Posts

Listening for Needs at the Department of Public Works

Last night I had a long conversation with my son, who is 25 years old, and works as a civil engineer for a large project that is redesigning and revamping the water drainage system of a major US city. His department is responsible for looking at traditional water drainage projects and adding “green” components, like water- permeable pavement that filters rain water instead of shunting it off into drainage systems, or “rain gardens”: areas planted with native species that are watered by the flow of the drainage system and thus filter the water and retain some of it as well.

His department looks for where these innovative green systems can fit into already-planned public works. Naturally, his department encounters resistance and complaints when they suggest their green innovations, because the traditional engineers are not used to working with natural systems like rain and plants, or thinking about permeable pavement, etc.

Dan told me that when he encounters this kind of resistance and rivalry between his department and the “sticks and bricks” engineers, he remembers that in Nonviolent Communication, everyone is acting from their needs. They are not “enemies” or “difficult people”. He said his department relies on him to go downstairs and deal with the “sticks and bricks” engineers, because he knows how to listen to them, find out what their needs are, and communicate those to his department and vice versa. He said that he was surprised by the amount of strife and “talking behind each others backs” that he encountered in both the engineering jobs he has had, and that listening to people’s needs helps him get around all that and makes it easier to get things done.

Meeting with NVC empathizers for Occupy Wall Street

This afternoon, 4 “empathizers” showed up on the daily conflict resolution call from 4-6. There was Jesse from North Carolina, Harald from Portugal, Jonathan from Scotland, and myself.

There were no “takers” for our services, so we ended up having a fascinating discussion for 2 hours.

The calls that Jonathan and Jesse have been in on had to do mainly with problems within the movement, like friction between protesters and homeless people who have been living in places that are now Occupy sites, or who have joined Occupy sites. Jesse pointed out that often this is the first contact protesters have had with the realities of poverty in the US. Also mentioned were dealing with the reality of winter coming and of inner resources wearing thin.

While admiration was expressed for the way the movement is self-organized and not willing to define itself yet in one way or another, there was also concern that there needs to be inquiry into what we DO want. Visioning needs to be done about the society we want to create.

Jesse observed that in the day to day necessities of survival in the camps, not enough time and attention go into connection to self, in ways that can renew inner resources AND lead to the visioning and thinking process. Those actively involved in the protests often have had no experience with the value of empathic listening or thinking from the felt sense.

If deep listening and thinking in new ways are not incorporated into the movement, there is the danger of easy enemies being targeted: there might be no real recognition of the part we all play in having created this societal and economic structure that doesn’t work anymore. We run the risk giving all our energy to “removing Mubarak” (in the US, the “one percent”) but having no real and lasting change.

We agreed that the kind of empathic listening that we offer can do a lot to facilitate the change that needs to take place.

We somehow need to build trust in our services and get people to experience the value of touching into what is emerging from inside, both to prevent burnout, ease pain and aid the new thinking process.

Jesse’s observation from listening to the protesters was that “a lot of the pain is from raw confusion of what to do next.”

From my perspective, it would be great if all the people familiar with Focusing and Thinking at the Edge could inundate the Occupy Wall Street groups, pencils in hand. It could go a long way to allowing fresh thinking and action to emerge.

It felt to all four of us that human interaction is uniquely central to these protests, and therefore those of us familiar with Focusing, NVC and other tools for peace really need to take our place as part of it. We need to let the protesters know that we are there for them not just when conflicts erupt, but also to listen deeply to their ideas, discomforts, and soul urgings, so that the movement can really express the richness it wants to bring to the world.