I liked to wish all of my readers a happy whatever you celebrate Ramadan, Hanukkah, Christmas, the Solstice, or Kwanzaa. I am celebrating Christmas with my family in the South and enjoying the warmth before I head back to my snowy residence in New England. My holiday message to you:
Remember, Peace on Earth is not just for Christmas anymore!
I sometimes believe that it has become easy for us to just walk by those that appear to be living on the streets pretending we just don’t see them. We just assume in our little minds that they are not “help-able” or that there is nothing we can do. I can assure you that is bullshit! There is lots you can do if you choose to do it.
-You can buy a person who is homeless some lunch!
-Volunteer at a shelter even if it is just one or two days a month.
-If you can think of nothing else, when you walk by them on the street, say “hello” and smile rather than pretending you don’t see them. They see you.
This is a great story about a woman in Philly who is helping homeless men regain their self-confidence by getting them to go running. She gave up a dream job in communications to go out there and make a difference. I am inspired to watch this story.
A California man has been arrested for refusing to kick out homeless clients who have been living in tents and trailers on his ranch. Change.org is reporting:
For eight years, Dan de Vaul has operated a residential sobriety program on his sprawling 72-acre ranch in San Luis Obispo. While many formerly homeless addicts credit de Vaul with their sobriety, he was arrested today for building code violations that violated the terms of his probation. Should de Vaul be praised for his efforts to house the homeless or punished for doing so illegally?
Pictured after the jump, the residential facilities on de Vaul’s ranch were a mix of trailers, tents, garden sheds, and old converted houses and barns. The LA Times reported that De Vaul has received numerous orders to shut down the center, kick out the residents, and clean up his property. Yet, as soon as the authorities go away, he lets the sober-living clients back in.
Call it a blatant disregard for the law? Or an unapologetic desire to do what he believes is right?
Either way, de Vaul’s defiance has landed him in prison. Two months ago, a jury convicted him of two misdemeanor building code violations. He was sentenced to probation, under which he could not break any laws. Since he again refused to displace the residents of his sobriety program, he was arrested and sentenced to prison for 90 days.
“I’m proud to go to jail for housing the homeless,” he told reporters.
The following article appeared in the December 2009 edition of Options Magazine in Rhode Island.
If you have ever seen the film, “Home for the Holidays” staring Robert Downey, Jr. where bitter battles, flying turkey dinners and screaming matches are just as much a theme for the holidays as cranberry sauce or potato pancakes, you know that the holiday season can bring out family conflicts. A holiday dinner can have simple questions provoking sarcastic comments, opposing political viewpoints turning into heated angry debates or boyfriend choices turning into slamming dishes.
One of the reasons we end up in conflict is because we listen to the words people choose rather than the message behind them. Psychologists have been telling us for decades that all behavior, including our words, is an attempt to get our basic human needs met. Psychologist and creator of the process known as Nonviolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg claims that human beings are only saying two things, “Please” and “Thank you.” While we have many versions of expressing these two things, we are really only asking people to “please” meet our needs or expressing gratitude when our needs are met. When we listen to the needs and feelings behind difficult messages, we are able to stay in a place of compassion.
We have four basic choices of how we can hear and respond to difficult messages. The first choice is to fight back. This means redirecting the message back to the speaker. This includes competing to prove rightness or wrongness. For example we might say, “Well if you hadn’t…” or “You know the problem with you is…” This choice tends to put the speaker in a “fight or flight” defensive state rather than a place of connection. In this mind frame, people tend to be more concerned with being right than hearing each other.
The second choice is to turn the message on ourselves. It usually sounds like “If only I was a better…” or “I know, I am terrible at these things…” This response tends to turn our focus away from the speaker and into a self-loathing session in our heads. It prevents us from being fully present to what the speaker is really saying and does little for our self-esteem.
The third and fourth choices focus on listening for “please” and “thank you.” We can hear the speaker’s message and try to connect with what comes alive within us in response. What are we “feeling and needing” in response to what we are hearing or seeing. Just being aware of this can help to keep us focused on being compassionate rather than judgmental.
Lastly, we have the choice to check in with the speaker about what is going on for them. It means hearing the “please” and “thank you” buried in their message regardless of how sarcastic, judgmental or thoughtless we believe the words they chose may be. We don’t listen to the words. We listen for the needs being expressed. For example, someone who states “talking to you is like talking to a wall” might really be expressing a need to be heard. Someone who states, “You are ruining your life” might really be expressing fear and a need for security for you. Rosenberg states, “Every moral judgment, snappy remark or evaluation of others is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” If we listen to the human needs and not the poor choose of words, we hear a completely new conversation.
Here is the flying turkey clip from the film: Home for the Holidays
Watch on YouTube
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If you are looking for gifts this season either for Hanukkah, Christmas, the Winter Solstice or whatever you celebrate, I would like to request you think about the environment. Remember all that paper you wrap gifts with comes from trees and contains chemical dyes, The decorations you buy, especially the inflatable snow globes on the front lawn, are basically items awaiting the landfill. Many artificial trees are made of plastic that will be around longer than Christmas itself will. This is all stuff we will eventually throw away. The catch is when you say “away” where is that?
Each year dozens of people buy a “little something” for their neighbors, the mailman, Johnny’s teacher’s pet hamster, etc….Many of those gifts are meaningful because we are taking time to show others we care about them and we were thinking of them during the holiday. We do try our best not to forget anyone or let anyone think for a moment they were not considered this season. The problem is that many of these thoughtful gifts are not things people need or want. Cheap vases, small figurines, plastic ornaments, plastic cookie boxes are all gifts that sound just lovely and use tons of fossil fuels to create. Plastic ornaments are actually made from fossil fuels, then transported from China on huge ships that burn fossil fuels, then shipped in trucks to Walmart while burning even more fossil fuels. One could guess it takes several barrels of oil just to make one little smiling plastic Grinch ornaments to hang on your tree.
The holidays are a time to gather with friends, family, and coworkers and celebrate our human community. It has also become the heart and soul of capitalism and our ongoing addiction to “stuff” we don’t need, won’t keep, and eventually will “throw away” wherever “away” might be. I would like to make just a few suggestions. Most of these came because I myself am going to some friend’s house over the holiday and I don’t want to buy stupid little gifts just to give a gift. I want to give people gifts that they can use and enjoy that won’t be landfill material later. These ideas of based on what I read and also what I have observed from the last 40 years of holidays.
For off: Thousands, if not millions of people have been buying stupid little figurines, cheap vases and holiday ornaments for decades. You can find many of them in landfills and you can also find them in second hand stores, antique shops and holiday rummage sales. Rather than buying new stuff to add to the cycle of regifts, buy ones that are already in the regifting system. There are some great gifts waiting to be found at the local second hand store. (Remember to re-use and recycle)
Second, avoid gift baskets of “products” that are bottled up in plastics. Only around 1% of all the plastics we make are actually recycled. While shampoo and hand cream do make nice gifts all the extra packaging involved in this baskets is going to be trash. The basket itself may also be made of plastic. If you are going to do gift baskets, make them. Go to a second hand shop and buy a basket (reuse) and then fill it with up with products that people would use anyway rather than stuff they will throw away. Skip the plastic bow too!
Buy local goodies! Chances are your local area has at least one winery, gift shop, bakery or candy store where the products are made locally. Giving gifts made locally means less fossil fuels were used in the production of the products. Wine, cheese, candles, pies and candies are just some of the items you are likely to find locally that make great gifts with little packaging. Buying local means that trucks and ships were not used to ship stuff all over the place.
Organic Coffee and Tea is a great gift for people. Buying organic means that no chemicals or pesticides were used in the production of the products. You can buy these locally too! Depending where you live, it is likely you can find local stores who are roasting their own coffee beans and who care where those beans came from. Some coffee beans where grown in places using slave child labor, or by companies that take advantage of their workers. When you buy organic, also read the label to see from which country the beans where shipped and how they were harvested. If it doesn’t say it came from people friendly places, it might not have. I proudly endorse my favorite coffee which I still buy when I can….The Coffee Exchange in Providence, Rhode Island.
When possible, use this season as a teaching moment and explain to your kids why they don’t need the “big” gift of the season. Each year toy companies create hot items they claim will be impossible to get. Lines will go around the corner to get these items while truckloads of them will sit ready to feed the frenzy. Commercials will convince children that it won’t be Christmas if they don’t get “X” gift. This may be the first chance you get to prevent your child from being indoctrinated into the world of materialism and stuff-based society. Capitalism teaches us that we need something outside and extrinsic to be happy. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Parents often think they are making their kids happy by getting them cabbage patch kids, tickle me elmo or xbox 360. In reality, parents do more harm than good by teaching kids they need a “Zu-Zu Pet” to be happy. Teach them young that to be happy, they need to learn to like themselves without the perfect jeans, the perfect bike, the perfect [fill in blank with “stuff” item] because the greatest gift you can give a child is the ability to find inner happiness without Zu-Zu pets.
I would think and hope that by now, you get the point I am trying to make with this article. Think about the products you buy this season. Avoid excessive packaging and for god sake avoid thinking that any item you can buy is worth trampling other human beings at the opening of the doors of a store. Try to buy items that people need rather than stuff you give just to have a gift to give. Make donations in their name to the food pantry or their favorite charity. There are endless ways to keep the spirit of the season without killing the earth, killing our souls and teaching our children that all this material crap is the path to peace and Happiness.
Enjoy Your Holidays and remember that Peace! It’s not just for Christmas anymore!
I came across this video because I follow the NVC Academy blog called, “Teach Empathy” and they posted the link. It also happens to be that I am currently reading the book, The Age of Empathy. One of the concepts de Waal proposes in his book is that the idea of competition in nature does not hold the disregard for life as might be proposed by some humans. He also writes that the famous words, “survival of the fittest” are no where to be found in Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species and that those ideas of Social Darwinism aren’t really Darwin at all. The ideas really came from a philosopher named, Herbert Spencer. Instead, de Waal proposes that by nature we evolved to be empathetic creatures because it helped mothers raise their young. It also helped to develop social groups that many mammals and birds develop for security. In short, the book explains that empathy is very natural for us. When I finally finish the book, which needs to be prior to running out of renewals at the library, I will write a review of it. In the meanwhile, enjoy the interview with Frans de Waal. He is also a very interesting speaker.
I was reading a friend’s Facebook page and I saw they called someone who is against gay marriage a “bigot” and I immediately felt disappointed on a number of different levels. The first one being that I wish more people would begin to see gays and lesbians from a more realistic and scientific viewpoint rather than these religious views that tend to ignore the humanity of those involved. I was disappointed my friend was driven to the point of anger that he had to write someone off as a label. The second reason I felt disappointed is that I have grown to very much dislike the word “bigot” because the way I see it, you need to become a bigot to call someone else a bigot.
You see, the dictionary defines a bigot as “a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices.” I would take that to mean that in order for me to label someone else a bigot I need to stubbornly be devoted to my opinion that this person cannot or will not ever change their opinion. In other words, I need to be a bigot towards them to call them a bigot towards me. This relentless cycle of name calling wastes a good deal of time that could actually be used to create some meaningful change rather than increased animosity on both sides.
I don’t want you to think I don’t understand the where and why people call each other bigots. I do understand that to reach that point in our anger means we have written off another person as a person and now deemed them a thing that is unchangeable. We have put their humanity and viewpoints to the side and deemed them nothing more than a label. I am a little concerned that writing people off as a thing is a valuable way to create the world in which we are hoping to reside. It reminds me of that famous quote from Einstein:
“You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”
I find it hard to believe we can solve the problems of intolerance from an energy of intolerance. I do think, if we dig down deep enough, we can find the strength it takes to face all intolerance, bigotry and hate with a relentless compassion and empathy. I know the concept sounds radical and I realize some have not even read to this paragraph without rolling their eyes and deeming me as naive. Either way, I think Einstein was on to something.
When President Obama made the decision to send more troops off to a war with which I strongly disagree, more than a few of my peacemaking friends took to calling him a “war monger” and a “hypocrite.” Again, I understand the anger that drives such name calling. I share that anger. I believe this war is “unwinnable” by current means. My thoughts on the war, of course, are an entirely different post. What surprised me is that many of those who deemed the president a “war monger” are people who I respect for the peacework I see them do. It surprises me to hear them use such labels because they too have been studying the ways of Gandhi, King and Nonviolence. It saddens me to see them slip from having compassion and empathy to the use of verbal violence and labeling.
To conclude my little tirade, (I think I am mostly venting) I guess I would request that we rethink our approach toward those with whom we disagree. That we really use the message of King and Gandhi to fight intolerance with tolerance, hatred with love and fight violence with nonviolence. That we rethink this idea that we can name call others into seeing our point of view, our needs and our hopes is in anyway going to make the change we seek. More so, that we rethink the idea that we can make change without truly seeing the roots of people’s bigotry and changing it rather than writing them off as a label.
I will be presenting a free workshop in January at the Dae Yen Sa International Buddhist Temple and Mediation Center in New Hartford, CT. I am excited to do this workshop because the setting will allow for more minds to be exposed to the concepts and ideas of Nonviolence packaged into a process we can use everyday. After studying the work of Gandhi, ML King, and other teachers of nonviolence, Nonviolent Communication™ (NVC) has been the most natural and purposeful way of living the messages of these great teachers that I have ever found.
You can see the Facebook page for this event here. Please post it to your wall and share it with your friends. I greatly appreciate your support in helping me to spread the word to make this a successful event for everyone involved.
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"Be the change you wish to see in the world"
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"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Martin Luther King Jr.
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