Sun 5th Nov, 2017
As we gather together here
Seeking to know and to be known
Too often, the walls we have each built keep us apart
The weapons we wield for protection do harm
To others and also to ourselves
May the light of this flame help us to see one another clearly
The truth of our tenderness
The truth of our shared needs
The truth that peace lies in the balance
Introduction - Andy Pakula
Ever since the last American presidential election, I have been a very active follower of the news. I read articles in various papers. I read some of what passes for discussion on Facebook and Twitter. If this glimpse how humans interact was the only view we had, we would despair completely. We would give up all hope that anyone anywhere at any time could ever resolve a dispute.
In so many of the exchanges taking place today, there is no room for common ground - no room for understanding - and no room whatsoever for compassion. Every difference in viewpoint is attributed to one of two things: incompetence or malevolence. Everyone we disagree with must either be an idiot or outright evil.
The divisions in our societies and the divisions between nations and peoples exhibit this dysfunction on a massive and dangerous worldwide scale. We disagree about human rights, about immigration, about whether we should be part of Europe, about racism, about reproductive rights… The list goes on and on and on and, in every instance, the gaps seem unbridgeable.
It is extremely tempting to try to humiliate your opponents in a dispute and decimate their arguments. Sometimes we might even succeed in doing that. Usually, we don’t. We just make both sides angrier and angrier so that the next engagement is even nastier and more brutal. And if we should succeed in winning through verbal and physical violence? What then? We may win the battle, but we create angry, vindictive enemies for life and sometimes for generations.
What happens in the public world of politics and power is simply a reflection of what happens all too often in our personal lives. We rarely resolve disputes. We may bury them and carry around a silent resentment. We may fight our way through disputes. If the relationship mattered at all, then, in the long run, the winners and losers both lose. The humiliation of the vanquished will rise again to destroy the life-giving connection that might have been. In the public and private realms, there has to be a better way.
This weekend, over thirty of you are working together here for two full days to learn such a way. It is a technique developed in the 1960s by Marshall Rosenberg and it provides a path for communicating with compassion rather than with the verbal violence that is present so much of human interaction.
At the simplest level, Rosenberg said that we all have a range of basic needs and that conflict arises when our needs are not being met. By being clear about our needs and the needs of others and responding compassionately to those needs, we can move beyond anger, blaming, preconception, and bias. We can move to a way of being together that brings peace.
This morning, the participants and leaders of the training will provide just a bit of a view of what nonviolent communication looks like and the difference it can make.
The Primacy of Human Presence, Eugene Gendlin (Adapted)
The essence of working with another person is to be present as a living being. And that is lucky, because if we had to be smart, or good, or mature, or wise, then we would probably be in trouble. But, what matters is not that. What matters is to be a human being with another human being, to recognize the other person as another being in there. Even if it is a cat or a bird, if you are trying to help a wounded bird, the first thing you have to know is that there is somebody in there, and that you have to wait for that "person," that being in there, to be in contact with you. That seems to me to be the most important thing.
So, when I sit down with someone, I take my troubles and feelings and I put them over here, on one side, close, because I might need them. I might want to go in there and see something. And I take all the things that I have learnt [...] and I put them over here, on my other side, close.
Then I am just here, with my eyes, and there is this other being. If they happen to look into my eyes, they will see that I am just a shaky being. I have to tolerate that. They may not look. But if they do, they will see that. They will see the slightly shy, slightly withdrawing, insecure existence that I am, I have learnt that that is O.K. I do not need to be emotionally secure and firmly present. I just need to be present. There are no qualifications for the kind of person I must be. What is wanted [...] is a person who will be present. And so I have gradually become convinced that even I can be that. Even though I have my doubts when I am by myself, in some objective sense I know I am a person.
From Marshall Rosenberg
When our heads are filled with judgments and analyses that others are bad, greedy, irresponsible, lying, cheating, polluting the environment, valuing profit more than life, or behaving in other ways they shouldn't, very few of them will be interested in our needs. If we want to protect the environment, and we go to a corporate executive with the attitude, "You know, you are really a killer of the planet, you have no right to abuse the land in this way," we have severely impaired our chances of getting our needs met. It is a rare human being who can maintain focus on our needs when we are expressing them through images of their wrongness.
From Marshall Rosenberg
Peace requires something far more difficult than revenge or merely turning the other cheek; it requires empathizing with the fears and unmet needs that provide the impetus for people to attack each other. Being aware of those feelings and needs, people lose their desires to attack back because they see the human ignorance leading to those attacks. Instead, their goal becomes providing the empathic connection and education that will enable them to transcend their violence and engage in cooperative relationships.
Let us know our own hearts
And in that knowing
May we recognise that each other heart carries the the same longings
The same pains
And the same needs as our own
In this shared understanding, may we find a path between us
May we find peace