by Miki Kashtan
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Openness to Dialogue: even when I am very attached to a particular outcome, I want to remain open to shifting through dialogue. If I find myself defending a position or arguing someone else out of their position I want to seek support to release the attachment to outcome, connect with my needs and the needs of others, and aim for mutually supportive strategies to emerge from connection with needs.
On the face of it, this commitment appears to ask of us to have infinite capacity. Always be open to dialogue? With anyone? About anything? Any time they want it? Do we get to choose or honor our limits?
The key here is the distinction between the transformative inner experience of openness and the outer act of having an actual conversation with a particular person. This openness, like any inner state, is limitess. It’s the freedom to want fully without attachment. With our passions, with our opinions and causes, we can still cultivate the willingness to be affected by another’s experience or perspective and shift our path as a result.
Scheduling, mobilizing resources, and creating the conditions for dialogue to occur takes place on the material plane and are therefore finite. How do we then make decisions about when to engage in dialogue and when not?
Let’s not confuse honoring limits with withdrawing from dialogue based on an emotional upset. Instead, we can use upsetting moments and relationships as opportunities to come into full inner willingness. A few simple questions can then guide our actual choice: Is the other person available? If not, am I willing to mobilize my resources to pursue dialogue anyway? Do I know how to respond skillfully to what may arise in the conversation? Does this dialogue fit within my overall priorities and human limitations? Can I trust myself not to use “priority” as an excuse to discount other people, to avoid consulting with others before acting, or to trick myself into thinking that I am choosing when I am not fully present? The more structural power we have, the more vigilance is needed for honest discernment of upset from choice. No easy solutions here; only moving towards the intention to allow connection with needs, our own and others’, to be the moving force of life, the source of creative strategies.
1) Think of a person you have been choosing not to engage with, directly or indirectly (just notice the emails you haven’t responded to, for example). Work on opening your heart to being affected by the person, apply the criteria above to reach a clear decision, and communicate it to the person. Do this repeatedly. 2) If there is someone you choose not to be in dialogue with, or who chooses not to be in dialogue with you, consider what might be that person’s needs and perspectives, and open your heart to being affected by the insights that emerge. How might you shift your own choices in response?
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.