sustaining your nonviolent communication practice with an empathy buddy

My empathy buddy’s name is Joy. Joy lives in a rainforest, runs her own socially and environmentally responsible small business, teaches yoga and is a vibrant member of her local home-schooling and anti-vax movements. I am a urban librarian and am very attached to my regular hours, wages, and holidays. My kids went to school and got vaccinated as scheduled. It would appear that Joy and I have little in common, or to contribute to each other but we are excellent empathy buddies

What is an empathy buddy?

An empathy buddy is a fellow student of nonviolent communication who is committed to a mutual and regular shared practice of giving and receiving empathy.

How does the empathy buddy relationship work?

The relationship could take many forms, depending on the needs and constraints of the buddies. Joy and I live 100 kilometres apart and have different patterns of busyness and rest. It suits us to video call each other most Tuesday evenings. We spend an hour together, starting with a few minutes of silent meditation and then sharing some stories of the week and sharing empathy for any pain and any happiness. Sometimes it looks like that. Sometimes we wander off-course and let the jackals run with a bit of gossip, and bitching, or divert to giving advice. Sometimes a week comes and goes and we forget or have another commitment. But one or other of us eventually interrupts the distraction and gets us back on course.

We also like to explore new resources together. At the moment, we are working our way through the buddy practices described in the ONGO Book. Exploring new resources and attending courses together is a great way to keep nonviolent communication alive for us and to stay on track with sharing empathy.

Why have an empathy buddy?

It’s great to do a course in nonviolent communication and be all excited about it because you got it, you really got it and then go home all excited, walk through the door and pick a fight with your partner. Well, no, it isn’t great, but it demonstrates that it can be hard work to translate what you learned in a class and use it in your real life. An empathy buddy relationship helps by:

  1. affirming your commitment to nonviolent communication — even when it is hard work and you keep ‘stuffing it up’ turning up week after week is somehow a reminder that this is important and worthwhile.
  2. providing support to keep going: It is hard to give up when you have some other soul out there giving you empathy and also being appreciative of the empathy you give to them.
  3. encouraging and reminding you to give yourself empathy. Self awareness of your feelings and needs around a challenging situation create ease around a conflict or misunderstanding. It can provide the calmness and patience to try again — or the wisdom to know it’s best to leave it be for a while.
  4. providing practice in giving empathy to others, so that it becomes more automatic and natural to share empathy rather than erupt in anger or withdraw in the heat of the moment.

Where do you get an empathy buddy?

Most nonviolent communication courses offer to set up empathy buddies, so a course could be a good place to start an empathy buddy relationship. Joy and I met through the online course: the compassion course. This course runs every year, starting in June. Another avenue may be empathy-buddy.com. I have not had any experience with this site, but at a glance it seems OK. 🙂

How do you set students up with an empathy buddy?

The empathy buddy relationship is a sustainable way for students to take what they have learned in class and develop the skills and aptitudes needed to apply these in their lives. I have not had any practice with connecting empathy buddies, but I can share what I have experienced as a participant.

From what I have observed, the most important consideration is that the empathy buddies do not have an established relationship or connection. It is way too easy to fall into old habits of communication with someone you know, and this will limit the empathy buddy relationship.

Secondly, there is no need to set people up with those who have similar interests, beliefs, or expressed values. This practice may reinforce the idea that there are ‘us’ and ‘them’ – an idea antithetical to nonviolent communication.

I imagine in a class where everyone knows each other, or folk are working in the same industry it would be best to carefully consider how to manage discussions around shared experiences. The nature of the buddy relationship means there may be sharing about issues at work or with colleagues and confidentiality clauses aside, it will be tempting to gossip. It may be necessary to set up buddies away from the group.

You may also like to set the students who chose to take on an empathy buddy with some resources to help the relationship flourish. This may be a simple structure to follow (like the one Joy and I commonly use). You could also suggest one of the many workbooks available which provide exercises to complete and share each week.

Some examples

In the online course where I met Joy we were able to pick another participant from the entire class list. Joy was someone in the same timezone so I chose her. In a face-to-face class Joy and I attended together, those interested in a buddy gave their names to the facilitator and she did the work over lunch matching them with someone they did not know before class. Like the empathy buddy relationship itself, connecting empathy buddies will need to match the circumstances of the course.

Image attribution

I loved this image for representing a relationship that has been deliberately cultivated yet full of love. Heart by Leslie. CC BY-NC 2.0

writing compassionately to my Representatives in Government about climate change

In December last year, I wrote to my Prime Minister, Premier, Leaders of the Opposition and my Federal and State Members of Parliament about my hope that they may work with each other to make a positive difference to climate change. I had put this off for a while because the topic overwhelms me, and I find it hard to focus on one thing and not just ramble disjointedly about all the individual and combined issues that come to mind. Also, I have seen little evidence that politicians on either ‘side’ are willing to take action.

But this is an important issue, so I finally put my doubts aside and attempted to communicate succinctly and with clarity and compassion.  I wanted my concerns to be heard and to make a difference. I also wanted to hear what they had to say about the matter. To achieve this, I used a communication pattern presented in ‘the Ongo book: Everyday nonviolence.’

The pattern looks something like:

When I think about …

I feel … because

I need … therefore

my request is …

I was wondering why I only received one response – but re-reading the email I think I see why! If you can pick the problem let me know what you think it might be in the comments. I am hoping you will offer a few suggestions so that I might learn some more. ❤

My email regarding climate change

Heading: Request for swift and decisive action on climate change

Dear (title and name of politician),

I am Rowena McGregor, resident of Ipswich, Queensland within the State electorate of Ipswich, and Federal electorate of Blair.

I am writing to you because when I hear that scientists say we have a very limited time to act or face catastrophic climate chaos and in the next moment I hear that yet another mine has been approved by my governments and yet another catastrophic climate event is forming, I feel a sense of deep sadness, and sometimes, despair.

I would like to trust that the people representing me in government will act together in the best long-term interests of people everywhere by creating and enacting policy and legislation to ensure a healthy environment for all. I would also like to acknowledge that communities reliant upon the industries causing climate change need to be supported to create new opportunities for employment so that everyone can enjoy the dignity and benefits of rewarding work.

To this end, I would love to see all MPs working together to take swift and decisive action on climate change and helping our communities transition to a post-fossil fuel future.

That’s what I will be voting for.

Kind Regards,

Rowena McGregor.

— Leave me a comment if you have any feedback!

Rowena.

Reference and photo attribution

Brett Coulstock. Cracked earth [photo]. CC BY 2.0

Catherine Cadden & Jesse Wiens (2017) The ONGO book: Everyday nonviolence.

create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution

Today, I provide some reasons to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution. I provide two ways to create a resolution that will inspire you throughout the year. I ask you to share any alternative ways to create a compassionate resolution and share your resolutions if you would like. ❤

In a few days I will write about compassionately keeping your compassionate resolution…

take some time to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution

Your New Year’s Resolution is not only a promise and a commitment to take — or not take — certain actions. Your resolution is a communication to yourself about yourself and what you value. A compassionate New Year’s Resolution articulates and strengthens your personal values and interests. It is likely to be open-ended and capable of accommodating your humanity.

If you take the time to create a compassionate resolution, you will create a powerful resolution, one that will uplift you and inspire you to act throughout the year.

Although it may take a little longer to write a compassionate resolution, the process is enjoyable. The two methods of creating compassionate resolutions provided below will also avoid resolutions that come from a place of self-loathing, from comparisons, and a feeling that you should be different to what you are.

“I resolve to eat only 1500 calories per day”

“I will run 100 km per week.”

Such generic New Year’s Resolutions can become empty acts of violence against yourself. These resolutions lock you into one or two strategies to meet the goal underneath the resolution. They imply that you are only worthy if you succeed in those strategies. They do not take into account the wonderful beauty and messiness of our humanity. This may lead to failure, frustration and defeat. Don’t go there.

I value myself, therefore, I take the time to reflect on my values and create a resolution that is personally meaningful and exciting to me. Here are two options to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution that work for me.

Option 1: A values-based New Year’s Resolution

This is my preferred way of creating a compassionate New Year’s Resolution. It is suitable if you have not already created your resolution.

  1. Pick an issue that you would like to focus on. The issue could be anything important to you: your well-being, relationships, adventure, education, whatever is important to you in this moment.
  2. Consider what values might help you make progress in that area. Underpinning your work on the issue with your values will help you stay connected to your resolution and motivated to continue with any strategies you create. A great resource for this step is the CNVC Needs Inventory (needs and values are the same for this exercise). You may find that one, two, or three jump out at you and resonate in the moment. Choose those values. I take a little longer — I usually download the list and highlight a dozen or so that appeal to me and then whittle it down to a maximum of three.
  3. Write your resolution with the emphasis on the values you are bringing to your issue.

What might that look like?

I will give my process as an example.

I chose the environment, specifically greenhouse gas reduction as my issue. When I considered this, the values that most resonated were: presence and mutuality. From this work I developed my compassionate resolution. It naturally fell into two parts: reduction and capture of greenhouse gasses. The two parts are:

“In 2019 I will apply presence and mutuality to reduce greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.”

AND

“In 2019 I will apply presence and mutuality to carbon sinking.” 

I have some new and existing projects in mind that will bring this resolution to life. More about that in the next post on keeping a compassionate New Year’s Resolution.

Option 2: Communicating to yourself that you are worthy of love and compassion.

This is an option for people who are already set on a specific resolution. It frames your resolution with self-compassion. This technique is heavily influenced by Louise Hay.

  1. Write your resolution.
  2. Reframe your resolution by reading “I love and appreciate myself, therefore I…” and then write down what comes to mind. You might like to do this a few times.

What might this look like?

Lets return to one of our example resolutions:

“I will eat only 1500 calories per day”

When I read the statement above a few times, the resolution transformed through a few iterations…

“I love and appreciate my beautiful body and provide myself with delicious, nourishing food to keep me healthy and strong.”

“I love and appreciate myself and I live life to the fullest.”

“I love and appreciate myself and I take loving care of myself and of my home, the Earth.”

Even though I had no intention of creating a diet-focused resolution, these really speak to me.

Your resolutions

I would love to hear your resolutions, of alternate ways to create a compassionate resolution, or of your experiences using my techniques. You are very welcome to share in the comments. ❤

What to do about Christmas presents?

So Christmas has rolled around again and I am starting to feel uneasy about a little unresolved conflict that has been slowly developing over the last decade or so… what do we do about gift giving?

I know I am not the only one facing this dilemma, but for those of you without this problem, this is what it looks like in my family:

  • I would prefer to spare the earth’s resources and not give and receive gifts at all but this has not caught on.
  • One of my sisters gives practical, sustainable presents – but I’m not sure everyone receives them in the spirit they were given.
  • Some of my brothers and sisters travel from interstate or overseas. They may be concerned about their budget (and how much they must pack and take on the way home).
  • Some want presents given just to kids. Those without kids don’t see this as fair.
  • Some want their kids to have less presents as receiving a whole load of presents can be over-stimulating and can remove the focus from family time to competition.
  • Some enjoy the tradition of the tree surrounded by an absolute sea of presents and than watching everyone unwrap their gifts.

That is just the tip of the iceberg. With eight in my generation plus spouses, and eleven in the next generation, a consensus seems unlikely. But it is a really important issue to me and one I don’t want to give up on.

So now I’m preparing to start the conversation again for next Christmas and looking to use nonviolent communication to do this. Because there is an emotional charge around the conversation, the first thing I need to do is create space for empathy by considering what needs and values might underlie the various feelings and strategies around gift-giving.

Human needs of those who want to give and receive gifts

What values are people wanting to establish and maintain by giving and receiving gifts? What needs are they wishing to express? I came up with the following possibilities:

Connection, belonging, fun, love, joy, & self-expression

Human needs of those who are seeking an alternative to our current gift-giving practices

What values are people wanting to establish and maintain by not giving and receiving so many gifts? What needs are they wishing to express?

I came up with the following possibilities:

Sustainability, love, ease, peace, & self-expression

When I look at these lists I feel a bit more connected to those in my family who have different opinions to me. I can see that this is not an either-or situation – it is possible to belong to both groups. It is even interesting to see that the lists have love and self-expression in common.

a conversation guided by nonviolent communication principles

There are many nonviolent communication resources that can help resolve a conflict. I’m working my way through the ONGO Book at the moment, so I will try out the pattern they suggest. This looks something like

When I see|hear|experience ….

I feel ….

Because I would love to be have|experience ….

Would you consider….

So I might start a conversation like this:

When I see all the Christmas presents piled under the tree and imagine all the paper and plastic wrappings that must be thrown away, I feel uneasy and sad because I’d like to do Christmas in a way that is warm and fun and does not create a lot of waste – and I have not figured out a way to do that.

Do you think we might do Christmas a little differently next year so that we can have fun and  be kind to the environment?

Note

I was going to add a list of strategies we might consider BUT it would totally undermine the conversation if I was to come prepared with all the answers. I need to slow down and let any answers (if there are any) arise in the conversation.

More on the ONGO Book

This really seems to be an excellent resource. There is a whole rich, deep element of being connected to your body as you go through this process that I have not written about. If you are interested in nonviolent communication I recommend you get a copy. Maybe for Christmas 🙂

Catherine Cadden & Jesse Wiens (2017) The ONGO book: Everyday nonviolence.

Photo attribution

Frank Tellez. Christmas Presents. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

happiness and transpersonal human caring

Part one

For most of my life I have held back on being happy when people around me are in pain. And I so want to be happy! When I am in this way of thinking and someone tells me about a problem they are having, I jump in to fix it or demand that they either fix it or suck it up and get over it already!

Part two

Then I learned that my happiness should not be dependent on others, that this makes them responsible for my happiness. So I dutifully added a new behaviour to my repertoire – keep the unhappy person at arms’ length, nod, smile, but don’t really engage: Don’t let them spoil that precious vibe. I even labelled some people as ‘downers’

Part three

I became familiar with nonviolent communication and now with caring science and learned about the joy of empathy. It is possible to just sit and listen to someone who is suffering and be with them and both of you appreciate and enjoy the connection. Sometimes an opportunity to help arises in the moment and sometimes something clears for the other person and whatever it is just becomes a little more bearable.

Part four

The thing is that the quality of my happiness has become so much deeper and more nuanced in these moments. I now know a calm happiness, a deeply deeply sad happiness, a happiness as soft and gentle as a baby’s breath, even a happiness infused with anger and purpose. It has been a long journey of learning and unlearning, and what is behind me lies ahead of me, but I will keep returning my wayward feet to this path. ❤

 

 

Writing a eulogy or special occasion speech: #1 getting in touch with your feelings.

This is a bit of a change of pace for my blog – I am writing this post because a couple of people have asked me for a hand when writing a speech and I want to pop my thoughts somewhere where they are easily shared…

so, you have just been approached to speak

… at a special occasion. It may be a wedding; it may be a retirement party; or perhaps a funeral. You may have anticipated this moment, or it may be a surprise. You may be a confident speaker, you may be feeling overwhelmed. In any circumstance, if you want to give a beautiful speech, one that is real and comes from the heart, it will help to consider and bring together the following aspects:

  • yourself: your feelings and experience
  • the person you are celebrating: their life, accomplishments, and relationships
  • the people who will receive your speech: their needs and expectations.

This post talks about how to consider and acknowledge your own feelings and experiences to prepare yourself for the writing. I will link to posts that will help you get together your thoughts about the person you are celebrating and connect with the folk who will receive your speech as I publish them.

your feelings and experience

At any special occasion, you may be feeling a lot of feelings. There may be joy and anticipation. There is also likely to be a surprising element of grief. You may be about to lose a valued member of staff to retirement, a family member who is relocating to a partner’s hometown, or you may be grieving a loved one who has died. Many of us are familiar with Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief . We expect to be working our way through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. However, it may come as an unpleasant surprise that these emotions may hit us at a happy celebration, or that they arrive several at a time, or in the ‘wrong’ order or that some may linger, or come and come again. This is actually all normal and ok*. Kubler-Ross herself did not suggest that one needs to spend a certain amount of time in any stage, or advocate trying to rush through grieving. Nor did she suggest that there was an orderly or predictable progression through the emotions of grief.

This is important because to write a eulogy from the heart you will need to be connected to your heart, to be vulnerable, open. Acknowledgement of all of the emotions associated with your grief as you are experiencing it also allows you to more fully explore what your colleague, friend, or loved one means to you and the significance of their place in your life. There may be surprises in this.

The following exercise can help you acknowledge rather than rush through your emotions. I was introduced to it by nonviolent communication teacher, Thom Bond.** Read through the exercise fully before you begin.

an exercise to help you connect with your heart and feelings

Find a time and a safe and comfortable place where you are not going to be disturbed by noise, light, or activities around you.

Set a timer for five minutes.

Sit down, close your eyes and ask yourself: What am I feeling?

As the feelings arise, answer the question honestly and simply. “I am feeling…”

This may sound like: “I am feeling nothing, I am feeling bored, I am feeling a little upset, I am feeling curious, I am feeling anguished. I am disappointed, I am bitter, I am bitter, I am scared, I am jealous, I am ashamed, I am weary, I am feeling a deep, sweet sadness.”

You may find you get stuck on a particular feeling for the entire five minutes. You may cycle through a number of feelings. There are no wrong feelings or wrong periods of time. There is only you feeling your feelings.

Just sit for 5 minutes (or longer) and keep asking yourself: What am I feeling?

If at any time you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, open your eyes and do what you need to do to feel safe and comfortable again, then resume the exercise.

You may find yourself overwhelmed by thoughts of what you or others could or should have done/said/been. Approach these thoughts especially gently. If you find yourself berating yourself or others, acknowledge the emotion and the cause. This may sound like:

“I am feeling really yukky because I wish it was me having the baby and I would like to be happy for her, but part of me is just stuck in feeling mad and sad.”

“I am pissed off – I spent all that time training her and now she has accepted a transfer!”

“I am feeling awkward because really my brother was there to help her and I rarely called.”

“I am angry because I spent all those years looking after her and now that she is dead everyone else turns up! I wish they would acknowledge how hard that was for me instead of making excuses.”

“I am afraid. I have never lived alone, I don’t know that I have what it takes.”

I find that just acknowledging this stuff can loosen its grip on me, but I have called a counselling service a few times, when I needed help to work through something. For this reason, I have included links to sites in Australia and New Zealand where you can find information about free services, should you need them.

so, what do you do with all this emotion?

I would use it as a starting point to think about what the person I am going to talk about really means to me. You may get connected to how much the person has contributed to your workplace, to your community and your life. Some of it might make its way into the speech: “Geez, when Mary told me she was leaving, I actually panicked a bit but only because I realised how much she does around this place and I know replacing her will be impossible,” followed by a list of wonderful things Mary contributes to the workplace, of course!

However, the real value of the exercise and connecting to your emotions is that this genuine connection will underpin your speech, making it easier to be real when you are standing up in front of all the people. Please try it and let me know how it goes for you.

This post covered the first of three aspects that I believe you need to consider and integrate to write and deliver a beautiful eulogy or special occasion speech. When I write about the other two aspects: the person you are celebrating; and the people who will receive your speech, I will update this post with the links.

* this is totally my opinion, I am not a counsellor and am not qualified in any healing or therapeutic practices other than sport massage but I don’t tell people about that.

**I would totally recommend Thom’s online course – and a reminder – taking a few courses in nonviolent communication does not make me an expert, or qualified.

counselling: Australia and New Zealand

I’m happy to add more sites, if anyone wants one added, please provide the information in the comments.

Lifeline Australia or call 13 11 14

Australian National Mental Health Commission

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

references and photo attribution

Bond, Thom. (2015). The Compassion Course online. Thom’s website:  http://www.nycnvc.org/thom-bond/

Forsberg, Samantha. Forest [photo].CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Kübler-Ross, E., & Kessler, D. (2014). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster.

MVP communication

I have recently encountered the phrase: minimum viable product and its acronym: MVP. For me the phrase connotes a certain ‘hastily thrown together in a dark room by people who know little and care less’  quality. There is a more benign interpretation, but my first impression is much more fun, and I thought I’d apply it to communication, and then consider other applications. Continue reading “MVP communication”

living with adult children

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*Springtime in the garden by foam

 

I have two daughters living with me, both close to becoming adults. Unlike their older sister who left home every year from age 16 to 20, these two seem willing to stay forever. And it often bothers me that the conversations around adult children living at home are so negative. So, I am trying to think of different conversations and of ways to make it work. Continue reading “living with adult children”

In search of my human nature

It is our psychic needs and the feelings that accompany them that are at the root of human nature. (Mary E Clark)

My Gran is old and frail. For 90 years she has been tough and fiercely independent but today she finds herself in an old people’s hostel. She eats what she is fed, goes to bed and rises according to the routines of the institution and occasionally needs assistance to bathe and dress herself.  Despite the pleasant and caring hostel environment, this has not been a happy or easy time for Gran, so her extended family makes the effort to support her as best we can. We visit Gran daily, provide her with little luxuries, and bust her out for a visit to the hairdresser or cafe.

Taking care of Gran in the midst of all our other responsibilities can be quite an effort. And yet we do it. I think it is a normal human activity to look after the elderly as best we can. If you disagree, think of the deep emotions – sadness and outrage – expressed by the community when elder neglect and abuse is reported. However, looking after the frail elderly contradicts accepted understandings of human nature as expressed by Richard Dawkins that is, that human nature is essentially selfish, that we are motivated to act only to further our own interests, to ensure the survival of our offspring at the expense of others. Our behaviour makes no sense according to the selfish gene.

So, are we human beings intrinsically selfish, competitive and even violent? Mary Clark argues no. We are in all likelihood evolved with more capacity for kindness, cooperation and reconciliation than for aggression. There is much hope for those interested in nonviolence in her book: In search of human nature.

Continue reading “In search of my human nature”

Fighting Hanson is superficial

Vote counting for the Federal election resumes today but we already know that  Pauline Hanson will be returning to our Senate. Hanson’s politics are frequently labelled racist and she certainly provided evidence of this in her book The truth.  Hanson is also a climate change denier. Despite this, my heart sank when I read the headline: Greens vow to fight Pauline Hanson Why am I upset by this promise of opposition to racism and environmental chaos? It’s because I want my party to do more than fight.

I want the Greens to do more that create political huff and puff and bad feelings. I want my party to use principles of nonviolence to communicate with the people and communities that support Hanson and to participate in resolving the issues that these people are facing. I believe we could use this as an opportunity to create some real, powerful and sustained changes in our communities. Most importantly, such changes could be owned and directed by the people we make enemies of when we fight Hanson. Continue reading “Fighting Hanson is superficial”

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