Empathetic Heart Leading – Connecting with the marginalized at Occupy Camp

Posted on November 24, 2011 by


Part two of  – Leadership through the Heart finds connection to ground level – Occupy

Sitting down to connect with those who have made choices to not be present in their own experience and numbing out by using substances to alter their state of being was something I had not considered doing in the past.  Now finding myself at Centennial Square to support introducing a method of communication and empathy developed through a system called Nonviolent Communication into the movement I was immersed in an environment that included the marginalized.

Forgotten past experiences began coming up as recognition in these live interactions while in the square to share Nonviolent Communication known as NVC.  It also include the integration of a recent f heavy practice and training with a focus on human conditioning, development in relationships and in human functioning.  As I was in action in the square I observed something had shifted in how I perceive and in the place I act from.  A glimmer that had been  simply knowing there was a better way becoming a reality and one with no effort and with coming in ease.  I had no need to make it work, teach or change them and in going into this movement to simply explore and be curious something for me inside shifted and a conscious awareness began to emerge.

Besides being curious and exploring how to contribute more peace in an alive situation  I was also with no attachment to f ix these people, to sympathize with them and support their conditions in the traditional sense.  Yet I was present with them in their condition and giving them a choice through a connection that simply held no fear, no judgement and no needs to engage in away that either took their power away or had power over them.  In fact I found the space for creating a balance to their needs that included the other and myself while modelling it to support all the members in the group needs for safety and for respect.  A shift away from one member’s needs overcoming others.

I share this as it is my perspective that changing to a needs and value based society there will be more opportunities for social change.

One of my mentors, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg discussed once a group camp he started in a marginalized country where the community was addicted to supply and support the drug trade.  In this camp those who wanted to change came even with no funds to pay for their experience.  The only request was that they go back into their communities and if someone else wanted to change they bring them to the camp to have this opportunity.    Marshall shared how he does not believe in labels and does not force members to discuss themselves as having addictions.  He encourages them to change their language to focus on their needs in the moment.  He discouraged them from self-labelling.  He expressed the success of working with people who have additions based upon changing how they perceive themselves and how they have given up their needs.  The process begins and has a high success rate when the person connects to wanting change, not before.

My perspective is that this can come through simple connection of being heard and seen without fear,  judgement, blame or shame or allowing them the expectations of entitlement.  To connect honestly holding ones own needs first in connecting and then holding the other’s needs with a commitment to not dominate or attachment to outcome.   My experience has been that those who want something from me will simply fade away and go on their way.  Others who are getting a connection and a need met stay and I observe a considerable change in them as they settle into the experience of connecting itself.  More than once I experienced profound shifts in these members.  On one such occasion I could not understand the person due to their shock and concern over an incident that they expressed and through an emphatic exchange within a few minutes the sentences changed from being incoherent into articulate sentences.  I also found that members still active in our greater Victoria community coming to connect at Centennial Square and recognized a the smell of alcohol and heard their painful processing of relationship experiences creating their turmoil.  The difference for me in these two experiences is it was easier to connect to the first one.  The second one was still in the state of thinking and teaching me versus connecting.

In the past when I was a committee member and then a Director on the Board for the B.C. Network for Compassionate Communication I didn’t find myself attracted to the type of energy that was being asked for in focusing on supporting marginalized groups.  It seemed to have a higher focus point without balancing communities needs.  I recognize in my thinking this includes other marginalized groups such as those in prisons and again I personally believe that it will be through real live interactions of the many that will shift social change and that it will begin with them.  When the masses begin to integrate a needs and values based system of speaking, listening and connecting into their will be a social shift in our cultures.  We will want to balance and contribute to humanities well being and move away from continuing to accumulate at others and the environments expense.

What stimulated me on the Board and the intense focus on the marginalized was it the energy in the request felt familiar.  It was a familiar energy from having had personal first hand living experience in the process of growing up with an alcoholic.  A family provider  that spiralled down into self-destructive behaviours.  It is not only the alcoholic behaviour you become exposed to through their process as they get sicker it is the surrounding family communities behaviour and strategies for coping that you are exposed to followed by how it affects the next generations behaviour.  The energy for me  for focusing BCNCC’s effort wasn’t much different somehow and I simply knew I didn’t want to be drawn in and draining my resources.  Some other idea was forming from having had listened to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s personal experience sharing and my glimpses into this world that was sitting in the background for me not ready to come forward.

The glimmer I mentioned above started taking shape through life experiences and didn’t come consciously together until finding myself in action at Centennial Square.  For background,  these life experiences are as follows or go back to Leadership through the Heart finds connection to ground level – Occupy

  • Dragged at 15 to ACOA Meetings 
  • Dividing family experience of We are entitled versus I’ll take care of myself
  • Volunteering at a Street Kids Association
  • Buddhist practice of making connection in the environment of the marginalized

If you are interested in reading more:

Dragged at 15 to ACOA Meetings 

One family members behaviour to find support and answers from living with an alcoholic was through a group called ACOA – Adult Children of  Alcoholics.  This is my memory of attending a number of meetings and the experience.  Remembering  the negative talk in an alcoholics community that has a certain language and feeling and interactions in relationships in their drinking group and family this for me was the  same tone I experienced in the support group.

On a visit to Victoria when  I was fifteen I was taken to an ACOA meeting.  There was a  group of adults of various ages and telling stories.  I believe they began by sharing how long they had come to this group and I remember thinking my god, are they competing for the worst story  award.   Even at that age I could not comprehend how someone participating in a group for that long telling their stories over and over would not have gotten beyond them.

In this circle someone I knew and began to share their experience.  Listening  to this sharing was the beginning of recognizing how two people sharing a history together could have two totally different memories and experiences.  I also experienced sadness as I was the child still in the toxic environment that had spiralled even lower than the events of this sharing.  What I remember feeling was horrified at the level of pain this person was in from experiences that did not reflect the newer ones that they were not exposed too.

Forward to another year, another holiday in Victoria and back listening at 16 to another ACOA support group meeting.  Sitting in again, not remember faces and names and listening to the stories.  As the sharing went around the circle I remember the same stories from my previous year’s visit which began to bring back the memories of their faces.  What had changed was they seemed more distraught and deeper in the depression of it.  The stories also had gotten bigger with additions and it seemed to me like a frenzy was building.

go back to Leadership through the Heart finds connection to ground level – Occupy

Dividing family experience of We are entitled versus I’ll take care of myself

Another experience was being an executive and driving up to a dumpster in my town to unload a batch of garbage out of my brand new car with my partner and another friend to witness just ahead some family members jump up out of the garbage in a dumpster to catch a falling bag to sort through and take items from that bag.  I slowly found myself filling with dread, shame and embarrassment and stuck in the line with no escape except to move forward into the waiting hell of the gap between these two experiences.  I was in my mid twenties.

The thoughts I came away with over and over in engaging with this part of my family and the next generations was their sense of entitlement.  Our main families experience divided.  I fit into the group of privacy, extreme ideas of right and wrong doing, and I’ll take care of myself and not ask for help yet hurt when no one ever came forward to help and support!  The other side fit into being entitled to things,expectation of deserving, being rescued over and over and expectations to be cared for and always asking.  Of course it is more complex than this yet the one thing neither side had ever experienced was a true empathic connection.  The feelings of being loved, cherished and being

go back to Leadership through the Heart finds connection to ground level – Occupy

Volunteering at a Street Kids Association

Out of concern for a young person I knew I  volunteered with the Street Kids Association as it was known at that time.  This young person was attracted to hanging out with the street kids and I wanted to have a better understanding. In volunteering I recognized a community that was amazing for these young people and began to understand why it would be attractive.  They took care of each other and had developed a family possibly more fulfilling than the one at home.  There was also all these resources begin thrown together for them and given with no expectations of them.

It was a wealth of resources going into supporting these kids and I did notice that beyond this they knew how to get more funds from other government agencies and departments.  They seemed well-educated on getting their needs met through working the system.  They would get dogs as it would increase their benefits.  If they had a doctor’s appointment they would come in for bus money even after had just received a $20.00 bill in pan handling.  They knew which stores would be throwing out day old sandwiches and be there.  It was an amazing education and the best came through the  office politics of the government employees in the association itself.

The Manager in charge had a strict adherence to a set of guidelines to go by while another employee  was engaging the students on a level of being friends.  The one against managing began a campaign to replace the stricter one who respected the children as teens and held the boundaries between them.  The lenient ones campaign worked and the old leader was re-assigned and immediately it seemed to fall apart.  What the lenient one was not aware of was the difference in the levels of  respect the children held for the manager and the manager for them.  They respected the stricter one, even when they did not get what they wanted and they still demonstrated that they liked him would like his appreciation and respect back.  Their engagement with the lenient one different.  They took everything they could get from them, engaged to receive draining amounts of  sympathy and turned away with disrespect, making faces even as they turned away and then went into talking about this person with others in a negative way.

As my volunteer time closed I walked away understanding that this seemingly marginalized group of people we are trying to fix and give our sympathy too have it made.  They are  had more cash on hand than I did.  I knew somehow there must be a better and balanced way.

go back to Leadership through the Heart finds connection to ground level – Occupy

Buddhist practice of making connection in the environment of the marginalized

This practice was designed to begin to simply connect with our hearts by noticing what came up for us as we made these journey’s  in to a circumstance that we would usually turn our eyes away from.  By developing a deeper awareness to our reactive state of mind and emotions it began to allow for more information to seep in and develop less of a need for protect reactions of defence from being fearful.  With the softer confidence building through these encounters the eye contact begins to shape a different experience between the two passers by.  This was my experience and I find now I have a choice depending upon my inner state whether I connect through eye contact to what I have discovered is an empathic silent connection.  Not sympathy nor reactive.

It opened my eyes to noticing they were getting their immediate needs met however simple like smokes, food and alcohol and community.  The street families and communities that are developing may not get along with each other yet there is a kinsmen-ship within them that I do not experience myself in my community.  It changed my view considerably having had this experiencing and recognizing human nature and how those on the street.

Renee, lives in Victoria, B.C., and supports improving connections to cultural social change through inner change.  She sees people privately for personal transformation in the areas of relationships, physical movement and the environment connection to well-being.  She also offers ongoing classes to support these changes.  For more information or to connect – renee@insideawareness.com