When I was 16-18, I went to some demonstrations. The cause of the demonstrations was very dear to me (peace), yet I felt very uncomfortable with the atmosphere. It took me some 25 years to name what didn’t work for me: The demonstrations themselves didn’t embody the qualities they wanted to bring to the world. You can hear it in the paradox “People were fighting for peace”*. The whole atmosphere of the demonstrations carried violence against somebody or something (against politicians, against different opinions, against the police or the army…). There was a big discrepancy between WHAT we tried to bring and the HOW we did it. In a very cellular and unconscious way, I could not trust it. It seemed that without noticing, we were re-creating the very paradigm we were trying to change.
* For clarity: I do not think it is ‘bad’ to fight for peace. For example, I have many friends in Ukraine or in Israel now who are fighting for peace or for democracy. I have no clue what is the good/right way to go. The only thing I do know is that I am inspired by something I wish to share here below, which is: what is the sort of activism I am after.
The activism of my heart: ‘Be the need you want to see in the world’
In the activism of my heart, when I want to change the world/change people, I am focused not only on WHAT I want to change, but even more on HOW I am doing it.
I call it ‘Be the need you want to see in the world’ (my version of Gandhi’s sentence). If I want to change/teach anything to others, my intention is to live this very quality I wish them to learn. People (like children) learn mostly from experience, from absorption (imitation) – much more than from the words I tell them.
So often, when I try to teach people or invite them to change, without noticing, I teach them something very different by HOW I teach it.
For example, I was mediating a couple where the woman screamed at her partner: “Why are you always speaking so aggressively to the children???”.
I seriously doubt that he learnt to be softer from that exchange…
Another example: I was in a session with parents and children. A child grabbed a toy from another child. Then their parent took the toy away and said: “We do not take toys from other children”.
The ‘WHAT’ was: an attempt to teach about not taking toys / care for others.
The ‘HOW’ was actually demonstrating taking a toy from the very child they wanted to teach…
I see this phenomenon happening so often and on so many levels of exchanges between people.
In any act of activism, whether it is to promote animal rights, to raise awareness of systemic oppression or to bring NVC consciousness into your relationships and the world, you are trying to bring something new. And while trying to bring something new, often the first reaction you receive is a certain resistance from the other. Receiving resistance is a tough moment for humans: You are trying to bring something that is dear and vulnerable to your heart (such as animal rights, or trying to practice guessing feelings and needs of a person in your life), and then you are met with resistance (“Yes, but people need to eat healthily, and meat is full of nutrients.” or “Is this the new technique you are learning in this self-development course you are taking with this Israeli guy?”).
When I bring something new, what I most wish to receive is an openness towards what I am trying to bring. I believe that the way I react to resistance is maybe the most important moment in bringing about change: If I want the person to be open to what I am bringing, I want to live openness towards them and towards their resistance (‘be the need you want to see in the world’).
Resistance carries a message. If I am not open to hear the message, there will be no openness towards what I am bringing:
For example, I often get into this dialogue while teaching NVC:
Person (expressing resistance): Yoram, when you say that there is no such thing as good and bad, I worry. This is dangerous, because there are things that are bad: Don’t you think that raping or killing is bad?
Me (in self-connection = ‘self-connection’ means the inner dialogue I have in my head): Oh shit… How can I explain this to this person… I fear that this person and the group will not be open to NVC… I hate that it sounds as if we have different opinions, I so wish to meet in a place where we have no difference in opinions.
Me (in empathy): Is it that you want to protect them from such horrible things?
Person: Of course.
Me (in expression): Me too! With all my might!
In that moment, I was actually teaching that there is no such thing as good and bad. My first impulse was to try to convince the person that I am right that there is no such thing as good and bad. If I had not noticed, I would have been demonstrating exactly the opposite of what I am trying to teach!
Here is another example:
Person (expressing resistance): Yoram, when you share your vulnerability at the beginning of a workshop are you using a trick? Is it an NVC technique?
Me (in self-connection): This is painful to hear… I fear the person will never trust me, thinking I am using tricks to manipulate… I fear now everyone will think that I am manipulating… I so wish for people to trust me. And I want to be seen in my honesty).
Me (empathy): Are you wondering if it is a trick I am using?
Me (empathy): Is it that you want to know what my true motivation is behind doing that?
Me (self-connection): YEY ! They want honesty. Me too 🙂
Me (expression): My instruction to myself at the beginning of a workshop is to reveal whatever is there in me, my honesty. It is not necessarily something vulnerable. It is whatever is there. I do it because being honest helps me to find my place in the group and connects me to my inner power to lead a group. Indeed, often what comes out of me at the beginning is that I feel insecure when I meet people I do not know and I think I am responsible for making their weekend meaningful… but not always. And thank you for checking my honesty! I love it. This is exactly what I wish this workshop to be about!
Person: Ah, cool.
When a resistance is welcome, it is the beginning of building trust, and openness.
And, as a last example, a dialogue between me & myself while writing this newsletter:
Me: Come on, write a story for the newsletter
Myself: I want to work in the garden
Me (self connection): You always choose to do the things that are easier for you to do. You are becoming more and more lazy…. I am worried, I really want to use my energy to do meaningful things.
Me (Empathy to myself): Do you want to work in the garden?
Myself: Yes, I spent the whole of last weekend teaching, as well as every weekend for the last 5 weeks. I want to do something different!
Me: Sure, I get it. Enjoy the garden.
Myself (after 1 hour working in the garden): Ok, now I am fed up with gardening, I want to write the newsletter.
My style is to focus on the micro (managing change in myself and in my relationships), which gives me the trust to slowly build the skills towards the macro (changing the world). I am currently working on developing ideas for an alternative news YouTube channel… Hopefully, I will have more updates to share soon).
With hope for effective activism,