Sunday, January 25, 2015

Doing What is Right: Bystander Intervention

Be an Active Bystander
This quote reminds me of how important it is do the right thing (that which serves life). No matter how hard it may be to do the right thing, we bring enrichment, peace, safety, care, and justice to the world when we do.

It is alarming that many times people do not do something to help others when others are in danger. Much research has been done to prove this point: that for some reason people do not help others in times of need. One famous case is the Catherine Genovese case.

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Monday, January 12, 2015

The Compassionate Path to Change & Discovering Life Serving Strategies

CAPTION: Photo courtesy
I believe there is something inside us that calls us to live a better life; a part of us that desires to compassionately connect with us and guide us to a new way of living. This something inside is a longing to reach our full potential.

When darkness comes our way or we stumble about we can always connect with this part of us that tenderly wants to help us get back on track. In nonviolent communication we can access this part of us by putting on our giraffe ears. When we can explore our past decisions with tenderness and no judgment we enter a sacred space that is safe and without judgment - a place that we can be with our feelings, needs and deepest longings. Our giraffe ears or our compassionate presence creates emotional safety for us. It is here that we can find healing and find strategies to live a better life.

Entering the Sacred Space with Compassion
When I think of a story that demonstrates someone entering this sacred space with someone else and helping them turn their life around, I think of a story I grew up hearing at church. It is the story that consists of teachers of the religious community and scribes bringing a woman who was caught in adultery before Jesus. It is his response that resonates of love, grace and compassion.

They said unto him, "Master this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou?"

Jesus response is to stoop down and with his finger write on the ground as though he did not hear them. It was as if he was in his own element. He continued to write on the ground. Some theologians think he wrote down the sins that the accusers had done in the past on the ground. I think, regardless of what he wrote down, he was creating a sacred space.

When they continued asking Jesus what they should do Jesus says, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

One by one they begin to walk away until there was only the woman and himself left present. He then says to the woman, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee?"

She said, "No man, Lord." And Jesus said unto her, "Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more."

Jesus enters this space with grace and compassion. There is no judgment or condemnation. He sees the potential of the woman and invites her to walk into this potential. If only we could be this tender and compassionate with ourselves.

When we realize that we, like the woman caught in adultery, make the choices we make because we are trying to meet our needs as best we can; we can hold ourselves with empathy and understanding.
We can ask ourselves what needs we were trying to meet when we made the choice and empathize with this part of us that longs for this need. After having done this we can grieve how our choice did not meet this need or the needs of others. Then we can explore and discover strategies that would honor our values and those of others.

There may be choices that we make that are tragic and have tragic consequences, but the key is to learn from these choices. If we can learn that the strategies we chose did not work and find other strategies that work more effectively to meet our needs and the needs of others we can hold everyone with care and respect.

Choosing Life Serving Strategies
Many times when we make choices that we regret we want to judge ourselves as bad or as defective. It is not that we are bad or defective. It is the strategies that are unhealthy and tragic. The strategies we have learned are not serving us and others. It is time to change those strategies and discover some that work to serve and enrich life. When we do this we live in a different world. There is a new place within us that we can go to where we can find direction and guidance to live another way. In time you will become familiar and at home with this place.

This week when you look back on choices that you wish you did not make offer yourself empathy and understanding and then think of what strategies you could have used that would have led to a different outcome where everyone's needs could have been honored.

The question, "What could I have done differently?" or better yet, "What will I do different next time?" are very important questions. These questions lead to different outcomes and different manifestations. To not have an answer to these questions means we will be more likely to rely on the old strategies that have let us down. We know where those strategies lead. That is no longer our path.

It is essential that we are very specific in what we are choosing to do; that it is a doable action. The more specific the strategy we choose the greater the likelihood that we will attain our goal. Enter the sacred space and allow life to unfold.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Batterers' Intervention Recidivism Rates Lowest Known to Date

This article was published in the Mountain Democrat and mentions the amazing zero percent recidivism that were discovered by the El Dorado County District Attorney's office. It highlights the work I did at The Center for Violence-Free Relationships. Many people have been inquiring about the results.

I developed the year-long court-approved NVC-based batterers' program and still oversee a batterer's intervention program for Life Enriching Communication in El Dorado County. If you would like more information feel free to contact me at You can also find more information on the recidivism stats and my work in this field at

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Life Enriching Organizations: Focusing on Serving Life

Many corporations focus on the end goal of making money. This can easily become what is most important to the organization. All the strategies and marketing focus primarily on bringing in more money. It may become inherent in the culture. This thinking can also be present with nonprofit organizations.

There is no doubt that money is important for both of these type of organizations. Money in the form of revenue or donations gives the organization the ability to sustain itself, attain more resources to do more good or create more products and security. The problem is when money becomes the driving force and we forget what the organization is about that we run into problems.

Every organization has something potentially that they could offer to make life better for others. It is wonderful when an organization can identify this and make this the focus without compromising this value.

Rosenberg states that when it comes to doing things for the right motivation (to serve life) in the business world "we must be concerned that our product serves life. That our motive is not to make money but to serve life." He adds, "Don't ever, ever do anything for money but request money to meet your need for meaning."

Motivation to Serve Life
When we have this balance we don't forget our mission or what we have to offer the world. We can evaluate if corporations, schools, churches and businesses are serving life or not by whether what they offer actually makes the world a better place.

If we focus more on making money than on how our product or service enriches life we get caught up in the trap that faces many organizations. The needs and values that the people and the organization have get lost and caught up in a strategy to make money. This single-minded focus means that employees are now more likely viewed as a means and ends to attaining more money for the company. Their value is determined by how productive or how much revenue they can generate.

In an nonprofit organization for example, an employee with the ability to offer quality counseling, education or service to the community may be judged not on his exceptional ability to do this so much as his ability to bring in money for the organization by providing these services. The value of the employee shifts and quality may be compromised for quantity (data, generation of money, etc.).

This can lead to employees getting a sense of being used or not being valued for their abilities and talents. The creativity, values of contributing to life and excitement that drives them may be lost and the mission and purpose of the work is not the driving motivation.

Miki Kashtan writes in her book Spinning Threads of Radical Aliveness that, "By and large we have created social systems in which human needs are routinely unmet. So to prepare us to be willing to put up with such systems we must become accustomed to tolerating unmet needs from early on. This is a major aspect of the process of socialization."

Intrinsic Motivation
When we focus on how what we are doing serves life and that becomes the focus, individuals, teams and departments are motivated intrinsically. There is research demonstrating that rewards do not work in work environments long-term because they take employees away from being motivated intrinsically. When rewards are promised or given individuals are motivated by them and not the "why."

The key is for leaders to be able to articulate the "why" behind the requests and strategies being chosen. Yet, many leaders do not have the skills to do this and instead opt for obedience and compliance with no explanation of what needs are being met by the strategies that they propose and, at times, impose.

Fear Cultures
When compliance becomes the primary focus and people are judged based upon whether or not they are compliant, a fear culture may be in the making. For example when 100% compliance becomes the focus we must now focus on what will happen when it is not attained. There is a higher likelihood that we will do what many of us have been socialized to do - use punishment and rewards to get others to do as we would like them to do. This breeds fear of punishment and competition instead of cooperation. This can suck the life out of any company.

Another Way to Inspire
Inevitably, there will be times when a goal is not reached or productivity levels are not attained. When this happens we can become curious and try to determine what is getting in the way of attaining the goals. There is usually a need or value that is not being lived out and needs attention. For instance, a team may need training or more support (staff) or volunteers to attain the goal. When we meet these needs the likelihood that the needs of the whole will be met increase.

Instead of punishing, which instills fear, we can discover what strategies can help everyone involved attain the goal. We come alongside and learn what can help employees and teams thrive with a spirit of support and encouragement.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Needs-Centered Approach to Life

CAPTION: Photo courtesy
From a young age, I was taught that all human beings were selfish from birth. This was instilled in me as a boy and later as an adult.

This theory of human nature seemed to explain why there was so much violence and evil in the world. It was because human beings were inherently selfish; and when there was not some mechanism of punishment to keep them on track they would resort to selfishness.

Carrot and Stick Approach
I learned from others that the way to navigate through conflict and to get my way was by using the carrot and stick approach. If people did something wrong they deserved to be punished and if they did something good they deserved to be rewarded. It was also acceptable to motivate people by offering them a future reward or threatening to punish them if they did not do what was expected of them.

Believe it or not, most people in positions of power still follow this line of thinking. For supervisors, leaders, teachers or parents it is tempting to use the carrot and stick approach.

A Needs-Centered Approach
I no longer subscribe to this approach. I believe in a different theory of human nature. I believe that all human beings are motivated by needs or values and that these needs are universal. The reason human beings do what they do is not motivated by selfishness but by a longing to connect with values and live in alignment with those values and needs.

Marshall Rosenberg sums it up well when he says that "a need is life seeking expression." There is nothing wrong with that. There is a good reason behind every action we choose because it is connected to a need and needs are essential to life, pure and universal. There is no problem with wanting love, understanding, peace or justice. These are all good things. We all have the potential to bring these things into our lives and the lives of others and make the world a better place.

A question we can ask ourselves when we have an awareness of a value or need in our life is, "How do I live the value of love, understanding peace or justice in the world? What do I notice when I connect internally to those needs and values?"

The problem arises when we choose strategies that contribute to ours and others' suffering. It is our choice of how we go about attaining a need that can get us into trouble. Needs and values are never in conflict.

The Problem
When we choose to believe that human beings are selfish we are prone to judge others as such. We see the world through the lens of judgment. We use labels of others and when we do this that makes us see things in terms of right and wrong or good and bad. We create enemy images of others. There are now good people and bad people in our mind. Our hearts are not as open to the people we label "bad." We are more apt to think they deserve punishment and prone to use punishments or rewards. When we have enemy images of others we increase the likelihood that we will choose strategies that stimulate more suffering for ourselves and others.

Does this mean there is no good and evil? No. Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, defines good as that which serves life and evil as that which does not serve life.

Many times we see things as good and evil and then categorize individuals as good or bad and in so doing create enemy images of others. By defining good and evil as Rosenberg does we do not have to judge others but can determine if their actions are serving life or not.

An Open-Hearted Approach
I want to invite others to take another approach. An approach that involves starting with the belief that everything anyone does is in service of meeting a need. For instance, when we or someone does something that we disagree with (and that we believe is harmful to others) we can focus on what need(s) we or they are connected to and value.

Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs and demonstrated the importance of human needs. We all have basic needs like the need for air, water, food and shelter that we need for survival. We also have needs for love, mattering, to be heard, community, affection, etc. When these needs are not met we feel a sense of lacking, longing and in some cases (where our physical needs are not met) we can die.

Once we hold to the belief that everything human beings do is in service of meeting needs, we can practice trying to guess what need(s) an individual is trying to meet when they do something that we believe does not serve life. With continual practice we will increase our capacity to care for others by doing this.

If a baby is crying it has a need. The baby may be needing food, warmth or comfort. Most parents would not think that the baby is being selfish. The infant is simply letting the parent know it needs something in the best way that it can. A parent can grasp this, usually, because they see the infant as innocent and vulnerable. There is an assumption of innocence.

When we realize it is all about needs we do the same. We assume that others are doing what they do simply because they have learned to meet their needs this way. There is hope. They can learn a different way.

When we assume an evil intent or selfishness we get into trouble. A baby also does not think, "bad parent" if the parent does not figure out what it needs. The baby has not been taught to make judgments. This will be taught later through socialization. The baby that was connected to its needs when it cried will later be educated to judge others when its needs are not met instead of clearly articulating them. This is the tragedy - the result of the domination paradigm that has become our collective habit.

Batterers' Intervention Program
For the last 11 years I have worked with men and women who have been physically violent in their intimate relationships. I have approached them in an open-hearted manner. What I mean by this is that I did not judge them for what they did. I would give myself time to become curious about what needs they were trying to meet when they acted out in a violent manner. I would then ask them what needs they were trying to meet. Many of them did not know initially.

With time they would be able to name what needs they were trying to meet. One individual shared that when he grabbed his wife and pushed her on the bed he had a need to be heard. I asked him if the strategy he chose to meet this need worked. He said it did not. he said that she started crying and called the police.

Choosing Life-Enriching Strategies
I asked him if he could think of another strategy that he could have used to increase the likelihood that his need to be heard would be met and that would hold his wife with care. He said he could have paused and taken a deep breath and asked her if she would be willing to talk and listen to him. He also said he could have waited to talk with her - when they were both ready and calm. This new strategy that he came up with worked and improved his connection with his wife.

How easy it would have been for me to tell him that he was selfish and rude. That he deserved to be arrested. But instead I have trained myself to look at what needs my clients are trying to meet and to help them to identify them and find strategies that they could use that do not involve violence; strategies that increase the likelihood that everyone's needs will matter.

I am proud to say that the graduates from the 2008 batterers' intervention program at The Center for Violence-Free Relationships, where I worked and integrated this needs-centered approach, did not get prosecuted for any further domestic violence charges after five years. This 0 percent recidivism is the lowest known to date.

When individuals recognize that they can simply modify the strategies and get a different result that works better for everyone involved, it is revolutionary. It is revolutionary because they can empathize with the part of themselves that made the choice and forgive themselves and others. They are released from their own judgments and empowered to make change happen.

Empathy as a Path
Another approach I encouraged my clients to do was to get curious about what their partner's needs were when they made their choice to act out using violence. When they realized that their partner needed respect, care, mattering, safety, protection, reassurance, space and other needs they experienced a shift and found room in their hearts to empathize with their partners.

Compassion could take place and they could choose strategies that not only increased the likelihood that their needs would be met but that would increase the likelihood that everyone's needs would be met.

By focusing our attention on needs we can embrace ourselves and others with compassion. We can approach life with a tender open-heartedness that leads to holding needs together and leads to strategies that will work for everyone.

This approach can be used by parents with their children, supervisors with their employees, teachers with their students and in all types of relationships.

This needs-centered approach of looking at life can transform relationships and how we interact with each other. I have found that people who have the most difficulty transitioning to this approach are usually people who are in positions of authority over others. They have a lot to lose if this approach doesn't work and it is very tempting to go back to their default or what society has taught them.

Creating a Different Culture
Yet when leaders, parents, supervisors choose the carrot and stick approach they foster a culture of fear. Children, employees or students, for instance, are afraid of what punishment might come to them or are motivated simply by a reward and not by an intrinsic motivation.

The main motivation becomes not getting in trouble or being punished or getting a reward. It is not the greater cause, mission or the value that motivates. That usually gets lost in the process.

When a child or an employee understand the needs they are contributing to they can partner with that from the heart. It is not fear that drives them but a value that is shared by all.

Two questions that Marshall Rosenberg asks parents are:

What do you want your child to do?
What do you want the motivation to be for them doing it?

The first question is easy. The second question is critical. Do we really want a child, an employee or a student to do what we are asking them because they are afraid of us?

My hope is that more people will choose to adopt the need-centered approach and create empathetic cultures where connection, transparency and collaboration can thrive.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Intimacy With Fear

Photo Courtesy
At some point in our lives we all encounter fear. Whether we are embarking on an adventure or our world appears to be falling apart - fear lurks and is there.

The common questions may arise, "Will we be able to have the courage to face the unknown? Will we overcome the circumstances and be okay? Will we make it to the other side?

So many times when fear or anxiety arise we want to run away and find something that can comfort us to forget about it. This ignorance only makes things worse. The fear is still there and growing. The problem is unresolved, we are stuck and the fear has a higher likelihood of coming true.

So what can we do when we experience fear?

Intimacy with Fear
We can stop running and trying to comfort ourselves to numb the pain. We can move closer to the fear and just be there with it. By encountering and befriending the fear we cannot be paralyzed by it.

Every fear that arises is a moment to be with life and increase our capacity to encounter what is alive in the present. It is a time to be tender with what is important to us. Fear is connected to something that is precious to us. For instance, if we fear losing someone it means that we really value that connection with that person.

It is important to connect to what is so important to us, what it is that we value that we are afraid to lose. This connecting involves being compassionate with ourselves and our fear. Entering in instead of bolting out the door is the key.

Fear and other unpleasant feelings are "like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we're stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it's with us wherever we are," says Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart.

These are the moments where we can embrace what is happening to us or suppress the current reality. When we step back and take a closer look at what is happening we gain awareness. We can see what we do to numb our pain and how we try to avoid it. This knowledge can help us to choose healthier strategies to deal with our fears.

Reaching our limits and coming undone can be a sign that it is time to move on and for change. For many it is a moment of truth. A moment of awakening.

Name The Longing Of Our Heart
The first step is to have the courage to be with the fear. The second is to discover what it is that is so precious to us. Once we name what is important to us we can meditate on that and imagine it being in our life in full. That is the third step. This will give us the motivation to go after what is important instead of falling prey to the lack of it in our lives or in the world. When we focus on what is possible instead of scarcity we can move toward it.

As we begin this practice of meeting life face to face we begin to be with life in a way that is not dibilitating but empowering and leads to self-growth. We are no longer resisting life but in the flow of life.