Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Thoughts on Forgiveness

Here's something I've wondered about lately. From a Christian perspective, is forgiveness an expectation that we live up to, or a possibility that we live into?

There are several scriptures that call us to forgive, and many good reasons given, including the one most frequently trumpeted, and that is, that it's good for us. We are taught that in order to be forgiven, we must forgive; that not forgiving is like drinking the poison we intended for others; that unforgiveness is the reason we are bound and not experiencing that mysterious life of peace filled victory that we apparently have all been promised. These are the things I have heard, and are not intended to be a generalization. This has merely been what I have experienced.

So, you can see there is an expectation that we are called to live up to when it comes to forgiveness, and failure to live up to that expectation will have it's..(negative?).. consequences. From this perspective, forgiveness seems a little self serving to me. How many times did I hear "you NEED to forgive", when I lamented about those things that continued to give me pain, as if forgiveness was the magic antedote for all that ailed me.

But what if forgiveness is not the means to the end, but rather, the end itself; the possibility that we grow into, or live into; something that sneaks up on us, and becomes a part of our being, as opposed to something that we cognitively do, or an action we deliberately "try" or with effort, "make"?

Here is my thought...as we grow and heal emotionally and spiritually, we transform. It's a gradual, almost non discernible changing, one we are unaware of until something occurs that shines a light on it. As we face challenges, we find old traits, habits, and compulsions have simply been transformed, and have given way to a new way of being, and that way includes the power to forgive. I do not see forgiveness as a one time action, though it certainly contains that element of choice. Rather, I see it as an attitude of peace and empowerment. This empowerment has more to do with enabling us to love others, than it is to serve ourselves.

What do I mean when I say "it sneaks up on us?" Well, I can only witness to my own story of forgiveness. As a child I was beaten, abused, and sexually molested. I walked my life in anger and rage, and when I became a follower of Jesus Christ in 1998, I recall eventually becoming willing to forgive my offender, but only because it was what I was told to do. I was certainly willing to be made willing to forgive, and while that willingness was borne out of a self serving motive, it did not make it any less genuine. But the expectation placed upon me to forgive made it a struggle. Whenever the affects of my past required me to peal off another layer of the proverbial onion, I found myself questioning whether I'd truly forgiven or not.

A few months ago I discovered that my offender died. I learned that he had died alone, in a hospital room, surrounded only by strangers. The thought of that broke my heart. I would not have wanted that for him. My sincere hope for him was that he found peace with his Creator, and my hope remains that he is enjoying His presence even as I write this. It seems forgiveness has snuck up on me, and is now a part of how I live and move and have my being.

Forgiveness is a possibility that we live in to with willingness borne out of love. If we make it an expectation, it becomes more like something we live up to borne out of duty. There is far more freedom in love than there is in duty.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fight, Flight or Something All Together Different?

"You have heard it said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say, Do not resist one who is evil. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles"
Jesus, Matthew 5: 38 - 41

For the longest time I thought of this saying of Jesus to be one of the hallmark teachings regarding how we, as believers, handle conflict. I even have a recollection from my childhood of being told to "turn the other cheek" when I was being insulted by a bully in the neighbourhood; there seemed to be martyr like nobility (pride?) that went hand in hand with the "sacrifice" of having "gone the extra mile" or passively allowing some oppressive person the advantage over us. It was, after all, the good Christian thing to do.

Now I do not believe that these scriptures have anything to do with conflict "per se", but rather, talk about justice for the oppressed, taking back dignity, and standing for ones convictions. These are all transcendent themes, but broken down, the same principle of dignity could be applied to all our conflicts, whether they be conflicts on the grand scale, like pushing back against the injustice of an oppressive regime, or standing against the bullying of a beligerent neighbour.

It has been said - by all sorts of "gists" (sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, evolutionists) that humans generally have two responses to conflict/oppression - fight or flight. Typically, when we are threathened, we either put up the dukes, and meet violence with violence, or we run away; we either strike in kind or we passively submit to injustice. Jesus abhorred/s both responses.

According to Walter Wink (Catholic New Time, February 13, 2005) when the King James bible was first translated, the word "antistenai" was tranlated as "resist not evil", which basically resulted in an intrepetation of docilitiy, instead of the more truer "non violent resistance". So what DID Jesus mean when He said "do not resist the evil person"? First, it is important to note that the "evil person" refered to is one who uses violence to oppress. So, more properly, He was saying "do not retaliate against violence (or the violent oppressive person) with violence."

In every case, Jesus is referring to a regime, government, organization, or system that is violent and oppressive, and in the culture of the day, He was talking about either or all of the occupiers (Roman government and the Roman soldiers), as well as the oppressive ruling class of Jews, who lorded it over the regular folk. In other words, as Walter Wink would say, Jesus was referring to the "powers that be". And who was Jesus talking to when He spoke these words? He was talking to those who were being oppressed - the poor, women, lepers, and the regular folk who "had burdens placed on them" by the ruling classes, including the rich Jewish ruling class and the Roman occupiers. So it is in this context that these scriptures need to be understood.

So, what did He mean when He said "turn the other cheek"? And why the reference to the RIGHT cheek, which naturally leads to the "other" cheek being the LEFT. Why the specificity? Why did He not simply say "if someone hits your cheek, turn to him the one he did not hit".

First, in those days, as it is now, it is a right handed world. How does one strike one on the right cheek with the right hand? Certainly, in that culture, it would not have been with an open left palm...using the left hand was reserved for "unclean things". That is one of the reasons left handedness was so scorned in days of old. So, to use the left hand to strike someone meant you were using your unclean hand and the humility was on you, not them! Moreover, it was technically against the law to strike anyone with an open palm or closed fist; it certainly was against the law to strike an equal; the only "lawful" strike was when a superior struck his/her subordinate, and the only way permitted by law was with the back of the right hand. A backhanded slap on the right cheek...the instrument of humility and degradation.

The key is that one was only allowed to strike a subordinate (slave owner striking slave, husband striking wife, parent striking child, Roman striking Jew, rich Jew striking poor Jew, aristrocrat striking regular folk) Because of this, by backhanding someone on the right cheek you were saying "you are less than me, less than human, I have power over you, to degrade and humiliate you".

When Jesus told those who were being backhanded in this humiliating way to "turn to them the other cheek also", He basically was saying "steal their power and take it for yourself". First, the very act of "turning them the other cheek" meant that they turned their face back towards the oppressor and looked them in the eye...this is the act of an equal. Secondly, by turning the left cheek as an invitation for another strike, they were essentially saying "try again, you failed the first time, you have not achieved your intended effect, I am not humiliated, I am not degraded, you have not stolen anything from me, I do not give you power over me, and in fact, I am your equal and I dare you to strike me again".

If the oppressor was to strike again in the same backhanded manner, he would be breaking the law (something very undignified in that strict Jewish culture); so the only alternative would be to strike the offered left cheek, which meant he would have to use either an open right hand slap, or a closed right hand fist, which would have been an admission to the person whom they had backhanded that "you are now my equal". A bit of a quandary, and Jesus knew it!

So, Jesus was neither saying "fight", nor was He saying "be passive and docile". He was teaching a whole new, and revolutionary thing about taking back power, and realizing dignity. To the people of the day this teaching was radical! He was telling them YOU ARE EQUAL to all those who oppress and rule over you, and here is how you balance the power. More about that (power) when I post next on what He meant when teaching about giving up your coat, and going the extra mile. Then I'll summarize it all on how understanding power and understanding what Jesus was teaching, can translate into our day to day dealings with conflict and oppression.

Oh, this is fun!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

More on Non Violent Communication

A few posts ago I made a recommendation for a book that I've been reading (and studying) called Non Violent Communication, A Language of Life, by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It has me excited!

I've read the book, and a couple of others on the same subject, also published by PuddleDancer Press, and have now found a Compassionate Communication network here in BC. The network is a group of people, all of whom value this type of life giving communication; they offer training, and practise groups all over the province. I found my training event, an 8 week session that starts in April!! Compassionate Communication is the perfect compliment to the conflict resolution training that I've just completed, and am sooo excited to be taking my learning to another plain.

So, what exactly is Non Violent Communication (NVC) or Compassionate Communication?? And how does it speak "life"?

The premise is that all behavior is in direct link to a need...in other words, we act because we need. And we seldom truly know what that need is, that drives our behavior, which in the case of communication, is our reaction to things we see or hear. We see or hear something, a feeling is generated, that feeling is linked to a need we have, and depending on what that need is, and whether it is or is not being fulfilled, we then "behave" or "react" accordingly. Sound complicated?

Let me demonstrate; this is a little, true life experience that happened just last week and the names have not been changed to protect the innocent. LOL.

On Thursday, I had a papt test (I happen to suspect that I have no male readers), and when I got home from work, in the kitchen, puttering alongside Jim, I commented "my day started with a papt test" and his response? "big deal". Can you visualize my reaction?

I was immediately, and I mean, instantly, ticked off...mad even and my words demonstrated that. The reaction was so instant, like it was a default position. Jim and I had one of our typical "bicker" sessions, nothing too hurtful or destructive, but all the same, not life giving.

Later, I got to thinking about NVC, pondering the questions that NVC teachs you to ask, such as, what was I feeling when I first heard Jim say "big deal" and what need was the "trigger" for that feeling. Now, it's obvious that I was feeling "ticked" or "angry", but those feeling are usually self protective, "cover" feelings, that cloak what is really going on. So I unpacked it more,and got down to what it was I was needing, which is always the "heart of the matter". When I heard "big deal", I was hurt because I value (need) understanding and empathy expressed through verbal affirmation. Rather than express that I was hurt because I value understanding and empathy, and make a request for same, I reacted in anger, making a demand for same. The best defense to hurt feelings is offending someone elses.

Once I was able to discern that my need for understanding and empathy had not been met and that was why I reacted the way I did, I was able to give myself the compassion and empathy I needed; I was also able to ask God for it. Once I dealt with my own feelings, I was then free to hunch out Jim's...what unmet need compelled him to react to my initial comment the way he did? Again, after pondering, it occurred to me; out of respect for him, I'll not go into detail, but suffice it to say, I tend to complain alot, while he seldom complains at all. I tend to see the negative while he usually sees the positive, and this "complaint" about my papt was just one more thing. This realization opened up a whole prospect of how I can contribute in a healthy way to the life of our relationship.

That essentially is NVC...see/hear a behavior, note the feeling it compels, determine the need the feeling relates to, and make a request that enables that need to be met. And once you've taken care of your feelings and needs, take the same care and compassion towards the other persons feelings and needs.

Like I said, life giving!

Why is this life giving? Because God created us in His image; this means that we are built to want to meet peoples needs; as the blood drive says, "it's in us to give". We do not respond to demands, but we almost always want to go the extra mile to meet a need, including, and hopefully, especially, the needs of those we love. So when we learn how to suss out our needs, how our needs compel our feelings, and how our feelings compel our words, and deeds, we are so much closer to living and speaking true "life" giving life.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Relationship CPR

So, you are a manager with an employee who has a certain behavior that you don't like; lets say they are chronically late, and otherwise, a good employee. Or lets say you have a teenager who repeatedly ignores your requests to clean up their room. You have lost count of how many times you've talked about the behavior that needs correction, and nothing changes. You see some improvement for awhile and eventually, the behavior that disappoints you returns. What do you do?

Fire them? Ground them? Find some other way to punish?

How about performing relationship CPR.

Here's what I mean. Let's use the chronically late employee as the example.

The first time you confront the employee about being late, the discussion is about CONTENT, which is the subject of lateness. You only talk about the expectations for the time that the work day starts, with something like this:

"your starting time is 8:30; this means the work that is done at your desk needs to be started by 8:30, which in turn means you are expected to report to your desk giving yourself enough time to hang up your coat, get your coffee and start your day by that time".

As a result of this first time discussion about content (lateness) the employee makes a committment to arriving at work in time to do her pre-work routine so she is at her desk and ready to go by 8:30.

It lasts a few weeks and then she starts arriving late again. After a few more days of this behavior, you have a 2nd conversation. This time however, don't go back to talking about content (lateness) Rather, this time you are going to talk about PATTERN/PROMISES. Again, the conversation is straight forward, no hinting, no beating around the push. You might want to say something like this:

"the last time we talked about lateness, you made a committment to arrive to work on time. You kept your promise for awhile, and I'm proud of you for that. Now I see an emerging pattern of lateness again. You are expected to be here on time and you are expected to keep your promises about that"

Again, you see improvement for several weeks until the pattern of lateness returns. After giving it a few days, you have a 3rd conversation. This time, you are not going to talk about content (lateness) or pattern (broken promises) This time you are going to talk about your mutual RELATIONSHIP...ie: how the broken promises over the lateness is affecting how you and her work together. Here's what I would say:

"When you and I first talked, it was made clear when your start time is. You made a promise to be on time, and for awhile you kept it. Not so long after that though, you broke your committment to be on time, and it's happening again. I want you to know that I'm becoming concerned over how you and I can work together. I'm having difficulty trusting you and am getting a sense that you do not respect my leadership or this organization. How can we fix this?"

People seldom intend to break promises and erode the trust of others, so when faced with the reality that this is what is happening, they often begin to finally take it seriously. Talk about the content each and every time a confrontation is needed, and nothing changes; talk about the effect of broken promises and harmed relationships, and you are at the heart of the matter, and this prompts change.

If done respectfully, it is in the relationship discussion, that both parties are enabled to really open up and be authentic. You might find out things that you never knew before, like stuff happening at home for the employee that had been driving the behavior. This is where creativity happens, and brainstorming results in solutions that make it possible for you to continue working together. Moreover, mutual respect is built upon.

This is CPR...the first time you confront, it's about the behavior; the second time you have to confront, it's about the pattern and the broken promises; the third time you confront, it's about the relationship, how trust has become eroded, and respect seems to have declined. CPR is effective in any situation, any relationship, whether it be work, parenting, or partnering. And just like the real CPR, it can save a whole lot of grief if done with compassion and respect.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Observing Without Interpreting

....or other wise entitled, "the judgements we make".....

For a couple of years now, I have taken young people who have no experience in my field, and have trained them. One of the things that they are required to learn well, is "reporting". On each assignment, and after the investigation, we are required to write a report to the client explaining everything from what happened, to how and why it happened, to how the claimant is or is not reacting. We are also required to include a recommendation. It has been my experience that one of the most difficult points to get across is that we are to do this without judgement and opinion.

If only I had a dollar for everytime I coached one of my trainees, "write about the behavior you observed, do not give it an interpretation or meaning, stick to what you observed"

We see our son sitting on the sofa, watching TV, while the dishs sit in the sink and we interpret "he's lazy".

We see a woman shoulder her way into a line and we interpret "she's rude".

We hear our spouse lament that they are not getting their way and we interpret "he/she is selfish"

Rather than observe what "they do", we judge what "they are" (based on the interpretation we assigned to the behavior we saw) and we seldom, if ever, recognize the true feelings that were "triggered" in ourselves, when we observed the behavior. All we know is "it made us angry" (or usually, "THEY made me angry", which is a superficial emotion that covers up most other emotions)But I digress.

This interpretation of behavior is judgement. And because judging tends to give us an unconscious sense of superiority, we do not see the need to clarify what it was we actually saw.

The "lazy" son could be sick, or immobilized by depression, or simply needing mindless escape. We won't know if we don't get past the judgement and become curious instead.

The "rude" lady could be frantic about a missed deadline and in a "life or death" hurry, or panicked and distracted and simply unaware that there was a line.

Our "selfish" spouse could simply be wanting to be heard, or have their needs met and don't know how to communicate that well enough.

One of the things that Jesus did, and did with intention, was get curious. He never judged behavior He observed; He asked questions. Rather than assign His own meaning, He requested explanation.

If we learn how to observe without interpreting, and instead get curious about what we saw (which does not mean we interrogate..more on this another time) , we are more than half way to effective, peace filled communication.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Check the Self Talk

This one is slightly off topic, in that, it's not really about conflict resolution, though actually, now that I think about it, perhaps it is. Perhaps it's about resolving the conflict we create in ourselves. Hmmmmmm?

This evening I was chatting with a very special lady on facebook, and made a comment about my self talk and she said "sounds like a blog post" and voila..here I am.

A few weeks ago, prompted about a comment I read about judging ourselves and others harshly, I decided to pay attention to my self talk. This is not something that is new to me. Having taught a spiritual healing 12 step for several years, "self talk" is something that we learned to be cognitive about. What we tell ourselves about ourselves is what we believe. Where the new learning came in, was the idea that how we (meaning, I) self talk is a good indicator on whether we (meaning, I) judge harshly or not.

Here is what I mean. Let's say I have a "should", in that, there is something that I "should" or "should not" do. I either don't it, or I do it, either way, I've blown my "should". Ideally, when I blow a "should" I am best served by a reaction that is both compassionate and forgiving towards myself. By that I mean, observe the behavior without assigning a harsh meaning or judgement to it, as in "Ok, I did or I didn't do something (that I "should"), now what am I going to do about it, and how am I going to learn from it?"

Observe the behavior, learn from it, try not to do it again. Period. That is how we learn and grow.

But what I tend to do instead, is judge myself as having failed, and berate myself for the failure. My judging self talk can be quite harsh...."you idiot", "how stupid can you get", etc etc. This kind of self talk does not motivate change; you cannot learn from it; it only "punishs". And no matter what anyone says, we humans do not learn and grow from punishment. We might change some outward behavior to avoid more punishment, but the heart remains the same.

I believe that the more we judge ourselves by harsh self talk, the more we are determined to "get it right", (to avoid those feelings of failure), the more we strive, the more we fail, and the more the cycle continues, until we spiral, perhaps even into depression. Judging self talk becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Rather simply observing the behavior of "I did" or "did not", we begin to believe "I am" or "am not"...as in "I am stupid" or "I am not good".

The scary thing....if I observe and judge my own behavior this way, what is stopping me from observing and judging another's behavior in the exactly the same way. If I see their behavior, and do not agree with it, my thoughts will tend to "oh, that's stupid", or "what an idiot". How, with those ideas in my head about that person, can I expect a compassionate, authentic relationship with them?

As I said earlier tonight in the chat, we (or perhaps just me) need to learn compassion and empathy towards ourselves so that we can have compassion and empathy towards others. I really do believe that you can't have one without the other. Jesus said, "love God, and love others, as you love yourself". Perhaps He could just as easily said "you will love God, and you will love others, the same way you love yourself".

Just a thought.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


You ever get so busy that you forget you have a blog? It's amazing how life happens, and you end up wondering where did all the time go? Then, tonight, when I remembered I have a blog, and logged in, I was stunned to see that it's been since early February that I had anything to say.

I'll blame it on the Vancouver 2010, Winter Olympics. What a hoot that was!! There was such a ground swell of emotional pride in this city, and Canadians, whom I believe have always loved this country, were wearing it loud and proud! Every where you went, people were in a good mood, interconnecting, talking, chatting, high fiving one another; it felt good. Last Sunday, several weeks after the Olympics have come and gone, mom and I went to the movies. We got into a conversation with strangers in the line up (yes, Avatar still has line ups!) and then, once in the theatre, with strangers seated next to us. Later, mom said, "I don't think I've ever talked for so long to so many strangers", and we both wondered if that was the legacy Vancouver 2010 left behind...strangers who are willing to chat up other strangers. I hope so. It feels good.

I could allow this to seque into a post about interconnection, conflict and strangers, but haven't the energy right now. Instead, I'm going to talk about a resource I've found.

Since 2003, when I started to study conflict, and conflict resolution, I've read dozens, and I mean, dozens of books. I've read biblical conflict resolution books, secular ones, university textbooks on the subject, and personal journals. That is how I learn, and each book has had something great to offer. But I must say, the book I am reading now, is by far and away, the best book I have ever read on the subject.

It is called Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, by Marshall B Rosenberg, Ph.D. Here is the description on the rear cover...

"Most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand and diagnose - to think and communicate in terms of what is right and wrong with people. At best, communicating and thinking this way can create misunderstanding and frustration. And still worse, it can lead to anger, depression, and even emotional or physical violence"

The book talks about how ANY communication that leaves one feeling hurt, wounded, little, alone, is violent communication and violent communication has nothing to do with physical, violent contact. Words that wound the soul are words borne in violent communication.

Gandhi taught that passive violence - violence where the hurt is more emotional than physical - is actually more insidious than physical violence, because passive violence ultimately generates anger in a person that over time corrodes that persons faith, hope and eventually, love. Whoever said "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" had no clue!

So, if there is only ONE book you can read about conflict, and communication, this is the one. It is published by PuddleDancer Press, and you can check it out online at www.nonviolentcommunication.com. It has a companion workbook.