A view of the world…
Sunday, May 12, 2013 ~ Leather Earthers
“Do I have a great idea! I am just going to cover the whole earth, everywhere I go, I’m going to cover it with leather. And then it won’t hurt my feet anymore.”
~ Pema Chodron, sardonically (of course)
I once heard this anecdote that a professional mediation association, when asked whether they wished to integrate NVC skills into their toolbox, declined — commenting about how this was ‘that communication process where people judged how you spoke.’
I’m triggered. Along these lines, I’ve had an unremitting, ever-burgeoning ‘jackal’ (which I prefer to see as a ‘cri de coeur‘ from my own private
Idaho, err Greek chorus) about how practicing NVC can too often transfigure our ordinary (human) ears not into the extraordinary ‘giraffe ears’ that Marshall Rosenberg routinely role modeled, but instead into an even more acutely hypersensitive ‘jackal’ ones.
I call this the enabling of “leather-earthers” — a neologism, I realize — perhaps by the most well-intentioned types, lending their best rendition of giraffe-ears (rather than their honesty, as it’s somehow trickier) to those not cognizant that repeated crying wolf has gotten old, or begun to fall on deaf ears. So the cycle continues, as everyone aspires to the idyllic leather-earth existence (a term which was inspired by the nonsensical notion of flat–earthers, of course, envisioning a world that we know doesn’t exist). I’m beginning to grasp the disillusionment and mourning that Marshall once conveyed, according to Kelly Bryson, that NVC would be distorted by the springing up of empathy circles, abounding everywhere, devoid of the counterbalancing influence of practicing Honest Self-Expression.
Rather than taking the irritating grit of sand and manifesting the pearl of wisdom, it becomes an unrelenting thorn in one’s side (not to mention the chunks of hide taken out of everyone within ear shot) in an insatiable, hungry ghost quest for empathic appeasement. (And, as I’ve discussed before, the challenge to forego ‘mechanical empathy’ can be a daunting one, perhaps most especially in the kumbaya aura of empathy circles).
Indeed, the world at large was not meant to be covered in leather, we will not always be treated with kid gloves (just as each of us errs, in the full range of our humanity, and cannot always be on our best “Better Angels Of Our Nature” behavior 24/7), orienting to existence or coming from this expectation invariably gets extracted from the (proverbial) hide of others.
Not to mention, the mere hypocrisy of expecting (read, ‘demanding‘) from others — the exquisite sensitivity and unshakable equanimity — what we, ourselves, do not always offer.
Perhaps what is meant can best be understood by watching the following:
PEMA CHÖDRÖN: In Tibetan, the word is Dunzi. I love this word, Dunzi. It means distractions — distractions that just sort of, you can waste your whole life in Dunzi, you know, just, like, the lifestyle of just sort of flipping through magazines. Or — I don’t know. The thing is, what we find if we’re not used to sitting quietly with ourselves and not used to meditation and not used to having any inner solitude in our lives, we find that we’re very threatened by nothing happening. And we are addicted to dunzi addicted to distractions…
PEMA CHÖDRÖN: This lousy world, this lousy people, this lousy government, this lousy everything. Lousy weather, lousy blah blah blah blah. Pissed off, you know, it’s too hot in here, it’s too cold, I don’t like the smell and, the person is too tall in front, and — too fat next to me, and they’re wearing perfume and I’m allergic, and just — unnnh! So he says, the analogy is that you’re barefooted, it’s like being barefooted and walking across blazing-hot sand or across cut glass. Or in a field with thorns. And your feet are bare, and you say, this is just, you know, it’s really hurting, it’s terrible, it’s too sharp, it’s too painful, it’s too hot. Do I have a great idea! I am just going to cover the whole, everywhere I go, I’m going to cover it with leather. And then it won’t hurt my feet anymore. That’s like saying, “I’m going to get rid of her and get rid of him and get the temperature right, and I’m going to ban perfume in the world and, you know, there will be no, nothing that bothers me anywhere. There — I am going to get rid of everything, including mosquitoes, that bothers me, anywhere in the world, and then I will be a very happy, content person.” We’re laughing, but it’s what we all do. That is how we do approach things. We think, if we could just get rid of them or cover it with leather, then our pain would go away. Well, sure, because, you know, then it wouldn’t be cutting our feet anymore — I mean, it’s just logical, isn’t it? But it doesn’t make any sense, really.
PEMA CHÖDRÖN: So he said, “but if you simply wrap the leather around your feet” — in other words, shoes — then you could walk across the boiling sand and the cut glass and the thorns, and it wouldn’t bother you. So the analogy is, if you work with your mind, instead of trying to change everything on the outside, that’s how your temper will cool down. * * *
Over my twelve years of learning, practicing and sharing Nonviolent Communication (NVC), I have noticed some common tendencies in NVC communities.
This is a playful variation of the “New York Stock Exchange (NYSE),” a famous entity for trading and valuing stocks, bonds and other financial products.
The NVC Pain Exchange enables and perpetuates groups of people to get together and recycle and exchange pain with each other, all in the name of compassion.
Here is a common scene: People experience NVC and are deeply moved by it. Many of them — and this includes myself — have never before received genuine empathy or non-judgmental presence from others.
Naturally, these people develop relationships with each other in community, and seek each other out to offer empathy to one another about challenging and painful experiences they have had.
So far, so good. After all, I regard empathy as one of the most powerful abilities we have as human beings, in terms of being able to make in impact on the lives of others.
Sometimes, however, a little problem begins to develop: people who get together to offer each other empathy can get locked in their “pain bodies,” as described by Eckhart Tolle (author of “The Power of Now” and, “A New Earth”).
Tolle describes the pain body as “an accumulated pain that becomes a negative energy field that occupies your body and mind. The pain body wants to survive, just like every other entity in existence, and it can only survive if it gets you to unconsciously identify with it. It can then rise up, take you over, “become you,” and live through you. It needs to get its “food” through you. It will feed on any experience that resonates with its own kind of energy, anything that creates further pain in whatever form: anger, destructiveness, hatred, grief, emotional drama, violence, and even illness.”
This is what I meant about recycling, recirculating and exchanging pain under the guise of being compassionate and offering empathy to one another.
Using empathy as a catalyst for transformation of that which ails us is one thing; recirculating the pain (often by telling and re-telling the same old stories) with, and through, each other is yet another thing.
As Tolle suggests, the pain body thrives when we gather together and share our drama with each other! (at least without the explicit intention of transformation)…
Somehow, the process Marhsall Rosenberg originally developed to overcome — for example — the divide when someone once shouted out at him, ‘murderer!’ has too often become a venue, at least in my experience, where there’s a collectively cultivated thin-skinnedness to fixate on grievances or a sense of entitlement to alter that which is external to us (rather than working with our own mind, as Pema Chodron suggests, or consciousness – utilizing the OFNR components bequeathed by Marshall – in a dance of awareness between our own perspective and that of others). It seems antithetical to what was once intended.
I was presenting Nonviolent Communication in a mosque at Deheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem to about 170 Palestinian Moslem men. Attitudes toward Americans at that time were not favorable. As I was speaking, I suddenly noticed a wave of muffled commotion fluttering through the audience. “They’re whispering that you are American!” my translator alerted me, just as a gentleman in the audience leapt to his feet. Facing me squarely, he hollered at the top of his lungs, “Murderer!” Immediately a dozen other voices joined him in chorus:“Assassin!” “Child-killer!” “Murderer!”
Fortunately, I was able to focus my attention on what the man was feeling and needing. In this case, I had some cues. On the way into the refugee camp, I had seen several empty tear gas canisters that had been shot into the camp the night before. Clearly marked on each canister were the words “Made in U.S.A.” I knew that the refugees harbored a lot of anger toward the U.S. for supplying tear gas and other weapons to Israel.
I addressed the man who had called me a murderer:
|I:||Are you angry because you would like my government to use its resources differently? (I didn’t know whether my guess was correct, but what is critical is my sincere effort to connect with his feeling and need.)|
|He:||Damn right I’m angry! You think we need tear gas? We need sewers, not your tear gas! We need housing! We need to have our own country!|
|I:||So you’re furious and would appreciate some support in improving your living conditions and gaining political independence?|
|He:||Do you know what it’s like to live here for twenty-seven years the way I have with my family—children and all? Have you got the faintest idea what that’s been like for us?|
|I:||Sounds like you’re feeling very desperate and you’re wondering whether I or anybody else can really understand what it’s like to be living under these conditions.|
|He:||You want to understand? Tell me, do you have children? Do they go to school? Do they have playgrounds? My son is sick! He plays in open sewage! His classroom has no books! Have you seen a school that has no books?|
|I:||I hear how painful it is for you to raise your children here; you’d like me to know that what you want is what all parents want for their children—a good education, opportunity to play and grow in a healthy environment . . .|
|He:||That’s right, the basics! Human rights—isn’t that what you Americans call it? Why don’t more of you come here and see what kind of human rights you’re bringing here!|
|I:||You’d like more Americans to be aware of the enormity of the suffering here and to look more deeply at the consequences of our political actions?|
Our dialogue continued, with him expressing his pain for nearly twenty more minutes, and I listening for the feeling and need behind each statement. I didn’t agree or disagree. I received his words, not as attacks, but as gifts from a fellow human willing to share his soul and deep vulnerabilities with me.
Once the gentleman felt understood, he was able to hear me as I explained my purpose for being at the camp. An hour later, the same man who had called me a murderer was inviting me to his home for a Ramadan dinner.
Consider thinking of it as shifting from a geocentric (or egocentric) to a heliocentric (more illuminative) point of view.
The conclusion that the “Earth circles the Sun,” was reached and publicized by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Halley. This is the “heliocentric theory.” To appreciate the work of these men, one must also consider the role of ancient Greek philosophers and the Roman Catholic Church. (continues at link above)