we die. We suffer loss. The book that I've been reading by Pema Chödrön is entitled, When Things Fall Apart. And they do.

All this has been brought home to me lately by events in my life. I joined a group looking at how we are traumatized by this society and the group dissolved in conflict. (This brought back painful memories of how the intentional community that I enjoyed the most slowly came apart through constant conflict. See my last post on Post-Mortems.) I tried to bring some healing in the aftermath of the group dissolving and my efforts brought more anger and pain. I went to work on a community garden in a neighborhood in Boston and found everyone in mourning because a young man had been shot dead the night before, two houses away from the garden.

A couple of nights ago I attended a Samhain ritual where the leader reminded us that at anytime we are only seconds away from death and given that, what do we need to do in our little time left.

Death and impermanence are reminders that we need to treat each other well, that we need to value and cherish those around us. They may not be here that long. And we may not be here that long.

Quote of the Day: "When impermanence presents itself in our lives, we can recognize it as impermanence. We don't have to look for opportunities to do this. When your pen runs out of ink in the middle of writing an important letter, recognize it as impermanence, part of the whole cycle of life. When someone's born, recognize it as impermanence. When someone dies, recognize it as impermanence. When your car gets stolen, recognize it as impermanence. When you fall in love, recognize it as impermanence, and let that intensify the preciousness. When a relationship ends, recognize it as impermanence. There are countless examples of impermanence in our lives everyday, from the moment we wake up until we fall asleep and even while we're dreaming, all the time. This is a twenty-four-hour-a-day practice." - Pema Chödrön