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searching for the win-win (or what I’ve learned from nonviolent communication)

2018 February 28
by Rachel Turiel

Dan is fiddling with the vacuum in our laundry room (er, laundry closet, also housing herds of untamed shoes, winter hats, jars of escabeche) singing, Papa’s got a brand new bag. Rose perks up, having never met a bag she doesn’t like.

“What bag, Daddy?”

“Papa’s got a brand new vacuum bag. Hey!”

It’s Sunday, and I’m craving some family time, the magical kind where we’re all grateful to be together, feeling close and enjoying the same activity, which is precisely the one I have chosen. I mean really, is it so unreasonable to be an authoritarian parent, dictating our lives based on my values, Col and Rose following along good naturedly? (You’re right, Mom, social media could be a huge distraction to our growing brains! Lets unplug and go camping!) In my dreamlife, we’re strolling through the piñons under the medicinal winter sun, the kids divulging their hardships and dreams (but like, in a really digestible way, where everyone speaks with perfect self-awareness). But, more likely I’d be practicing my labor breathing, two small people grumbling along in their lead-filled shoes, determined not to enjoy themselves because it was forced on them. As Marshall Rosenberg says, “As long as I think I ’should’ do it, I’ll resist it, even if I want very much to do it.” Damn.

We decide to try something more revolutionary than the democratic “one person, one vote” in which some win and others lose. We’re looking not for the fraught, score-keeping compromise, but for a Sunday family plan that everyone loves. We decide to each express the top three things we would love to do and then with all options on the table, cut and paste a plan that addresses everyone’s desires. (Even though one of us is happy to tinker in the opium den of the lego pile and another keeps a personal list titled: “good deer spots.”)

We gather around the situation room of our kitchen table, recording ideas and trying to stick to our collective pledge to be open to everything, even as Dan mentions driving an hour to Silverton and I watch the kids imagine slowly perishing of boredom as we blur past another snowy mountain, forced to invent backseat fights just to keep things lively. Similarly, Rose’s “walk around downtown with hot chocolate and window shop” makes me feel slightly panicked. When Col mentions wanting to visit a game store, I have to bite back my And, how does this include everyone? judgment. I share my desire for a hike, emphasis on roasting marshmallows over a campfire, trolling for allegiance like an opportunistic politician.

Once complete, we revisit everyone’s three suggestions aloud and amend as necessary. Alpine skiing gets nixed because two of us would actually need lessons. Visiting cats at the humane society is spontaneously added by both children. I thought the hardest part was withholding opinions as people announced their preferences, but turns out that was the appetizer for the following, meatier challenge.

Next, we offer strategies that take into account as many people’s interests as possible: the cats, the hiking, the hot chocolate, the game store. Ideas are floated and recorded and eventually Col comes up with: walk on the river path with hot chocolate to the humane society to visit the cats. (And a quick trip for kids to neighboring game store while Dan and I walk further up the river trail). The room goes quiet. And then everyone comes out with a unanimous YES! This solution hits Dan and my desire for exercise outside, the kids’ desire to be with kitties, all of our desire to be together and the unspoken: our desire to contribute to each others’ happiness, because, (at the risk of sounding like Mr. Rogers) it feels really good to contribute to the wellbeing of others, and (at the risk of sounding calculating), others will be more likely to care for our hopes and dreams when we care for theirs. It seems sort of like a dream, each of us getting what we want without coercion, persuasion, bribes or threats.

“We’ll be out during lunch,” I mention to Dan.

“So, we’ll need a few coolers and a wheelbarrow?” He replies.

We stuff our pockets with bars and leftover waffles and set out, each of us, I believe, feeling like we’re getting away with something. And maybe this is the crux of finding win-win solutions. When everyone is heard and considered and the goal is to satisfy the most needs, there is nothing to fight for, just the collective, creative brainpower of the group caring for one another.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Erika permalink
    February 28, 2018

    Damn, Rachel, this is so awesome. I had to write my first-ever response, simply because Dan’s statement about needing 2 coolers and wheelbarrow for lunch had me laughing so hard I almost fell out of my chair. That would be me! I fill the car just for a trip to town, and never go anywhere without food. Ben is my excuse, you know how much he eats:)

  2. Nan permalink
    March 1, 2018

    Your writing and thoughts are never short of amazing. Beautiful.

  3. esworld permalink
    March 6, 2018

    Why would it ever just change? People aren”t talking about revolutionary transformation for entertainment”s sake. The point should be to achieve critical mass and stop the system in its tracks. A good nonviolent start would be a general strike.

  4. aurelie permalink
    March 10, 2018

    Thank you Kathryn! I’m honored!

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