Text by Pascale Gatzen, Head MA Practice Held in Common
At an early age, most of us in western countries have been educated to speak and think in judgements. We learned to use language to compare and classify people and their actions including ourselves and our own. Our attention became focussed on analysing and determining levels of wrongness. The use of moralistic judgements is life-alienating communication. It traps us in a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness, it is a language that dichotomizes and creates separation.
This is a use of language that has been fostered in our society and that we have internalized; it frames the perspective through which we view the world, others and ourselves.
God evaluates everybody, if we are good, we get rewarded and we go to heaven, if we are bad, we get punished and we go to hell. In our western culture the people who were considered closer to god were regarded superior to the people beneath them, they were in charge of what was thought of as good or bad behaviour. On all levels of our society we have superiors who have the right to control the people beneath them. We have parents who think they are superior in the realm of the family, in schools we have been educated that our whole life was dependent on how other people judged us. Blame, praise, criticism, punishment and reward, this is how we systematically have been educated for thousands of years.
The use of language as a way to control and dominate is also the language through which neo-liberal thinking has been able to advance its agenda. As Foucault points out, with the rise of neo-liberal thought in the west, the concept of governmentality has transformed radically; with the idea that society should be left to regulate itself naturally the freedom of the individual and the regulation of the population have become subtly intertwined. Separate and divided by competition we are challenged to be the entrepreneurs of our own lives.
Education has become a tool to position ourselves favourably in a market that is emerging as increasingly homogeneous. Growing up in social and educational systems of oppression we have learned to prioritize uniformity and discipline over curiosity, playfulness and spontaneity.
Being educated alienated from their own needs and true potential students develop as dependent and fearful human beings. Reliant on external affirmation they perpetuate the narcissistic dimension of the capitalist paradigm that governs our society.
What if the way we have learned to use language is preventing us from creating a more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible? What if our use of language is structuring our thoughts in such a way that we inevitably perceive the world in dualities and categories? What if our dualistic mind continues to create stories of separation and opposition? What if it persists in grasping and solidifying an ever-changing reality into fixed concepts and ideas about ourselves, others and the world?
Can we imagine a consciousness, a language that is a life serving? Can we imagine a use of language that emerges as a process always in connection with what is alive in ourselves and others?
Compassionate Communication is one of the core practices of the Practice Held in Common curriculum. Compassionate Communication begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature and that we have an intrinsic need to give and contribute to the well-being of others. It assumes that we all share the same, basic human needs, and that each of our actions forms a strategy to meet one or more of these needs. These basic human needs or values, such as our needs for love, connection, companionship, being heard and being seen, are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting these needs clash. We only resort to violent strategies that harm ourselves and others when we do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting our needs. Marshall Rosenberg calls judgements tragic expressions of unmet needs. Under every judgement we pass lies a beautiful need that wants to be expressed.
One of the main practices of Compassionate Communication is emphatic listening. By listening emphatically, we connect with what’s alive in the other person. It’s not an understanding of the head where we just mentally understand what another person says. Empathic connection is an understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person and the life that’s alive in them. Empathy involves emptying the mind and listening with our whole being. When we listen to ourselves and to others with our whole being, we focus on listening for the underlying feelings, needs, and requests.
Once we understand and connect to the underlying needs in ourselves and in others, we can create strategies for meeting these needs in ways that create connection, joy and well-being for everybody. If we intent to hold everyone’s needs equally, we will discover life affirming strategies to meet them. Harmony and learning for future cooperation are developed when people identify shared needs and collaborate to form effective strategies to meet them.
The process of Compassionate Communication is a creative process. When we become more familiar with the consciousness of Compassionate Communication, we discover that there are a thousand strategies for meeting each one of our needs. In answering the question ‘How can we make life more wonderful?’ we develop an inspired and generative approach towards all aspects of our life.
Although the principles of Compassionate Communication seem simple and logical, the practice of Compassionate Communication is counter habitual. It takes substantial and repeated practice to come to clear, specific and measurable observations about what is happening and to recognize the feelings and beautiful needs that are alive in ourselves and in others. Our minds are wired to categorize and pass judgement. Krishnamurti considers the ability to observe without evaluating the highest form of intelligence. When people first start practicing Compassionate Communication, the recognition of having needs often translates itself in the negative judgement of ‘being needy’. We hold many negative judgements about ourselves which obscure and block our capacity for self-empathy and consequently empathy for others.
Practice Held in Common
At the Master Practice Held in Common we seek to support participants in creating their practices from what is alive in them instead of having them answer to internalized and external expectations. In the first semester, self-connection and an understanding of the values and needs that are very much alive in them connects participants to their authentic and vital life energy. Once we learn to practice from what is alive in us, we can also more easily connect to what is alive in others. Most of our basic human needs, such as love, connection, community and friendship, are relational. We support participants in developing patterns of living and working that make life more wonderful for them and for the people they choose to connect with.
To hold something or each other in common means that we are in a relationship of mutuality and interdependence, no longer in a relationship of domination and control. Silvia Federici points out that no common is possible unless we refuse to base our life, our reproduction on the suffering of others, unless we refuse to see ourselves as separate from them. Indeed if “commoning” has any meaning, it must be the production of ourselves as a common subject. Marshal Rosenberg underlines that our survival as a species depends on our ability to recognize that our well-being and the well-being of others are in fact one and the same.
Practicing from a framework of shared human needs and values, helps us to move beyond a world in which the only reality is the logic of the market; a world in which our activities are always being valued as being economic or uneconomic and in which our strategies need to meet Market and or Spectacle notions of success.
When we focus on needs, our creativity flourishes, and solutions arise that were previously blocked from our awareness. Underlying all human actions are needs that people are seeking to meet. Understanding and connecting to these needs creates a common ground for connection, cooperation and more harmonious relationships on both a personal and global level.
That what is alive in us, our feelings and our needs, is in constant flux, always changing. Compassionate Communication expresses and connects us to what is alive in us, right here and right now. Compassionate Communication is an embodied practice, it is a language of life, a language that emerges from listening with our whole being. When we are intimately connected to what is alive in us and others, perspectives of rightness and wrongness, goodness and badness, that have kept us hostage for such a long time slowly dissolve in favour of a language and a consciousness that assists us in connecting to a life filled with creativity, connection and joy. A life in which our natural giving thrives and contributes to the well-being of others and ourselves.
We still live in a myth of separation, a myth in which everybody is in it for themselves and where we are always competing with each other; more for me means less for you. Can we transition to a new story, a story of interconnectedness in which more for me means more for you? A story in which we see the beauty in the other person and the life that’s alive in them? When people can see each other’s needs we see our oneness, we then understand that we get more joy contributing to each other’s well-being then trying to dominate or to compete. Every time we act from the new story, we disrupt the psychic substructure of the old story and we offer an alternative.
I want to make, move, learn, teach, exchange, I want to dance and feel light, I want to share this feeling. I want to fall in love with the world again. – Alya Hessy,
participant Practice Held in Common, 2018-2020
Sylvia Federici – Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, PM Press, Oakland 2012
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Rebel Press, London 2005
Marshall Rosenberg- Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, PuddleDancer Press, Encinitas, 2003
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1998
Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics; Lectures at the College de France 1978-1979, translated by Graham Burchel, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008
Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, North Atlantic books, Berkley, 2013
Jiddu Krishnamurti, The Book of Life, Daily Meditations with Krishnamurti, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1995