Monday, January 23, 2012


I have a new client who feels stuck under the burden of obligation. I let her complain for a couple of weeks about being the victim of her family’s traditions, but this week I let her have it. The very first time she said the word “obligation” I broke into her tirade and said, “Yes, you did choose obligation.”

She looked up confused. It seemed I was agreeing with her, but there was something off with the way I did it. “Chose?” she said. “I didn’t chose it, that’s the point.”

“That’s true, once you chose choicelessness, there don’t seem to be any choices left, but then, you can always unchose that choice, and then there will be lots of choices.”

NVC says that every moment is choiceful. And the only thing that keeps us from experiencing that, is when we use choiceless language to describe our choiceful existence.

“I didn’t have a choice, I didn’t chose all this obligation! It‘s a family thing.”

“Well your brothers have moved away, and have chosen not to live inside these obligations, so not everyone in your family chose choicelessness. Only you did. And what would your life look like, if you chose differently, rigth now?”

Friday, January 20, 2012


My latest client came, as so many do, feeling overwhelmed, and wanting me to help them “get rid of” some part of their lives, some part of themselves.

That’s not how I work. I’ve found it works better to add lost parts back in. The stress of life is more about one, lonely part of you, usually the ego/conscious mind trying to run (read control) everything. Since it is really only good at a few little things (like math and linear time management) it begins to spin and stress as it tries to do the multi-tasking that relationships, feelings and joy require.

In the last couple of sessions, I have been contradicting his limiting beliefs, and teaching him how to reaquire the permissions that at first it seems other people or society “took away.” It turns out, I’ve found, that permission is actually ours to keep or forbid to ourselves. When Rosa Parks Refused to sit in the back of the bus, “they” were still refusing her permission, but she found the permission inside herself, and when she acted from that place, others who had lost it were reminded it was theirs to give to themselves.

I sent this client to Find a group that scares you, one which is full of people who clearly have permission where you do not. Go to sit in a room with them and watch your internal dialog. Don’t be surprised if you are shocked or repulsed. These are signs you may want to go back.

He left a little dazed. This is NOT what his ego came to hear me say. Still, each week he does what I suggest, and comes back less and less stressed, and more and more happy and relaxed.

“I seem to have more energy these days,” he said. “Sure,” I thought, “you’re not wasting energy holding yourself down!”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Fresh Faces

Ten new students in my winter NVC course this year. Ten fresh faces, ten open minds. Each group has its own personality, and I really like this group. They introduced themselves to each other as people arrived, people stood and shook hands, and asked each other questions. A room full of people, three-dimensional and ready. They laugh and groan to my stories and examples. And I could feel them changing, as a group, as I unfolded the world of NVC to them.

It felt like reading a story book to a child. Each new page, exciting and new, with beautiful, magical pictures and the hieroglyphs that I translate for them into a tale which we stop each week, as I close the book, and pick up where we left off next time.

As is always the case, each one has a situation they came in with to solve. Even in this first class, their long-standing complex tangles of relationships start to unfold before us. I can’t really resolve their deepest, hardest issues this first class, with the tiny bit they know. But they ask, and I try to answer the part of their question which illuminates the topic at hand.

Monday, January 16, 2012

As a mediator, I don’t think much of compromise

I’m working with a young couple, still new enough to love, a new baby son, new home, new life. They were sensitive enough to their own happiness to notice that there was something wrong. “Marriage” was somehow taking them down. Down a path of compromise and frustration, so they came to me, as so many couples do, to help them put on the brakes, to fix the problem, to make the compromise tolerable.

As a mediator, I don’t think much of compromise. It turns out to be a fancy word for “giving up what you want.” While it may stave off a few tussles in the short term, in the long run, it ensures discontentment and fights which make no sense because those future issues which it uses to surface aren’t really the issue at all, and since the compromise is long forgotten, the fights are simply incomprehensible, and so unsolvable.

Instead I follow my model, and bring the conversation back to the present and what Universal Human Needs are up for both parties.

The newness of this couple’s love stimulates my optimism (which never is far away, I’m happy to say) and I keep reframing their “problems” as yet another opportunity to use marriage for one of its major purposes (as I see it) to heal the wound of not getting certain needs of ours met in previous relationships - especially in our first relationship with our parents.

Time and again, we slow their current arguments down, and drop down into the needs just below the surface (because they haven’t been together long enough to bury them very deep) and there, in the present, they find their love for each other.

Like most couples, they started out sitting on opposite sides of the couch, and this last session, number three, they sat together in the middle, legs or arms touching. And as we found the needs beneath each tiff, they found each others eyes, and held each others hands, as if showing with their bodies what I have always believed: needs are where we meet.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mothering and Fathering, in Politics and at Home

This morning, listening to NPR, in defense of Mitt Romney’s firing thousands of people to preserve his profit, a support said, “Well in capitalism there are winners and losers, and I don’t fault him for being a winner.”

I was trying to let my judgment of this position go, this “How could she be so cold and cruel?” and what I got in touch with was the difference I often have to mediate between what I have come to call Mothering and Fathering in the married couples I mediate. 

Regardless of the sex of the person, the partner who “mothers” supports the child’s internal world. They want to shield their child from the world’s cruelty so that the child may grow strong, with good self-confidence, and they want their child to be safe. 

Fathering sees the downside of this “coddling” (a judgment) as creating a child who may become a “wimp” with no courage. They advocate for consequences as the best teacher. “Let him climb the jungle gym, and if he falls, he’ll learn.” And lessons learned this way are never forgotten.

It occurred to me, that at their best, this is exactly the difference between the Democratic and Republican sentiments. The Democrats want to protect the weak and as any mother would, to see that all god’s children survive and thrive. Republicans focus on autonomy and independence. They like capitalism because it fathers us with real-world consequences.

All children benefit from having both these points of view in their upbringing, especially if they are negotiated well so they child gets the benefit of each, and not, as so often is the case, conflicting messages about which is best.

I’ve been thinking for a while that what we need in the political arena is a Mediation Party, one which represents both Mothering and Fathering energy. Having read his books, I believe that Obama had this potential, but it can’t really be done alone, and he didn’t have a Mediation Party to back him, so like so many families, we ended up with a polarization between the two existing parties and so deadlock.

I like to image what might happen if the Mediation Party did exist. Business and personal spheres all flourishing, government supporting our internal and external needs.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Occupy 2012!

Last night winter finally arrived. After a balmy December here in Philly, the temperatures dropped below 20, and even the late afternoon darkness crept in cold and angry.

Elise and I snuggled down under our comforter, with heating pads and hot bean bags, and took warmth and comfort from each other, our softness and our love. Outside, the year ticked on, like an odometer, the numbers change again.

This time, it feels like the world is not only one year older, it is sadder, somehow. Outside our windows governments grinds to a halt, economies the world over sag and collapse from the weight of the corruption and selfishness, and compassion seems to have become the rarest of metals.

Elise and I have kept all this out up til now, but like the cold, it seems to be seeping into even our world.

I was thinking this morning that politicians have changed in my mind from “our representatives” to just another bank of lawyers hired by the rich to  squeeze the last tenth of pennies out of the rest of us, now that they’ve gotten our dollars, our land, the fruit of our labors.

I heard several media people talking about the best thing about 2011, and although it surprised them to say so, each of them, for different reasons, ended up saying “Occupy Wall Street” was it for them. For some of them it was just such a good story to report, for others a passion of content. For me, it was one ray of hope in an otherwise broken system.

Actually, I saw a video of “Occupy Philly’s best moments in 2011” and one image was of a sign held up in a protest which said, “The system isn’t broken, it was designed this way.”

I think that is true. What I love about the Occupy Movement is that they are willing to start over. They don’t want old media coverage. They are not trying to get the current corrupt form of government to pass some minor change. They are brave enough to shake the Etch-a-Sketch of our society and start with a clean, blank slate.

I look forward to Occupying 2012, progress with no limits.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Conflict, Lock and Key

Conflict is like a gate, it is both the opening into the walled off garden of love, and the obstacle which keeps us out.

Which of these it is depends on whether you have the key or not.

Conflict is the smoke that points out the fire - the passion in your life. It also burns your life up with destruction. It depends on whether you know fire-craft or not.

Conflict reveals the hidden truth in both parties, or it broadcasts the lies far and wide. It depends on where you look: inside yourself for truth, or at the other person for blame.

If you avoid conflict, your life shallows out. It becomes calm in appearance it is mirror smooth, but then it just reflects your inner turmoil.

If you become habituated to the anger and blame, your life becomes a series of eruptions punctuated by tense terror, and things just seem to get worse and worse.

There is a third path, where conflict resolves into respectful differences. Sitting quietly, the calm hands you the two keys: the first unlocks your own truth; the second unlocks your curiosity about the other person’s truth.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

OWS: Leaderless or Leaderful?

The “Theater of the Oppressed” did several theater games with Occupy Together (a gathering of Occupies from all over New England) last weekend. I want to tell you about them because they explain something about the Occupy Movement that has a lot of people confused.

They had all hundred of us stand in a circle with our eyes closed. The director walked all around the circle, and told us that she whoever she touched would be the leader. The leader’s job was to lead, but to do so subtly so the cops wouldn’t be able to pick them out. The rest of us were to mill about once we opened our eyes, and find and follow the leader.

After a few minutes of milling, we went back into our circle, closed our eyes, and the director walked around us again, selecting the leadership for the next round. This time, everyone behaved really differently, much more action and movement, and lots more touching and laughter.

When we got back in the circle, someone asked, “Who was the leader each time?”

“The first time,” the director said, “I didn’t pick anyone. The second time, I picked everyone.”

I was immediately struck by how “Occupified” these two choices were: on the one hand, Occupy has no leader. On the other, in the “participatory democracy” which is the form of governance in the Occupy Movement, everyone is empowered to lead.

Some people call this “leaderless”, but that isn’t really a good description of the way it feels or works. In the Men’s Movement of the 1970’s, we used to call this kind of governance: “Leaderful.”

Monday, January 2, 2012

Did You Marry a Friend or Foe?

I did a session this week with a couple who have learned the language of NVC, but were missing the starting point of the violence: the assumption that the person you are talking to is an enemy.

Obviously, we marry people we feel friendly towards. That happens to also be the starting assumption of any non-violent, compassionate communication.

It creates tons of slack - we listen using what I call the “Best Possible Interpretation.” If your new love says, “Jeeze, you’re such a bitch!” you assume they mean your are really assertive and you feel appreciated and respected. If they say, “I’m gonna take you out an buy you a new shirt” you think, “Oh goodie, a gift!”

The whole time you use LOVE as your guiding assumption of their motives, it’s really fun no matter what they say or do. We call this the Infatuation Stage - it’s stage one.

Then, when your relationship transitions into stage two, the Conflict Stage; you switch more and more of your motivation from LOVE to FEAR, and eventually, imperceptibly, your significant-other shifts from friend to competitor to enemy. This is accompanied by a shift from “Best Possible Interpretation” to “Worst.”

Suddenly, black becomes white, and white black. Now, if your love calls you a bitch, you assume they are being really, really mean. And if they say, “I’m gonna take you out an buy you a new shirt” you think, “They hate the way I dress!”

Each of the parties in the couple I was working with had pretty much changed everything that they were going to change to suit their partner. What was left was the actual difference that they had invited into their lives by picking this particular person. The other change they had made, was from lovers to competitors, and when things got heated, they made it all the way to enemies.

They both now know enough NVC to know that when their partner is angry, that’s just the frustration that comes when one of your needs isn’t getting met. But they couldn’t figure out what to do about that, because when your enemy is angry, it’s just a drag; it doesn’t seem like it would be fun to help them out.

So I took a turn “being” each of their partners. I said the same thing that their partner said that consistently made them angry, and when they responded angrily, I opened my heart and let my concern for my friend to spread through my body, and express itself through my words.

Same anger, same relationship, same issues. I just modeled what it feels like to be received as a friend, instead of an enemy.

They turned and looked at each other with renewed interest. Instead of issues and anger, the relationship suddenly came back into relief.

The relief that comes from relating with a friend.