Book Review: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

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“Residential stability begets a kind of psychological stability, which allows people to invest in their home and social relationships”. – Matthew Desmond Matthew Desmond, an American sociologist wrote this brilliant book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City whilst living near the families whose lives he wrote about. The book also won the 2017 Pulitzer prize for General Non Fiction. This ethnographic study was an eye-opening read about how tragic our systems are in not giving a helping hand to the poor. From the stories I read, it felt like those being evicted had limited options legally or otherwise and were being ‘kicked when they were down’ – seemingly, everything can be profited from including homelessness. I really enjoyed the humane way in which Matthew Desmond described the Landlords & their own conflicts in choosing to evict their tenants, sometimes during the Christmas season in the freezing cold of Milwaukee.

In my review, I focus on scarcity and “material hardship” and what that does to the decisions, quality of life and stability that low-income families experience.

Some of my favourite lines from the book are below with my thoughts:

On material hardship

 “This – the loss of your possessions, job, home, and access to government aid-helps explain why eviction has such a pronounced effect on what social scientists call “material hardship,” a measure of the texture of scarcity. Evicted families continue to have higher levels of material hardship at least two years after the event.”

Stable housing or shelter is one of our basic human needs. In the stories, the renters could not afford to put their belongings in storage and so ended up losing their possessions too, once evicted. This affected their ability to attend interviews or look for ways to better their life. Sometimes, it was hard to get out of the trap of addiction or slip back into addiction due to sheer hardship and brutality of being homeless. I cannot really even imagine what this does to one’s state of mind.

On residential instability

  • “Residential stability begets a kind of psychological stability, which allows people to invest in their home and social relationships. It begets social stability, which increases the chances that children will excel and graduate. And it begets community stability, which encourages neighbors to form strong bonds and take care of their block.”
  • “Instability is not inherent to poverty. Poor families move so much because they are forced to.”
  • “It takes a good amount of money and time to establish a home. Eviction can erase all that.”

Housing authorities (in the US) count evictions and unpaid debt as strikes – so to read that those with the greatest need are systematically denied help is really sad. It just doesn’t make any sense. Sometimes, tenants were evicted for complaining there was no hot water. Poverty also drowns out your voice.

On opportunities for growth

America is supposed to be a place where you can better yourself, your family, and your community. But this is only possible if you have a stable home.”

“A good home can serve as the sturdiest of footholds. When people have a place to live, they become better parents, workers and citizens.”

This is such an important book which throws light on how the need for housing and the need for profit clash, resulting in much psychological devastation for the poor. While the broad consensus is that families should spend no more than 30 percent of their income on housing,  it is difficult for renting families to meet this goal with rising rents. In London, where I live, rents rise each year and certainly salaries do not keep pace with rising rents. Yet, the public housing situation in the UK seems more humane.

Empathy for the Needy

I recently came across The Core Values of César E. Chávez and this one caught my eye: A Preference to Help the Most Needy – A concerted effort to support programs that reach the most needy, the most dispossessed, the most forgotten people in society no matter how difficult the challenge that choice may bring.

The book enlightened me to the many privileges I take for granted such as knowing where I will sleep at night. I highly recommend reading it. Any book that awakens me towards empathy for the less privileged and gratitude for mine is a great book.

Further reading:

Evictionland - Curbed.com

America’s Insidious Eviction Problem - The Atlantic

Evicted - Matthew Desmond

Nonviolent Communication and Corporations - Medium

 

 

My Favourite Books I read in 2017

My intention for 2018 is to read every day, meditate every day, cut back on social media time and be more like Cal Newport who inspires me with his writings on 'deep work'. January is a digital detox month and my brain already feels so much clearer. I cheated a little bit though and have sent the odd tweet. For the most part, though, I have been 'good' and spent more time offline with friends and on the phone. I digress. Back to my favourite books listed below. Oh, I only read non-fiction - so there’s no lists for fiction if that is your thing.

Non-Fiction

Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez,‎ Vicki Robin, Monique Tilford and Mark Zaifman

A very sneaky book...in the sense, that it is non-prescriptive and yet, it gets you to follow some basic steps such as methodologically tracking all your income & expenses, which ultimately leads you to reflect, introspect, get clear and make different decisions with both earning, spending and using money. You start seeing money as an exchange of life energy and have a logical way of seeing this- see my post - Frugal is Freedom for more on it. Also, if you are interested in FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), this is a good book to read.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics by Richard Thaler

If you had any illusions about how rational we humans are with money, this book sets you straight. Interesting research, great anecdotes and useful to learn the psychology behind money decisions.

Finance for Normal People: How Investors and Markets Behave by Meir Statman

Having heard Meir Statman speak on podcasts, I grabbed this book as I found his insights worthwhile. He talks about the emotional, expressive and utilitarian uses for money. We compartmentalize money into buckets, have incredibly foolish behaviour with it, take mental shortcuts, are overconfident investors and so much more. Meir helps investors reflect on what they really want from their investments focussing on what is the money for  - retirement, children's education, socially responsible investing and so on. He also advocates automating investments. Overall, a worthwhile read and useful especially if you invest and want to understand yourself as an investor better.

Non-Investment related

The Nonviolent Life by John Dear

What is a nonviolent life and how can we be nonviolent to ourselves, others and join a global movement to impact the world? John Dear, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee attempts to answer this question and does so beautifully. Bear in mind, he is a Christian and so teachings of Jesus (whose message of nonviolence was radical for his time- love your enemy, what?) are sprinkled liberally through the book which I actually enjoyed. I bought the book for myself and gifted it to a few friends.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari

First of all, Yuval Harri practices Vipassana, also known as Insight Meditation and does 60-day silent retreats; he plans his working year around that and schedules it first. For this, I already hugely admire him. Secondly, I find history very dull and could never get into it in college or school. However, this book - I could not put down. I also like that he weaves relevant connection to our present day issues whether it be talking about colonialism, racism or money stories; worth buying and savouring every page. There is no thirdly.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

I heard about this book via Miki Kashtan, an international Nonviolent Communication teacher whom I deeply admire and trust. The book made me quite angry & disgusted. No, the book didn't do that, I chose to. I felt quite angry on reading the book and yet, I was glad to have read it - we need to be better educated about crime and 'justice'.  The book shines a light on racial segregation, colour blindness, how the prison system in America almost substitutes slavery. It is very thought-provoking and well worth the emotional aggravation you may feel on reading it.

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine

A great manual for life, if you are interested in Stoicism, then even better. It talks about reducing worry and focusing only on things we can actually control (not very much). I love the challenge of letting go of the 'illusion' of control we have and learning a philosophy that helps you have a truly joyful life. I became interested in Stoicism through the work of Tim Ferris and so glad I bought this book, highly recommend.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer prize for non-fiction, it is an incredible read. Matthew Desmond is an ethnographer, he lives in communities in the United States that struggle with housing and tells an honest, heart-breaking account of incredible characters who struggle to keep a roof over their head. The struggle with homelessness is so real, the landlords have a lot of power with eviction and it seems the system almost obstructs survival for tenants who fall behind. Residential stability is important for psychological stability and community stability. Families lose so much with eviction. I read recently that this book also made it to Barack Obama's recommended book list for 2017.

Further reading:

My favourite books on Money and Personal Finance

Don't do anything that isn't play

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know my obsession with the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication. Another teaching related to money and work  landed in my news feed recently. I found it simple, beautiful, practical and inspiring. I hope you enjoy it too.

When I advise, “Don’t do anything that isn’t play!” some take me to be radical. Yet, I earnestly believe that an important form of self-compassion is to make choices motivated purely by our desire to contribute to life rather than out of fear, guilt, shame, duty or obligation. When we are conscious of the life-enriching purpose behind an action we take, then even hard work has an element of play in it. By contrast, an otherwise joyful activity performed out of obligation, duty, fear, guilt or shame will lose its joy and eventually engender resistance.

Many years ago I began to engage in an activity which significantly enlarged the pool of joy and happiness available to my life, while diminishing depression, guilt and shame. I offer it here as a possible way to deepen our compassion for ourselves, to help us live our lives out of joyous play by staying grounded in a clear awareness of the life-enriching need behind everything we do.

Translating Have to, to Choose to

  • Step 1

What do you do in your life that you don’t experience as playful? List on a piece of paper all those things that you tell yourself you have to do.

List any activity you dread but do anyway because you perceive yourself to have no choice. When I first reviewed my own list, just seeing how long it was gave me insight as to why so much of my time was spent not enjoying life. I noticed how many ordinary, daily things I was doing by tricking myself into believing that I had to do them.

The first item on my list was “write clinical reports.” I hated writing these reports, yet I was spending at least an hour of agony over them every day. My second item was “drive the children’s car pool to school.”

  • Step 2

After completing your list, clearly acknowledge to yourself that you are doing these things because you choose to do them, not because you have to. Insert the words “I choose to . . . ” in front of each item you listed. I recall my own resistance to this step. “Writing clinical reports,” I insisted to myself, “is not something I choose to do! I have to do it. I’m a clinical psychologist. I have to write these reports.”

  • Step 3

After having acknowledged that you choose to do a particular activity, get in touch with the intention behind your choice by completing the statement, I choose to . . . because I want . . . . At first I fumbled to identify what I wanted from writing clinical reports. I had already determined, several months earlier, that the reports did not serve my clients enough to justify the time they were taking, so why was I continuing to invest so much energy in their preparation?

Finally I realized that I was choosing to write the reports solely because I wanted the income they provided. As soon as I recognized this, I never wrote another clinical report.

I can’t tell you how joyful I feel just thinking of how many clinical reports I haven’t written since that moment thirty-five years ago! When I realized that money was my primary motivation, I immediately saw that I could find other ways to take care of myself financially, and that in fact, I’d rather scavenge in garbage cans for food than write another clinical report.

The next item on my list of unjoyful tasks was driving the children to school. When I examined the reason behind that chore, however, I felt appreciation for the benefits my children received from attending their school. They could easily walk to the neighborhood school, but their own school was far more in harmony with my educational values.

I continued to drive, but with a different energy; instead of “Oh, darn, I have to drive the car pool today,” I was conscious of my purpose, which was for my children to have a quality of education that was very dear to me. Of course I sometimes needed to remind myself two or three times during the drive to refocus my mind on what purpose my action was serving.

As you explore the statement, “I choose to . . . because I want . . . ,” you may discover — as I did with the children’s car pool — the important values behind the choices you’ve made. I am convinced that after we gain clarity regarding the need being served by our actions, we can experience those actions as play even when they involve hard work, challenge, or frustration.

We also cultivate self-compassion by consciously choosing in daily life to act only in service to our own needs and values rather than out of duty, for extrinsic rewards, or to avoid guilt, shame, and punishment. If we review the joyless acts to which we currently subject ourselves and make the translation from “have to” to “choose to,” we will discover more play and integrity in our lives.

International peacemaker, Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., is the founder of the Centre for Nonviolent Communication, author of Speak Peace in a World of Conflict, the international bestseller, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and several booklets.

Nonviolent Communication & Corporations - Marshall Rosenberg

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Nonviolent Communication & Corporations

In a video on YouTube, called Nonviolent Communication and Corporations, Dr Marshall Rosenberg talks specifically about how the old domination structure affects how businesses function. As he passed away, this is the closest I can get to sharing his teaching; I have transcribed his words to share how he thought about this topic – radically different to our usual way of thinking and very inspiring. In the first part, Marshall explains mainly about Nonviolent Communication and less about Corporations - although he refers to them as gangs, in the middle of this interview (if you want to skip to that part). I also like how he describes sticking to solely the profit motive may be life-alienating rather than life-serving for businesses.

Paula (Paula Gloria): In this show, we explore the limits and the potentials of human consciousness; maybe we can say the 'unlimited-ness'. Today, we have a really special guest, Dr Marshall Rosenberg, who is the founder of a process called Nonviolent Communication. And I think, as we talk to Marshall Rosenberg, we’ll hear that indeed what we thought was limited in human ability to communicate, to share and to understand, is I feel with his method really unlimited. So, thank You, Marshall, for joining us.

Marshall: I'm very glad to.

Paula: How did you develop this process of Nonviolent Communication?

Marshall: Well, I started it by some questions that have been in me, deep in me, since I've been very young. My family moved to Detroit Michigan- just in time for the race riots of 1943. Thirty some people were killed in our neighbourhood in four days. We were locked in the house during that time, and this was a powerful learning experience for me as a young boy; that this is a world in which people may want to harm you for no reason other than your skin colour.

Shortly after I went to school, I found out that not only my skin colour could be a stimulus for violence, but my name could be a stimulus for violence. So that's really what got me started in this work- just that consciousness that this is a world where people can want to hurt others for such reasons.

And that developed in me a deep interest as a boy. Why is this so? What happens to human beings that makes them so violent in regards to such things? And I was fortunate to see that of course; not everybody is this way. I saw people who were just the opposite- very compassionate, very loving.

So, I had in my consciousness as a boy growing up to learn about this. Why do some people respond compassionately to others and why are others so violent, so those questions got me started. I studied clinical psychology hoping that this would give me some insights into this but what I saw in clinical psychology was really a perpetuation of the violence. Because it was based on looking at people who behave in ways we don't like as though there's something wrong with them, as though they're mentally ill and at that time I was starting to see that this was part of the problem. This kind of labelling of people, this kind of dehumanisation that comes through our language in which we think in terms of wrongness. So I then started to study people who were really living in a way that I valued, to try to see what contributed to their being able to stay compassionate even in the face of violence around them.

Paula: Can you give examples of some of those people?

Marshall: Well, in my book I mentioned one of them. I was very fortunate as a young boy to have an uncle who came to our house each evening and my grandmother was totally paralysed and was on a bed in the dining room. And each evening, he would come home from his hard work, he worked eight hours, and then he would come over to our house, and help my mother take care of my grandmother and the whole time he was taking care of her, he had the most wonderful smile on his face.

Well, whereas in the streets I saw the smile on the people's faces who were beating me because I was Jewish and the observers watching it and enjoying it- I saw that kind of smile. And then I came into my house, and I saw the smile on the face of my uncle as he was taking care of my grandmother. And of course, I saw many such examples of people like my uncle that no matter what's going on around them they got more pleasure out of contributing to people's well-being than getting caught up in the violence.

Paula: Some people would say you create your reality. So, in a certain way, the fact that you were able to draw into your life more better examples than worse examples - it might have shaped your direction. Because you're certainly not a wimp; you don't avoid conflict or helping people who are not the benevolent “smilers” so to speak, you see the good in others?

Marshall: I like your concept that we create our reality but we got to, and I'm sure you're aware that this can often be heard in a way that implies we're blaming the victim for their conditions.

Paula: Oh, I agree with you.

Marshall: So, yes to a large degree how we look at things and how we behave creates our reality. But of course, we need to be conscious, that to a large degree, gangs create our reality. Some gangs call themselves gangs; some gangs call themselves multinational corporations, some gangs call themselves governments and these gangs create a lot of our reality.

Paula: But you're not.. You're not afraid of these gangs; you use Nonviolent communication to reach in and make your life more beautiful as a result of that reaching in.

Marshall:. Yes, one of one of the aspects of our training is not only to train people to be more compassionate to themselves and to be able to connect with others in a compassionate way. But to transform whatever structures are making it difficult to relate in a compassionate way. To transform the structures -the gangs as I'm calling them; to transform them, so they support people contributing to one another's well-being rather than people competing with each other or dominating each other.

Paula: Well, many experts who have analysed the whole multinational corporate structure, you know, wind up giving data that's very discouraging. It's not like any one person's trying to hurt things - but like there's a momentum of the machinery that set up, that's not helping people get the most of what they can with the planetary resources.

Marshall: If you see those structures and what power they have, and how many people support them, it certainly can be scary. Even if you're as fortunate as I am to work in many countries with people who are banding together and getting things done, and transforming these structures, it's very encouraging. Especially in the last few years, as more and more people become conscious of how these gangs function, and what we can do when we get together to transform them - it's very encouraging.

Paula: So, you help these groups of people to communicate better and also can you give an example of how they can communicate with the corporations using your methods?

Marshall: Well, first of all, to get the access to the people who maintain the corporations is a very big step. So, our training shows people how to use our training, to get access to the people we need to communicate with.

Almost all of us know someone, who knows someone, who can get us in touch with the people we need to communicate with. But we need to communicate with these people; we need to communicate clearly what our life-serving vision is; we intend no destruction of corporations or structures. We want to transform them so that they serve life rather than whether wittingly or unwittingly oppress people.

So, our training can be shown in how you get this access to people in power positions. Part of our training shows once you have this precious time that they give you, how to make the best use of it- how not to get enemy images in the way so that they think that we are attacking them or accusing them. We want to use that precious time to really find a way to get their needs met, and our needs met.

Another thing- to get that done often requires a team effort. It's not that easy for one person to go through all of the access getting that's necessary, all of the communication that's necessary. So what we need to do, is also use Nonviolent communication to organise a support team of people working together, but after we organise them most of the political teams that we see organised - they spend as much of their energy fighting within as putting energy outward to transform the structures.

So we show them how Nonviolent communication can be used to get our own group to deal with its conflicts in a way, that all of our energy doesn't get burned out within, but we have energy left to now go and transform the structures.

Paula: I would imagine that some of these powerful individuals, probably mostly men who were running the corporations, some percentage of them do become interested from their side in your work, and probably ask you to bring this knowledge into their business?

Marshall: Well, we're working within many businesses showing them how to look first at their vision. Is it really a life-serving vision or not? Or is it mainly basically making profit for a few stockholders? If so, everybody pays for it in that structure. So, we try to then help people see how to transform their vision to be a truly life-serving one. And yes, they are very interested in our training, once they see that we don't have them locked into enemy images; and that we are not there wanting them to do anything, except look for other ways of getting their needs met, that meet ours as well.

Paula: Right. Can you explain a little bit what Nonviolent communication is because you mentioned even in our words, even in our language, it can be alienating, and we can view others… Blaming them, judging them and not allowing the goodness to come forth.

Marshall: What Nonviolent communication is, is really a synthesis, not only of communication but of intentionality- consciousness about how we choose to live. So Nonviolent communication begins with getting people clear of this consciousness; a life-serving consciousness that we call it. And then we show them, language that we think… Language and communication that we see serving... life-serving consciousness. And now, the process itself, the language and communication is remarkably simple.

Almost everybody who studies it says two things about it how simple it is; the next thing they say how difficult it is. Now what makes it simple is that it basically suggests that we keep our consciousness at all times on two things -what's alive in us and what would make life more wonderful. See, what's alive in us…what's alive in others…what would make life more wonderful for us…what would make life more wonderful. Now, that's simple; however, what makes it complicated, we haven't been taught to think and communicate in terms of what's alive in us. We have been taught to think in terms of moralistic judgments - who's right, who's wrong, who's normal, who's abnormal. So when you have been educated for about 10,000 years as we had to, think and communicate in moralistic judgments- which incidentally out of the basic religions have warned us for centuries, do not use moralistic judgments. The Christian tradition says it very clearly - judge not others lest ye be judged.

Paula: Right.

Marshall: But we hear that, but we have been trained from the time we've been infants to think in terms of moralistic judgments. Our parents and teachers use moralistic judgments with us – ‘that's a good girl’, ‘that's a bad boy,’ ‘that's a very smart thing you did,’ ‘that's a stupid thing you did’. So, having been trained so thoroughly for so long in moralistic judgments, it's very difficult for people to do what our training shows how to do - which is stay conscious, moment by moment- what's alive in us and what would make life more wonderful. Now the ‘what's alive in us’ basically focuses on human needs - what needs of yours are being met at a given moment, what needs are not being met. What needs of others are being met, not being met and then what could make life more wonderful -  means what do we want, what requests do we have to contribute to human needs being better met? So, that's the simplicity of the process - what's alive in us and what would make life more wonderful?

Paula: And, so when you're going out, and you're using this in the case of a corporation, how… You would say the corporation has a need for profits?

Marshall: We show that profits are not a need. A very important part of our training is to help people see a difference between needs and strategies. See, strategies are ways of getting needs met, so some people think that profits, financial gain is a need. No- it's a strategy that might or might not meet certain needs.

Paula: What would be a need of a corporation?

Marshall: Well the need of the people in the corporation the… probably I hope, be the strongest need that human beings have - a need to contribute to life.

Paula: Right

Marshall: Some people would call this a need for meaning, some would call it a need for purpose, but I call it a need to contribute to life -  to see that our efforts are really going to serving life, making somebody's life more wonderful. That's what all of the Corporations I think, say in their vision basically that they are trying to serve people. But when you really look at their actions, I think that they're getting needs mixed up with strategies and their real interest is in how to make profits.

That's what all of the Corporations I think, say in their vision, basically that they are trying to serve people. But when you really look at their actions, I think that they're getting needs mixed up with strategies and their real interest is in how to make profits.

Paula: Why is that, what is...?

Marshall: Well, because for 10,000 years we have been educated to live within domination cultures in which a few people benefit at the expense of many. So, people in the structures… they have been educated this way…they really see that this is the world for those in power to get their needs met, and to use others in the service of their own needs.

Paula: Now, that trickles down into the rest of society where you… even in a marriage… each partner fears to be dominated by the other.

Marshall: Yes, if you have people educated in a domination structure, much of the definitions of what love means, is all mixed up with domination.

Paula: Can you elaborate on that?

Marshall: Yes. For example, we often work with people, who are having trouble in their marriages. And, we asked them first, what are your needs that are not getting met? One time, a woman said to her husband, ‘well my need for love isn't getting met’. And he says 'well, I love you’ and she says ‘no, you don't.’ He says, ‘yes, I do’.  I said, ‘hold it, what are you requesting of him, when you say that your need for love isn't getting met, what do you want him to do, to better meet your need for love. She looked at him and said, ‘well, you know’ and he says, ‘no, I don't know’;  well, she says’ it's hard to say in so many words’, and he said, ‘if it's hard for you to say, can you see how hard it would be for me to do?’

So, I said to her, 'so tell him concretely, what do you want him to do to meet your need for love' and then she looked at me, and she says, ‘it's embarrassing’ I said,' yes, it's often embarrassing to see the oppressive games we’re playing in the service of getting certain needs met - so what do you want him to do to meet your need for love'. She says,’ I want you to guess what I want before I even know what it is and then I want you always to do it see well’. That's a very domination kind of concept because you play the game that if you really loved me, you would know what I want and do it. So, people don't usually say that out loud, but they keep that within because that's how you oppress people in a domination culture; you try to use guilt by saying if you loved me you would do this.

Paula: Why do we think that somebody else is responsible for our happiness because we all seem to grow up believing that and it's so hard to stop blaming and saying somebody else caused our happiness or unhappiness?

Marshall: That's again because, in a domination culture, you want to use guilt, as a tool for getting people to do what you want. Our training shows that certain strategies are very destructive, in trying to influence people. One is punishment. Another is reward, another is guilt, which we're talking about now, another is shame, and another is the concepts of duty and obligation. But, let's look at guilt - because it relates to this oppression… of trying to communicate to other people, that they're responsible for our feelings.

See, if you want to manipulate children by guilt, for example, you have to teach them very young that they can make other people feel bad. So, a mother or father might say to the child, "it hurts me when you don't clean up your room." And if the child has been educated to believe that you can make people feel as they do, then the child's going to feel guilty- to see that his behaviour creates such pain. In our training, we show people that it's very important to be conscious of what we are responsible for, and what we're not responsible for. Because if you don't get that clear, then you get what in modern terminology is called a blurring of the boundaries, or co-dependency- when you don't get these concepts of responsibility clarified.

So we suggest, that we are responsible for our intentions, and our actions. How others interpret our actions or our intentions is what creates their feelings, and we can't be responsible for something over which we have no control. I can control my intentions; I can control my actions, I'm responsible. So, I have the intention to express honestly to you something that you've done that is not in harmony with my needs, that's my intention. And I do it the best way I can, I say to you I'm frustrated when you keep interrupting when I talk because I have a need to be understood and …and.. be respected and it isn’t met? Now you say, that hurts me when you say that. See now what hurt you, it would hurt you if…

Paula: I say it hurts me because I feel that I haven't figured out what you needed?

Marshall: If you said that I'm feeling hurt because I’m not clear… Notice you're saying I'm feeling hurt because I, you're taking responsibility - so that would be in harmony with what we're showing people. But if when I said what I did, you took it as a criticism, you hear that you're being criticised and feel hurt… It wouldn't be my statement that hurt you; it would be how you received it- you received it as a criticism.

Paula: Right

Marshall: So, therefore we are responsible for how we feel because how we feel depends on how we interpret things. Other people are responsible for their intentions and their actions but not for how we interpret them and not therefore for how we feel.

Paula: So, basically, we get clear ourselves, and we're confident of our needs and feelings. And to go about getting these needs met- and then in the process of interacting with other people- we hold this clarity, and we can keep pulling them up. Even if they start to say, they're unworthy in… They won't say it in words… But maybe through their actions?

Marshall: Well, in our training, one of the things that people like most about our training, is that its utilisation doesn't depend on the other person's cooperation. So, we can show people how to stay with the process that will end with everybody's needs getting met, even if the other person doesn't have the skills to communicate in this way. So, for example, and that… what we were talking about earlier... if I say to somebody, I'm feeling frustrated, when you start to talk before I finish… Because I have a real need for space to communicate. And the other person gets hurt and says, 'that hurts me when you say that'. I might say to the person, 'could you tell me what you heard me say?'.  ‘Yes, you said I was rude’.

Paula: Right.

Marshall: You see…okay. So, now I can see that the problem wasn't what I said, it's how they took it. So, I say thank you. Why do I say thank you…? I ask him to tell me what they heard, they did. See, if I said… that isn't what I said; they'd hear it as an attack, so I say, thank you, I can see I didn't make myself clear. I was trying to communicate my feelings and needs, not criticise you for what you did. Let me try again- I'm feeling frustrated... because my need for space to communicate, doesn't get met.

Can you tell me what you heard? ‘I'm sorry’. Before you apologise, could you tell me what you heard? See to get another person, who is not trained to be conscious of what's alive in us; they’ve been trained to hear criticism.. to make criticism. I'm not saying it's easy to pull their attention, so they can hear what's alive in you… But you can do it. We teach people how to help the other person to hear a difference between you criticising them, and you're simply expressing what's alive in you.

Paula: So that kind of answers a question I had about Nonviolent communication not being used to control…or… Somebody or achieve a certain end, even to try to achieve a connection with them, so that they know what we're feeling. It could be viewed by some as manipulation because you're trying to make them feel what you're feeling. But it seems to me, what you're saying is that other people can actually be taken to a place, where they not only understand what you're feeling but they're actually having a greater repertoire of feelings themselves.

Marshall: We help them to develop the repertoire because our training shows us how to hear feelings behind any message that comes at you. So even if the other person has almost zero consciousness of what's alive in them, no matter what they say, we're trained to sense what they might be feeling, and in this way, we can help them get more in touch with it. Now we need to clear up one thing about the intention of Nonviolent communication. As you suggested, it's very important… that we do not mix up the intention of creating a connection in which everybody's needs can get met- that's the intention of Nonviolent communication.

Paula: It's not getting our way.

Marshall: It's not getting our way. Exactly. It's not getting the other person to do what you want. But that's a very hard intention to get through to people who have been educated in a culture who interpret that it is their objective to get the other person to do what you want. For example, many parents will say to me something like one did recently. She said, ‘Marshall how do I get my son to clean up his room?’ I said, ‘is that your objective?’. She said, ‘yes,’ I said, ‘then he won’t’. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘so I'm supposed just to let him do whatever he wants, and I have to do all the cleaning?’

See, she could only see two objectives- to either get him to do what she wants or she had to be a loser and not get her needs met. I said, I'd like you to see another possibility... what we're saying is to create the quality of connection that will allow your needs to get met and your son's needs to get met. But in order for that to happen, you can't get addicted to the strategy of getting him to clean up his room. He may very well end up cleaning up the room once he sees what your needs are and trust that you are equally concerned with his needs.

Paula: Maybe this process makes us get a better idea of who we are, we may come in thinking that we want something but working with these connections with people, we may find as a result of listening to the feelings and needs of someone else, we may actually want something different… Greater… Better…

Marshall: This is why differences and conflict are wonderful if we go about it with certain consciousness. Yes, very often we come out with something far richer than we go in with- in terms of various strategies, that might be effective in meeting our needs. If what we go in with, we see it doesn't meet the other person's needs, through an exploration of them, how can we find a way to get everybody's needs met, we often do come out with a much more creative resolution.

Paula: Why are you so confident that everybody can get their needs met because I feel you're very optimistic and you're very convinced that there are no differences that can't be resolved?

Marshall: Many times people say, ‘yes how do you have this belief in the innate goodness of people’ and I say, it has nothing to do with a belief or a faith. In my work, I do a lot of conflict resolution, and a lot of it is between people that hold deep pain between themselves. I've mediated between tribes in northern Africa, where a quarter of the population were killed in the year before I started to work with them. I mediate between teams and groups of Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and Burundi. I've worked in Sierra Leone with the people who have had horrible thing happen with the other people in the room with them. I've worked between Israelis and Palestinians but actually, some of them are the most bitter conflicts I've been through are through husbands and wives, children and their parents.

Paula: Right.

Marshall: So, then an answer to your question, why do I have this trust that everybody's needs can get met? Because, I find out that when I can get both sides hearing what the other side is needing, what needs of theirs... what human needs are not getting met, you see, and what pain do they feel as a result of it. When I can get both sides seeing that, getting rid of all enemy images So that nobody is saying the other side is wrong, oppressive, stupid, anything that implies a criticism… but I can get both sides, at that level, they see each other's unmet needs, they don't hear any criticism… I get to find that the conflict almost doesn't resolve itself.

Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here...For more resources such as this, please subscribe to the 'Conscious Money' newsletter.

On fulfilment, integrity & money: An interview with Alan Seid (part 2)

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In this part of the interview, you’ll find out how Alan maximises fulfilment & integrity in his relationship with money; also, using the lens of Nonviolent Communication. This is part 2 of the interview; for part 1, click here I was pretty blown away when I went on my first Vipassana course and there really wasn’t a ‘suggested donation.’

And everyone is a volunteer. The teachers, the centre managers, everybody is a volunteer and besides the technique, of course, the way that they run their finances just blew my mind.

Bill Mollison, who is one of the people who coined the term permaculture also inspired me with money. Bill Mollison says that money is to social systems what water is to natural systems. It is the transporter of goods, nutrients and information and the purpose is not more, more, more. Rather, the purpose is how do you maximise effective use between when this energy enters a system and when it leaves the system. If it is just more, more, more then you end up with a flood, where a flood is not natural.

That’s really a lovely analogy of nature actually; an apple tree doesn’t ever take more water than it needs. I read that the only really aggressive form of growth in nature is cancer.

How has nonviolent communication (NVC) influenced your work?

There's a beautiful overlap between the nine steps in the financial integrity program and NVC. Essentially what Joe Dominguez was getting at is, how do you develop a relationship with money that contributes to the deeper needs rather than simply to exteriors strategies or our story about what will be fulfilling?

So, what NVC has helped me to do is be a lot more connected to myself and to what's motivating me. As a result, when I look at money through that lens I realise that money is simply a tool. It's not a universal human need. It's a strategy that we use to fulfil lots of needs. But it's helped me get clear; what are the deeper needs or values that I'm trying to meet with this particular purchase or with this particular strategy around money.

For example, I might think that I need a Ferrari. I can look at why do I need a Ferrari or if I had a Ferrari then what would that give me.  Status and if I had that? Acceptance, and if I have acceptance then, what do I have? Well, then I have belonging, and if I have belonging and acceptance, then what does that give me? Well, then I feel OK about myself.

So, underneath acceptance and belonging is self-acceptance. I guarantee you that if we get clear on our motivation for a Ferrari, we can find a lot less expensive ways to meet our needs for self-acceptance, self-esteem and belonging than a Ferrari. So it's helped me separate the strategies from the deeper needs and find other strategies that meet my needs more effectively.

I love that, and you also demonstrated peeling the layers of the onion, to get to deeper needs. What are your thoughts on money as a request, do you think it is doable as a system in the world?

The short answer is yes. However, I'm not sure if our consciousness is there yet. When Marshall talks about jackal and giraffe, he defines jackal as life-disconnected or life-alienating thinking and language; giraffe or nonviolent communication is life-connected or life-serving thinking and language.

I think of jackal as pre-conscious or pre NVC. When you start to develop feelings and needs consciousness, you start to get more empowered and connected to your core motivators. You start to have clarity about what you want in particular situations and can make requests. You can get to a point where you transcend the form of NVC and we get to what people call informal NVC.

So, what Marshall talks about is that a life-connected, life-serving way of dealing with money would be expressing requests rather than demands. I find that very beautiful, but ultimately, my understanding is it didn't work for him. When he first did his workshops, he was travelling across the United States, and he offered his workshops on this mutual exchange model.

But first of all, people weren't used to that, it kind of fried their circuits and they didn't know what to do with it. Second of all, it brought up a lot of pain for them and so then he ended up having to give them empathy for how much pain they were in about their anxiousness or their fear of giving out of guilt or issues like this.  It ended up taking so much time and energy for him to do his workshops on this request model that he simply just started putting a price. However, even if his intention was to put a price on there as a request rather than a demand, people would still hear demands.

So, I think our consciousness is not quite there yet to trust that a request is truly a request. If you go to an event and it says 'suggested donation ten pounds', people still hear this is the price and believe ' if I don't pay, I can't enter'. We still interpret a demand even if the person says:' it's a request,  your needs matter, let's have a dialogue, let's see what works for you,'  people will still interpret a demand; money has an incredible depth and complexity at the psychological level.

Also, people may value things less if they experience that they're not paying for them. There is the psychological aspect that if somebody is paying a lot for something, somehow they experience themselves as more invested, more committed, so it is tricky. So I love it in theory that we could make financial requests and be able to find a win-win with money. In practice, I find it's relatively hard, and I think it has to do with where human consciousness is right now.  We are just simply unable to trust that it's truly a request and not a demand.

 I feel people that work in caring professions; even some NVC trainers struggle with asking for enough money. I'm wondering if you have anything to say about that.

Yes, I think that's quite common. I have a lot of compassion for that.  It's probably different for different people in different circumstances; we need to look at the stories we're telling ourselves. One of my favourite methodologies is Byron Katie’s enquiry process which consists of four questions, and there's something she calls a turnaround.

So, we examine those stories because whether it's out of guilt, shame, consideration for the other person, it's just a minefield filled with all kinds of psychological landmines. I have a lot of thoughts on it and part of transforming our relationship with money involves realising that money is not evil, money is just a tool. Like fire - I can light many candles & read an excellent book, or I can use fire to burn somebody's home down. And the same money can be utilised for very positive purposes or very destructive purposes.

As a professional who depends on a flow of money to put food on the table for my children, I need to realise a few things.  I need the revenue to sustain the message., to continue sharing NVC. That is an important axiom to keep in mind. Again, asking for money doesn't mean I'm greedy. We have many associations we need to look at and question. It will be different for different people; it's another level of valuing ourselves and standing up for our needs is to ask for enough money.

For part 3, click here