Tag Archives: Non-violent communication

Participation and communication pt. two: the stages of community building

The main reason for communities to break apart is conflict; conflict mostly caused through a lack of communication. When people get together and discover their freedom, they feel like there is new meaning in their collective but also individual lives. They mostly experience some kind of deep harmony. Scott Peck in his book ‘A different drum’ names this the first stage of community building, where we discover and live our similarities and common interests and goals. He calls this stage however ‘pseudo-harmony’ because during the phase of discovering new individual and collective meaning we tend to oversee each other’s vices.

Therefore the stage of ‘pseudo-harmony’ is mostly followed by the second stage, the stage of chaos and conflict. Most of us probably know this from relationships that seem so perfect in the beginning; often only until we start discovering each other’s differences. When conflict arises however, community often falls apart, because peaceful communication based on understanding and compassion is not something we’ve learnt or are acquainted with and therefore fails. This ends up in disappointment, defensive talking, assumptions, accusations which in turn end up in a lot of the early ideals losing their meaning.

So what is it that makes communities succeed when others fail?

According to Peck, the second stage should be followed by a third one: the stage of emptiness, introspection and self-reflection, trying to understand the other side as well as looking for the fault within ourselves. It is here that we realise the dimensions and the depth of the levels on which we have to work together. In conflict resolution, communication and self-observation are put to the test. If self-reflection is not achieved in a way that encourages participation, social sustainability is not achieved. Often parts of a community fall into a false acceptance, letting decisions just happen, not complaining to avoid further conflict; however with parts of the group staying emotionally unsatisfied.

The ideal of equality and the potential of collective wisdom are both lost through a lack of communication. Little communities that were looking to make a change in society end up mirroring that society that they wanted to change; structural hierarchy, authoritarian organisation, majority vote – structures that put one on top of the other and create winners and losers in a system of inequality.

If a couple, group or community reaches over that third stage of emptiness and goes towards an integrated harmony as a forth stage, they have completed the cycle, effectively dealing with conflict and setting up an organisational structure that is free and dynamic enough to be successful, sustainable while engaging every member in participation and fulfilling its up to highest potential. Any day, it might start the cycle anew.

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‘A Rose is not a Rose’

The Buddha said to Subhuti: “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagata.” – Sutra 5, Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra

The other night, full moon on the Thai island Samui, my family and I saw a more or less informal fireshow. Afterwards, we sat with the artist who turned out to be a slide of hand magician. The morning after, I woke up, realising I dreamt that I was present in a Sufi prayer ceremony; something I had never (at least not knowingly) witnessed before.

I don’t know how the slide-off-hand magician and the Sufi ceremony are interrelated, but yet the two incidences have something in common: they are both showing aspects of our minds; limitations and creativity resp.

The slide of hand magician uses his finesse to deceive our perception of reality, bringing us out of our usual thinking patterns: our minds, conditioned in a particular way is unable to classify these new experiences into one of its pockets and leaves us marvelling with wonder. Once we realise what is actually happening it feels like a leap in consciousness when in reality it is a simple insight, a quick restructuring of the patterns. In the dream I must have found refuge in a part of myself that hides in the subconscious and is far more creative and sophisticated than my mind in the waking state; still, in the end it must have been my mind that reorganised, restructured, or reinvented available patterns to reconstruct a conception of an already existing perception.

The Buddha in this little verse from the Diamond Sutra talks about the ‘signless nature of signs’. What he mentions is the emptiness of our preconceived concepts and ideas (signless nature) in the perception of objects, people or experiences (signs). Only by seeing this emptiness in all things, we ‘can see the Tathagata’ (‘coming from nowhere and going nowhere’). Our mind however is used to categorise all different perceptions according to previous experiences. The language that is used verbally or by the thinking mind is a static one, simple, insufficiently sophisticated to describe an ever-changing world of process, complexity and interrelations. (Rosenberg 2003)

In different situations, we call people lazy, stupid, bad or good; all judgements that say very little about who the persons really are and have little relation to the situation that made us cast this judgemental evaluation. In the same way we call people cooks, maids, diplomats or policemen; some of these generalisations like the latter one are often connoted with negative judgements that don’t need to be said, but are often heard. What these static labels, or the expression of these apparent signs don’t do, however, is express the totality of another person’s being. (Rosenberg 2003) In this regard, Thich Nhat Hanh describes, in his commentary on the Diamond Sutra, our perception based on signs as inaccurate and erroneous. The reason why they lead us into deception is the conceptualisation that takes away from reality and fails to describe the interrelations, the interbeing of everything. When we evaluate our observations or our perceptions, people tend to hear criticism instead of the intended message because they don’t feel sufficiently or rightly represented in our expression. (Rosenberg 2003)

Looking deeply into another person, we see that he/she is not self-existing. He/She is the environment, the culture, education and heredity that he/she was born in. There is an uncountable number of things that contribute to someone’s being. Only when we are able to see all of these interconnections we can say that we truly know a person. (Nhat Hanh 1992)

When we observe what we see, hear, or touch in the spirit of signlessness we are able to confront people and situations without evaluation them; then we can express clearly what affects us in a descriptive way based on time and context; say what actually happened instead of deliberately labelling perceptions; we can protect and cultivate the good qualities in us and in others. The slight of hand magician can leave us in wonder but not deceive us and the reality in the dream becomes the wonder of reality.

‘When the Buddha sees a rose, does he recognise it as a rose in the same way that we do? Of course he does. But before he says the rose is a rose, the Buddha has seen that the rose is not a rose. He has seen that it is made of non-rose elements, with no clear demarcation between the rose and those elements that are not the rose. When we perceive things, we generally use the sword of conceptualisation to cut reality into pieces, saying, “This piece is A, and A cannot be B, C, or D.” But when A is looked at in the light of dependent co-arising, we see that A is comprised of B, C, D and everything else in the universe. “A” can never exist by itself alone. When we look deeply into A, we see B, C, D, and so on. Once we understand that A is not just A, we understand the true nature of A and are qualified to say “A is A,” or “A is not A.” But until then, the A we see is just an illusion of the true A.’ – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond that cuts through illusion – Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond

The Ecovillage Sieben Linden

I started off my ‘Wanderjahr’ in the Ecovillage Sieben Linden in Germany, taking part in the Ecovillage Design Education by the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education. Following is some information about the village that we got on our first day. As I ll find time to work myself through my notes I ll post more information about the stuff we’ve learnt.

The idea of founding an ecovillage was formed in1989. In1993, aproject centre was bought where the core group stayed for four years before buying land in Sieben Linden. Today the village has around 120 to 130 citizen, of which 40 are children.

The village started off to ideally and experimentally be organised in different neighbourhoods around interests like healing, family, radical community living (Club99 inSieben Linden). People were able to move between the different neighbourhoods if they found themselves more attracted by a different interest groups. The size of 24 to 30 people in a neighbourhood would enable intimate relationships between the people. This concept should give the community a structure of different integrated support circles. This has not fully worked out and even though the concept of neighbourhoods still exist in Sieben Linden, individual places and homes start coming up.

The village Sieben Linden is a settlement cooperative. People that come and live there and want to become members of the community will pay their share, so that the community owns the land together. Ownership makes the people stay and see the land as “theirs”, making them recognise their responsibility. The fee to pay is around 12.300 Euro. The same amount is paid back to the person on departure, even though often it isn’t returned all together. There is a small loss to the one who leaves as the inflation rate is not integrated. A solidarity systems is available to help people that want to join and don’t have the money, so that individual solutions with loans can be found. Houses are built by individuals or groups with individual freedom whenever money is there. This makes the village designs an organic process and for some a bit chaotic.

The decision making in Sieben Linden started out with consensus decision, based on the ideal that the community should listen to all. As the group was small in the early years, having around 20 to 30 members, this was possible. As the community grew, this process became tiring, leading to a lot of “I can go along with that”, lukewarm agreements between the members. The solution that the community found was to combine decision making with building trust and organise the community in different delegations, the five elected councils of Sieben Linden: the landholding cooperative, the educational association, the building cooperative, the self-sufficiency council and the social council. These councils meet to take decisions in their field. This year in September a sixth council shall join them, the visionary council, consisting of elders and being a sort superordinate council to unite the other ones. The vision part represents for the villagers, next to the appropriate decision making process and the trust building, the third leg of a strong forward moving community. Today, decisions need to be fully agreed upon by 2/3 of the community members. Every individual is however able to step into his/her power and call out a veto. He/She has then two weeks to organise meetings and find more people to agree with the veto.

Most projects that break up, in Sieben Linden but also in other communities, do because of personal conflict. Therefore, some of the members of Sieben Linden use the non-violent communication method of Marshall Rosenberg to make themselves transparent.

Of the approximate 80 grown up members of the community, 50 persons are earning most of their money in being involved in the seminars inside of the village. There are approximately 4000 visitors every year. A lot of people earn additional money through giving seminars and consultancy related to community and ecovillage design outside of Sieben Linden. Other income are craft and building, 10 to 15 people working in this field, mostly in the village but also outside. Beside that there are subsistence workers in the village like the gardeners and the firewood collectors. The people from Sieben Linden pay 150 percent of the normal price for food that comes from inside of the village to be able to pay the gardeners higher wages.

In Sieben Linden, there are different gardeners that use different techniques. 70 to 80 percent of the vegetables that are eaten in the village are grown there. Reconsidering that there are 4000 visitors each year that eat from the same foot, 70 to 80 persent self-sufficienci is a lot. However, there are no grains or wheat grown. There are tunnel houses to grow tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants. Some gardeners have started to sell wild herbs and export their produce to restaurants and hotels. Every toilet in the village is a compost toilet, which doesn’t use water, so that the gray water is much less polluted than in most settlements. A reed bed system is cleaning the gray waters back to a drinking quality. This cleansed water is however used for the garden and will charge the groundwater again. The houses in Sieben Linden are mostly built of clay, wood and straw.­

Sieben Linden has a small commercial area where noisy businesses, such as woodcraft and electric engineering, are executed. There is a small household cash that villagers pay everyday for the community food and facilities.

A forest kindergarten exists, with two educators and 15 kids.  It is the wish of the villagers to start a free school for primary education somewhere in bicycle distance to the village to also attract children from the larger region. The kids that go to secondary school go by bus to the nearby town,30 kmaway from Sieben Linden. This gives them the opportunity to get out of the rural area and come in contact with the larger society.

It is the vision of Sieben Linden to become a settlement for 250 to 300 people. However, the villagers are well aware that the moving towards that goal should rather be a slow process so that the community and the resource use can follow in a sustainable way.

The cycle of violence…

What I ve remembered from the short non-violent communication workshop that was held on the London Permaculture Festival this year is mainly the set up of the cycle of Event, Feeling, Judgement and Punishment leading to another Event and deeper into the cycle, that is keeping us from finding a solution to our difficulties and communication problems.

It s very interesting to understand the cycle, so i ll try to explain it with a simple example. If I lie to my dad and he finds out, we have an Event that could create conflict. From that Event a Feeling will come, which might be anger. His anger will make him judge me for what i have done; his Judgement: I m his son, how could i lie to him, i am such a coward, i ll never make it in life being a liar, aso. So, from there he ll punish me, maybe not with an intentional Punishment but at least by being angry, letting it out on me, and being very grumpy. He has completed the circle and now it jumps over to me.

His grumpiness and anger create an Event that give me the Feeling of being rubbish, being offended or misunderstood. From there I ll make the Judgement that he s not compassionate or patient with his son. I ll punish him with grumpiness and shame from my side, which again leads to another Event.

It might be interesting for you to use it on a real life situation of yourself.

What does it do for us to know this cycle? If we keep it in mind we can at first analyse conflicts after they happened, see where the problem is and why it doesn t come to an end. We can approach the conflict or the person differently next time. Getting into the habit of consciously analysing situations will make us see the conflict differently while it is happening. We might stop after the Feeling that we get from the Event, stay with our Feeling for a while and deal with it, without judging the person opposite of us and without punishing him/her. We find a solution ourselves and will listen to what he/she wants to say with a clear mind and open heart.