[The following Op-Ed letter is from Bob Wentworth, who has had a close-up view of CNVC’s organisational change efforts since 2012, having served as a CNVC Board member and co-architect of Process for a New Future, a facilitator of much of the process, and a volunteer supporting the Implementation Phase. This post reflects his personal views in relation to events in CNVC.]
I would like to offer some metaphors to illustrate how disturbing I have found the CNVC Board’s non-responsiveness to concerns expressed about their actions regarding the New Future Process. The metaphors may be shocking. They are not literally what happened. Yet, I believe they accurately reflect the intensity of the impact on me.
Imagine that you are on a sidewalk when a truck veers up on the sidewalk and parks with your foot trapped under one wheel. At first, you are too stunned to speak. The truck driver gets out of the cab and goes to stand on the other side of the road. You yell to try to get their attention. It seems like you should be in their field of view, but they don’t react. You wave your arms. You loudly explain the urgency of moving the truck. You sob. You scream. You scream again and again, for hours. But the driver never acknowledges your existence. It slowly begins to dawn on you that you could scream for the rest of your life, and the driver is unlikely to ever respond and move the truck. If you want to escape and get to a hospital, the only alternative left to you is to find a way to amputate your own foot.
Imagine that there is a police force that you understood does not have jurisdiction in your town. Yet, they suddenly arrest a beloved member of your family, around whom you have centered your life. Your beloved is thrown in prison. The police offer a brief statement explaining what they have done. The statement is full of glaring errors — things you know from first-hand experience to be wrong. They did not even get your beloved’s name right. This is just a big misunderstanding. You write letters asking for dialog, explaining facts, asking for acknowledgment that the police have received your message. There is no acknowledgment or response. There are a few, limited communications between the police and people who worked with your beloved. But those communications from the police convey over and over that there is no possibility of the police changing their decision in any way. You start writing letters to the newspaper, publicly sharing about what has happened and talking about the lack of jurisdiction of the police and the facts supporting the innocence of your beloved. But the police as a group never acknowledge your existence, let alone the contents of what you have written.
Your beloved is in prison. There was no public trial, no jury of peers, and no opportunity to present any defense. The police have conveyed that there is no possibility of an appeal of the conviction or the sentence they decided on.
You will likely feel pain about these events every day for the rest of your life.
You are a member of an intentional community that decides to renovate the beautiful-but-aging house you are living in. You appoint some community members to act as house-sitters to care for things while you and others go off to plan the renovation and do the initial off-site work. The house-sitters promise to watch over the house until you get back and then vacate to allow the renovation to occur. However, when you return to your collective home, the locks have been changed and you can’t get in. The house-sitters issue a written statement saying this was “necessary” and that they suggest you go renovate a different house. The explanation makes little sense to you.. You ask to talk about what is going on, but there is no response. You pound on the door and yell loudly, coming back day after day. But there is never any response. You have lost your home.
Again, the above metaphors don’t literally describe what has happened. But they convey aspects of what the experience has felt like for me.
I understood my support for the New Future Process to be the most sacred act of service I have ever been involved with. I saw an incongruity between the beautiful vision NVC offers of a “partnership paradigm” in which everyone’s needs matter, and the way the CNVC had been operating. The New Future Process was offered as a way of allowing the community to experience CNVC operating from within that paradigm, at least once. I was a part of the leadership of CNVC that committed CNVC to living in that paradigm for the duration of the process, and allowing the community to decide what would happen next. When new leaders came on board, they repeatedly affirmed that commitment.
I feel devastated beyond words that the process was interrupted in a way that seems to reflect the total opposite of the partnership and care for all that CNVC as an organization committed itself to.
The experience has been deeply traumatizing for me. I feel like a mere shadow the person I was two years ago. My health is noticeably poorer. And whereas I used to have endless energy to give to service, it often now feels like there is barely anything left in me.
Unfortunately, I perceive a dark shadow in the functioning of the NVC network, in which people are devastated or even traumatized far more often than I would like. Sometimes those with structural power to affect others’ well-being make choices that have a painful impact on others. The impacts can become particularly devastating because NVC has inspired those affected to trust that care for everyone’s needs is possible. The contrast between that possibility and what actually happens feels shocking. Usually, the people affected make valiant attempts to apply NVC to get heard and effect change. But, often, there is no effective recourse, no opening for changing the outcome to meet needs. It seems to those impacted that there is no chance of experiencing their needs as being held with care. So, disillusioned and bruised, they give up and slink away silently.
This understandable pattern of people giving up and silently leaving allows many in the NVC network to underestimate the frequency with which such experiences occur. Many people have told me they have had such experiences.
For me, launching the New Future Process was a strategy to try to change this tragic pattern. Instead, the outcome thus far exemplifies the pattern.
Because of my commitment to changing the pattern, I have been doing my best to not simply slink away silently. I want to speak out to represent the others who can’t. Yet, continuing to speak out, in the face of what I experience as a difficult-to-metabolize absence of responsiveness, care and partnership, is very hard on my system. I don’t know how much longer I can keep speaking, or doing anything at all.
I am sharing all this to let you know what the human impact has been on me. I believe that the impact of actions and inactions on human beings matters. Or must be allowed to matter, if our practice of NVC is to mean something.
INVITING COMPASSION FOR ALL
I imagine that Board members might be able to offer equally painful metaphors in relation to their experiences with the New Future Process. I have a story that only extreme experiences could lead to the sort of extreme behaviors that I interpret Board members as engaging in.
Author Steven Wineman, in his book Power Under, suggests that there is a cycle of trauma, in which, far too often, those who experience trauma end up inflicting trauma on others (especially if they feel powerless subjectively and objectively have power).
I long to break this cycle of trauma. I believe that disconnection and misunderstanding are at the root of the pain. NVC to me is about making the world better through connection. Let’s live that principle.
I believe that breaking the cycle requires tenderness and care for all.
It is also likely to require active involvement from the community, rather than simply standing by while tragedy unfolds. That involvement could involve speaking out to change the field in which things are happening, acting to support connection, offering support, and willingness to engage in protective use of force to rectify ongoing harm. The alternative is to leave individuals to bear the cost of collective limitations.
We have not been taught how to effectively engage such situations. Yet, I think we need to learn how, if we are to collectively thrive.
Let’s be strong and gentle with ourselves, and with each other.
I don’t want you to think that what I am most wanting is personal healing for myself (though that would certainly be nice).
What I most want is:
- for the community needs that are being profoundly unmet in this situation to be addressed;
- to be consulted about what could address those needs, rather than having those who have demonstrated that they don’t understand those needs assume that they know what is best;
- for our collective handling of this situation to demonstrate that NVC has the power to create a world that works for all; and
- systemic change to make it less likely that anyone in the NVC network will ever have to experience this sort of devastation and absence of partnership again in the future.
* * *
Please consider if the wishes I have named resonate with you. If so, you might invite your unconscious mind to let you know if there might be one step you could take, however small, to increase the chances of any of these wishes being realized.
If the wishes I’ve named aren’t right for you, are there other wishes about this situation that you would like to serve?
If this message contributed to you in some way, I would enjoy hearing about it.
With heartbreak and occasional hope,