by Miki Kashtan
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Even when I feel scared and unsure of myself, I want to share the truth that lives in me with others while maintaining care and compassion for others and for myself. If I find myself hiding or protecting, I want to seek support to embrace the opportunity to expand my sense of self and transcend shame.
When people refer to Nonviolent Communication as Compassionate Communication, I have a sense of loss, because compassion does not capture for me the full depth and complexity of nonviolence. We can have compassion without the radical ripping of the heart open and making ourselves available to endure whatever will come our way in order to live in full integrity with love and compassion. We can have compassion without the radical truth telling that nonviolence rests on. It’s no accident that Gandhi called what he was doing “experiments in truth.”
For those who have been hiding our truth, this commitment is an invitation to come out and expose it, overcome the fear, overcome the shame, trust inner wisdom, accept self, and be bold. For as long as acceptance depends on hiding the truth about who we are, it remains suspect, temporary, elusive. Choosing vulnerability is a spiritual path not often taken on, often requiring the willingness to risk losing everything for truth.
Conversely, for those whose only form of sharing “truth” has been judgments and criticism without regard to how they will affect others, this commitment is an invitation to embrace care, to soften the truth without giving up on any bit of it.
Both of these require letting go of protection. Although hiding our truth may seem more obviously protected, criticism and judgment are also a form of protection, a way of hiding, sometimes even from ourselves, the depth of pain, fear, helplessness, or despair that are at the core of the expression.
This commitment calls on us to trust two things at once: that every truth can be connected with deeply enough inside us that we can say it with care and kindness, and that whatever response comes our way we can survive emotionally. We can use this faith to keep experimenting with speaking our truth, to keep undefending ourselves until there is nothing left but the soft, unprotected, and glorious heart that we each have.
Practice: Moving towards authenticity and vulnerability can be overwhelming and daunting even while freeing us to be, truly, our fullest, most human selves. Remember that you need not jump start yourself into some ideal way of being. All that matters, especially when it comes to those places we feel shame about, is to take baby steps. Commit to trying, every day, to find one thing to say to someone that ordinarily you would hide and protect, either by not expressing it at all, or by expressing it in a way that makes it harsh and uninviting. Over time, you will learn through experience that vulnerability brings you back to life.
Miki Kashtan is a co-founder of Bay Area Nonviolent Communication (BayNVC). She is inspired by the role of visionary leadership in shaping a livable future, and works toward that vision by sharing the principles and practices of Nonviolent Communication through mediation, meeting facilitation, consulting, and training for organizations and for committed individuals. Miki blogs at the Fearless Heart. Her articles have appeared in Tikkun magazine (e.g.Wanting Fully Without Attachment), Waging Nonviolence (e.g. Pushing the powerful into a moral corner at India’s Barefoot College), Shareable, and elsewhere.