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Nonviolent Communication

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Nonviolent Communication

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When we disagree with what is happening in our world we usually see two choices: (a) keep quiet and keep up a pretense of peace (b) disagree and risk burning bridges. Nonviolent communication provides a third option: share your own experience and ask for what is life-giving.
This talk explores the soft skill necessary to speak up in a nonviolent way. Learn to suspend judgement, feel your emotions, be vulnerable, ask for what you need and see the best in other people.

When we disagree with what is happening in our world we usually see two choices: (a) keep quiet and keep up a pretense of peace (b) disagree and risk burning bridges. Nonviolent communication provides a third option: share your own experience and ask for what is life-giving.
This talk explores the soft skill necessary to speak up in a nonviolent way. Learn to suspend judgement, feel your emotions, be vulnerable, ask for what you need and see the best in other people.

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Nonviolent Communication

  1. 1. Nonviolent Communication Hannah du Plessis | Fit Associates, LLC www.fitassociates.com hannah@fitassociates.com | @hannahdup Presented 19 May 2015 at #dareconf USA 2015 See 2015.dareconf.com/usa for details. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 
 You can copy and redistribute it freely, so long as you attribute credit to its author, and you also share your work freely.
  2. 2. They say that the human experience is shaped by two forces. The first is our need to be ourselves and assert our will.
  3. 3. The second is to belong to our tribe. I grew up in South Africa under apartheid. Apartheid was an oppressive political system which runs on the belief that some people (white people) matter more than others. To keep an oppressive system like this going, people who spoke up to disagree with the status quo were silenced.
  4. 4. Every one of us bumps into this at some point in our lives. We come to a point where, in order to be accepted by the 
 larger culture, we’re expected to do what the culture asks of us. We edit what we truly think and feel to keep up the 
 pretense of peace.
  5. 5. From the outside, and from a personal perspective, this way of being worked just fine for me. I was running a successful design business with good clients and steady income.
  6. 6. But my deep-seated fear of conflict and rejection was standing in the way of my own growth. If my partner and I disagreed on how to run our business, instead of moving into the suffocating conflict, I would avoid it to keep the peace. But at a price: my interior became a dumping ground of unsaid stuff.
  7. 7. Eventually this became too much for me. I knew I had to change, and I committed to make a big change in my life. Even so, I didn’t change the way the way I related to my partner…
  8. 8. Instead I changed where I lived. I left home for several months! Through the thin thread of communication still left intact, my partner and I would have superficial conversations. I would ask, “How are you and the business?” And the reply was always, “Fine, thanks.”
  9. 9. But when I got home, things were not fine. Our clients were gone, our savings were depleted, and my partner and I were unable to speak about the things that matter most. Oh, did I mention that my business partner and I had been married for more than a decade? It was really important for us to speak about what matters. Initially I put on my “We can make it work” hat. But after several failed mediation attempts, I realized “We are not going to make this work.” And I got angry. Angry like a wounded buffalo. I charged into a lawyer’s office and started to dictate a very harsh letter when…
  10. 10. …I had this moment of “Oh My Goodness!” I realized that this was not something that just happened to me. By not speaking up for twelve years, I had co-created this outcome. If I had had the courage to speak up much earlier in this partnership, things would be very different for me. The time had come to change: not my circumstances, but my self.
  11. 11. During this time I came across the work of Marshall Rosenberg and the concept of Nonviolent Communication, or NVC for short. Image of Rosenberg: http://www.nvc-uk.com/ Nonviolent Communication
  12. 12. We are all familiar with physical violence. Physical violence is a way for someone to take power over someone else. But the interesting thing is the mindset out of which it is born. Physical violence says, “I matter more. My race, my religion, my culture, my comfort, my kids, my safety all matter more than yours and therefore I shall act in my own self-interest and harm you.” Physical Violence Worldview Dynamic Outcome Physical harm 
 One party takes
 power over the other
  13. 13. But physical violence is not the only kind of violence. There can be violent communication also. Violent communication shares the same worldview as physical violence. It says, “I matter more, you matter less. My priorities, my understanding of this situation, my perception of you, my goals, my acceptance by this group, these things matter more.” By assigning blame, labeling, criticizing, comparing, judging and denying responsibility, one party takes power over another through language. Communicative Violence Worldview Dynamic Outcome Inner harm Stuck in conflict
 or compliance (1/2)
  14. 14. Violent communication causes mental or emotional wounding. It sends the message that the other person is wrong or bad, that they matter less, that they are broken, insufficient and not worthy of time or attention. This works well if you want to keep an oppressive system in place and keep people feeling inferior and disempowered. But that story belongs to our past. It is not the future we are here to create. Communicative Violence Worldview Dynamic Outcome Inner harm Stuck in conflict
 or compliance (2/2)
  15. 15. Nonviolent communication starts by changing the worldview from exclusion to inclusion, where both parties matter equally. It changes the relational dynamic from a power-infused hierarchy to two whole and equal parties that are able to share their experience and ask for what they need. This results in mutual understanding and respect, and offers both the opportunity 
 to change. Nonviolent Communication Worldview Dynamic Outcome Honest communication Connection Transformation
  16. 16. w Rosenberg breaks NVC down into four components or steps. Following them helps us practice nonviolent communication. These components can be used both when we speak and when we listen. Let’s take an example: your team meeting starts at 9a.m. For the third time, John arrives at 9:15 and joins the meeting without a word. Four Components of the NVC Frame 1. Observation. 2. Feeling. 3. Need. 4. Request. “When this happened…” “I’ve felt this way…” “Because I have a need/hope/value…” “Could you please…?” (1/2)
  17. 17. w Violent communication would judge his behavior. It would say, “John, it is rude of you to come in late.” Or it would passive- aggressively hoard the judgmental feelings, then later communicate to him that he is an uncommitted slacker. 
 But nonviolent communication reacts by using the four components: “Hey John, when you arrived at 9:15 for the third time this month, I felt frustrated, because I need consistency in our team meetings. Is it possible for you to arrive at 9a.m.?” (2/2) Four Components of the NVC Frame 1. Observation. 2. Feeling. 3. Need. 4. Request. “When this happened…” “I’ve felt this way…” “Because I have a need/hope/value…” “Could you please…?”
  18. 18. When there are conflicting views of a situation, NVC provides us with a third option. Rather than choosing violence over the other person or choosing the violence of silencing yourself, NVC provides the option of showing up, connecting to the truth of your own experience, and speaking honestly from there. Nonviolent Communication Not Taking Power Over Not Silencing Yourself Honestly Speaking Up
  19. 19. w NVC is also about becoming a person who is skilled at living nonviolently. At first, I couldn’t do this. Having been around violent communication for so many years, my default was to protect myself by staying under the radar. “Don’t think, don’t feel, don’t speak” was the motto I used to get by. Let me tell you a bit about what I’ve been learning as we walk through the four steps. Skills Behind NVC 1. Observation. 2. Feeling. 3. Need. 4. Request. Can you be present? Can you sense & say what you feel? Do you know what you need to be okay? Can you ask for what you need?
  20. 20. w Let’s go back to the example of John arriving at 9:15. Step one is to become the observer. Suspend judgment, go into camera mode, and simply observe that John arrives 15 minutes after the agreed starting time. 1. Observation. 2. Feeling. 3. Need. 4. Request. Observation. What to do: Become the Observer: State what is actually happening. Suspend judgement and be present.
  21. 21. w This is hard for me, because my mind is a judging machine! When something happens, without a moment of pause, I jump straight into my assessment of the situation or person. Difficulty: My Mind is a Judging Machine!
  22. 22. w And then I put that person in a box. In this case I say, “John is a slacker.” As a result, two things happen: 1. I start to believe my label over reality, then treat John accordingly. I expect him to be late and to hand in poor work. 
 2. I also cut myself off from the gifts, the intelligence, the perspective that John brings to the group. It is a loss to have this amazing human being on my team with which I share no connection, and whose talents, passions and quirks I have no 
 access to.
  23. 23. w So the invitation is to catch myself when I go into judgment, and instead choose to go into camera mode. This way I can see the person for who they are and be present to the moment we share right now, simply as it is. Invitation: Become the Observer!
  24. 24. w Here are two tips: 
 First, Google the “Ladder of inference.” It will help you understand the effect our judgments have on our world. 
 Practice Suspending Judgment. • Learn how judgment effects us. • Get to know your mental filing cabinet. Practice this each day: write for 8 minutes without stopping, without lifting your pen, just pouring out whatever comes up in 
 your mind. (Google “freewriting” for more about this method.) Google the “ladder of inference.” (1/2)
  25. 25. w Secondly, get to know your mental filing cabinet. Mindfulness exercises are a great tool for observing your mind and building the neural circuitry required to be an observer. When I came to this work, my monkey mind was such a mess, it was not possible for me to observe it. Instead I used freewriting as a tool to watch my mind. I would put pen to paper and pour my thoughts out without stopping. Over weeks of doing this, the habitual boxes that I file life into became apparent and easier to recognize in the moment I reach for them. Practice Suspending Judgment. • Learn how judgment effects us. • Get to know your mental filing cabinet. Practice this each day: write for 8 minutes without stopping, without lifting your pen, just pouring out whatever comes up in 
 your mind. (Google “freewriting” for more.) Google the “ladder of inference.” (2/2)
  26. 26. w Feelings are our body’s way to mirror the truth of our felt experience to the mind. In this step, we are invited to become aware of how the situation makes you feel, and to share it with John. “John, when you arrived at 9:15 for the third time, I felt… wait, what do I feel?” 1. Observation. 2. Feelings. 3. Needs. 4. Request. Feelings. What to do: Become Embodied: Notice and name your feelings. Welcome, trust, express feelings. 2. Feelings.
  27. 27. w Actually, I don’t know what I feel. The world that shaped me wasn’t an emotional place. My culture encouraged people to feel excited, but not too excited. My culture would pat someone on their back when they felt sad, and ask them to get over it asap. It frowned upon fear. It didn’t tolerate anger and pretended that disconnection was not a thing. Feelings: The Wisdom of our Body Speaking Excited amazed animated ardent aroused astonished dazzled eager energetic enthusiastic giddy Sad hopeless depressed dejected despair despondent disappointed discouraged disheartened forlorn gloomy Afraid apprehensive dread foreboding frightened panicked petrified scared suspicious terrified wary Angry hopeless depressed dejected despair despondent disappointed discouraged disheartened forlorn gloomy alienated aloof apathetic bored cold detached distant distracted indifferent numb Disconnected This list is from the NVC website - and this is just the beginning of the list!
  28. 28. w It is uncomfortable to feel things that you are not encouraged to express. In an attempt to lessen the discomfort, I would migrate my attention away from my body and into my mind. I would go about my day like a backhoe: chopping away at my to-do list, ignoring any pesky feelings that came in the way of my tasks. When I got home after work, I would often find a burning urge inside me: a desire to punch something, or to eat an entire tub of Ben and Jerry’s chocolate ice cream. Difficulty: The Mind and Body Disconnect!
  29. 29. Connecting back to my body and my felt experience was (well, is — I’m still learning) a long & slow journey. I took small steps. First I just became aware of my feelings. Invitation: Recognize, Trust, & Express Feelings 1. Become aware of my feelings. (1/5)
  30. 30. Then I allowed myself to feel what I feel fully. When your default is to run from your feelings, it can be really difficult to sink into them. Strong emotions pass through your body in about 90 seconds. When you allow these strong feelings to move through you, you can reach a point where your world turns black and it feels unbearable. It is darned uncomfortable when a 12-foot whale of sadness swims through your psyche, or an angry herd of buffalo charges through your chest. But if you just stay present, soon enough that feeling will move away and a sense of peace will return. 1. Become aware of my feelings. 2. Allow myself to feel. Invitation: Recognize, Trust, & Express Feelings (2/5)
  31. 31. I use drawing, writing, and dancing to externalize what I’m feeling. This helps me to get my inner world out where I can see and understand it better. Sometimes I ask myself questions like, “Hey love, I sense your frustration. Could you tell me more?” Then I listen for the story under the emotion. 1. Become aware of my feelings. 2. Allow myself to feel. 3. Explore my inner-life through writing. Invitation: Recognize, Trust, & Express Feelings (3/5)
  32. 32. At some point I started to share my feelings with people around me. At first I only shared it with people with whom I could trust my feelings. 1. Become aware of my feelings. 2. Allow myself to feel. 3. Explore my inner-life through writing. 4. Say it where it is safe. Invitation: Recognize, Trust, & Express Feelings (4/5)
  33. 33. As I got more comfortable with expressing my feelings, I share them in contexts that I would never have previously imagined, like client meetings. 1. Become aware of my feelings. 2. Allow myself to feel. 3. Explore my inner-life through writing. 4. Say it where it is safe. 5. Say it where it is less safe. Invitation: Recognize, Trust, & Express Feelings (5/5)
  34. 34. w Here are two things you can do. First, do a body scan several times a day as a way to check in with your felt experience. This is easy, and takes no more than a minute. Close your eyes and bring your full attention to your head. What are you feeling in your eyes, your jaw? What’s happening in your mouth? Continue, and scan the whole of your body. All you need to do is to notice and stay present to the sensations you feel. That’s it. You can end by taking a few deep breaths and resting your attention in your feet. Practice Being Embodied • Body scan. • Fully experience your emotions. Allow yourself to fully feel the emotion that is passing through your body. Take a minute and scan your body - notice how and what you feel where. (1/3)
  35. 35. w The second thing you can practice is to really feel your feelings when they arrive. Go to a quiet place if you need to, and allow that whale of a feeling to swim through you. Remember to do two things: • Body scan. • Fully experience your emotions. Allow yourself to fully feel the emotion that is passing through your body. Take a minute and scan your body - notice how and what you feel where. Practice Being Embodied (2/3)
  36. 36. w 1. Suspend your story about the feeling (e.g. “I should not be feeling this, this is uncomfortable, that person is a pig-pie”) and 2. Keep breathing! By breathing deeply, you tell your brain that things are ok, you needn’t go into fight-or-flight mode. This might feel uncomfortable, but it’s really important. Feelings are like farts – keeping them inside just is not a good thing! • Body scan. • Fully experience your emotions. Allow yourself to fully feel the emotion that is passing through your body. Take a minute and scan your body - notice how and what you feel where. Practice Being Embodied (3/3)
  37. 37. w Thirdly, here is some advice. It might not seem clear when I first say it, but I will explain. Here’s the advice: become whole and value what you need. In the NVC frame we’ll say, “So John, when you arrived at 9:15 for the third time this month, I felt frustrated, because I need consistency in our team meetings.” 1. Observation. 2. Feelings. 3. Needs. 4. Request. Needs. What to do: Become Whole: Identify your need. Value what you need. 3. Needs.
  38. 38. w Down at the bottom, below our opinions, stories, skin colors and titles are a big deep reservoir of human needs that connect us to one another. When I say, “I don't like how you are running this meeting,” we can argue about it. But when I say, “I need some freedom or clarity or a sense of purpose,” then we both, at some point in our lives, have felt this. In NVC we are asked to feel for and say what it is we need at this moment. Examples of Needs
  39. 39. w Yet for me, saying what I need at work did not feel comfortable. In my mind, work is about getting stuff done, not talking about soft stuff like feelings and needs. But our culture shapes us, and we in return shape our culture. If the culture affects us in a negative way and we keep quiet, we continue that pattern of negativity. If, on the other hand we push back, our actions affect our culture. Culture: See Our Place in It (1/2)
  40. 40. w If you’re used to believing that your experience doesn’t matter, and now you start acting as though it does, it feels scary. 
 The first time I used NVC, I had it all written out and I was shaking as I read from my piece of paper. I felt so vulnerable. Speaking up means you are becoming visible, and when you become visible you open yourself up to being rejected, criticized, belittled. Culture: See Our Place in It (2/2)
  41. 41. w For much of my life the idea of being rejected terrified me. I believed I was dependent on others’ approval to feel safe and worthy in the world. Difficulty: Needing Approval
  42. 42. w The invitation is to internalize our worth. To create a safe, warm inner sanctuary that welcomes, approves of and cares for both our shiny victorious parts and our shadowy failing parts. This space of unconditional acceptance becomes a source of inner strength for us to stand on and speak from. Invitation: Value Yourself, Approve of Yourself (1/3)
  43. 43. w So, here I am working in an office with Erik. Whenever Sarah, who cleans our office, comes in, he doesn’t make eye contact. And when she initiates a conversation, he seldom responds. This makes me angry. But I‘ve learned that directing my anger at another human being is not helpful. I need to go deeper. Invitation: Value Yourself, Approve of Yourself (2/3)
  44. 44. w Even though Erik is my senior by far and I would prefer not to offend him, I care enough for myself to make sure my needs are met too. I feel hesitant, but hey, I try. “Erik, when you don’t talk to Sarah, I feel sad. Because I have a need to belong to an office where we treat everyone with the greatest respect. Could I please ask you to notice when she comes in and acknowledge the work she does here?” Something opened. I saw a new side of Erik, and Erik saw a new side of life. We are able to have deeper conversations about the world we co-create every day. Invitation: Value Yourself, Approve of Yourself (3/3)
  45. 45. w Practice this. Self-acceptance: one of our deepest needs is to be seen, to be heard, to be loved and appreciated. Start by noticing, appreciating and writing down two or three good things you do everyday. Practice Caring for Yourself • Self-Acceptance • Asking for what you need When you notice that you feel off balance, ask yourself, “What do I feel, and what do I need in order to feel better?” At the end of your day, write down three things you did that you are grateful for. (1/2)
  46. 46. w Asking for what you need: When you notice that you feel off balance, take a moment and ask yourself, “Hey dear, what are you feeling?” And then, “Can you tell me what you need in order to feel better?” Listen for it, and take an action to help yourself feel better. When we listen for and meet our own needs, we learn to cultivate a trusting relationship with ourselves. This becomes good practice to identify our needs and ask others for help. Practice Caring for Yourself • Self-Acceptance • Asking for what you need When you notice that you feel off balance, ask yourself, “What do I feel, and what do I need in order to feel better?” At the end of your day, write down three things you did that you are grateful for. (2/2)
  47. 47. The last step in NVC is to become a visionary and to make your request. “So John, when you arrived at 9:15 for the third time, I felt frustrated, because I need consistency in our team meetings. Could you please help me understand why you arrive when you do?” Or, “Could you please arrive at 9a.m.?” 1. Observation. 2. Feelings. 3. Needs. 4. Request. Request. What to do: Become a Visionary: Ask for what will be great. See the value of others. 4. Request.
  48. 48. w When we stand in a relationship of equals, where both parties are seen as responsible for their own well-being and are capable of caring for the relationship as a whole, it is easy to ask for something like feedback, clarity or action. The Ideal Relationship: We Are Equal! Give and Receive
  49. 49. w We have adopted a cultural belief that our roles equal our worth. The higher up you move in the organization, the better you are and the more entitled you are to ask things of other people. The inverse is also true. Seeing one another as un-equals stands in the way of good relationships. Relationships of equality and a worldview where everyone’s needs matter are the foundation from which good communication grows. More Common: We Are Unequals Give and Give
  50. 50. w Every day, we meet people who we may think of as either better or worse than us. And we can get stuck in that story. We can start to believe that story over reality and give into the idea that “they will never change.” Invitation: Speak to Each Other’s Best Future Possibility (1/5)
  51. 51. w I have many of those stories that can keep me stuck in a relational dynamic. For example, here I was joining a new firm after the one in South Africa closed. I have a new colleague and I find that I am not using my voice strongly. All the stereotypes that can keep me silent apply. I am female, he is male. I am from Africa: this is not my turf, the U.S. is his home base. I am young, I have less experience. He is much older and agile in this world. English is not my first language and I’m slow to find words. English is the air he breathes. And so on. Invitation: Speak to Each Other’s Best Future Possibility (2/5)
  52. 52. w We are often in client meetings together, and I’ve sat through several with my foot in my mouth. For a while there I was tempted to believe the story that “this is just how things are, how he is, how I am, how the world works.” For another while I was scolding myself for having such a soft voice. Neither stories satisfies. I believe in partnerships of equality where we can find ways for all the voices in the room to be heard. And I believe most people are capable of creating these spaces. Invitation: Speak to Each Other’s Best Future Possibility (3/5)
  53. 53. w So, here I go and I say “Marc, when we are in that client meeting and I don’t speak at all, I feel annoyed. I have a big need to bring my voice and opinion into the conversation. Yet, for many reasons (I list them) I find it hard to speak up. Could you please help me by leaving some space in the conversation before you share your opinion or, if you think of it, ask for mine?” Invitation: Speak to Each Other’s Best Future Possibility (4/5)
  54. 54. w Most human beings prefer true collaboration and inclusion over pretense and compliance. Step by step, conversation by conversation, meeting by meeting, the dynamics we participate in can change. Invitation: Speak to Each Other’s Best Future Possibility (5/5)
  55. 55. w Here are two last tips: Question your story. Practice questioning the story you carry inside you about the people in your life and your role in the relationship. What if your voice really matters and needs to be hear? What if they are capable of hearing it? Practice Being a Visionary • What if my story is not true? • Go for an empathy walk
 Ask your difficult co-worker to go with you on a walk. Don’t speak, just listen to them: who is this person becoming? As you become aware of the stories you tell yourself about others, stop and ask yourself “what if my story is not true?” (1/2)
  56. 56. w Empathy walk: You know that difficult co-worker you believe is never going to change? Yes, that one. Ask them to go on a long walk with you. Open your heart fully, turn into a sea of listening. In your heart, just hold the question: “Who is this person becoming?” And when you get home, start to wonder, “How can I become part of this person’s success?” • What if my story is not true? • Go for an empathy walk
 Ask your difficult co-worker to go with you on a walk. Don’t speak, just listen to them: who is this person becoming? As you become aware of the stories you tell yourself about others, stop and ask yourself “what if my story is not true?” Practice Being a Visionary (2/2)
  57. 57. w We have all internalized relational stances that have kept us safe and able to function in our culture. But if our intention is to become all of who we are and stand in authentic relationship with our colleagues, the invitation is to shift how we relate to each other, and to shift our communication towards nonviolence. Becoming: Unequal to Equal, Violent to Nonviolent
  58. 58. This process of becoming takes time. It’s like shifting your physical posture. You may experience moments of surprise when you suddenly realize something about yourself like, “OMG, I don’t speak about what matters.” Becoming: A long and iterative process 1. Become aware of my pattern. (1/5)
  59. 59. And then you will enter a very difficult stage in the change process where you are aware of your undesirable habit, but because you have not yet developed a new habit, you are unable to change what you are doing. Please be kind to yourself. It’s normal! 1. Become aware of my pattern. 2. Aware and unable to shift. (2/5) Becoming: A long and iterative process
  60. 60. Next, you’ll begin to notice that you are able to try something different. Great! Try it! You’ll have some successes and some failures. Here are two failures I recommend you watch out for: 1. Using the NVC frame with a violent mindset; 
 2. Using NVC over email when you’re afraid to say it face to face. 1. Become aware of my pattern. 2. Aware and unable to shift. 3. Try something new, you will fail. (3/5) Becoming: A long and iterative process
  61. 61. Learn from your actions and try again and again and again… 1. Become aware of my pattern. 2. Aware and unable to shift. 3. Try something new, you will fail. 4. Learn, adjust, and try again. (4/5) Becoming: A long and iterative process
  62. 62. … until your new way of being becomes your new normal. 1. Become aware of my pattern. 2. Aware and unable to shift. 3. Try something new, you will fail. 4. Learn, adjust, and try again. 5. New becomes new normal. (5/5) Becoming: A long and iterative process
  63. 63. w For Your Journey • Leave violent self-talk behind. • Cultivate awareness, openness, courage, self compassion and vulnerability. • Remember it is not only about the frame, it is about cultivating a non-violent way of being and speaking from there Self-criticism, blame and shame will keep you small & stuck.
  64. 64. w Ponds dry up, and then it rains again. Partnerships dissolve, and then we build new ones. It has been four years since I’ve been introduced to NVC. I’ve changed a great deal and so has my life. I find myself in relationships characterized by equality, care and respect and I’m actively participating in shaping and being shaped by them. Together with my colleague, I do work I deeply care about: helping students, teams and organizations become the change they long for. Good Things Ahead! SVA CMU Fit Associates
  65. 65. I’m not sure where you find yourself on this journey, but I would like to encourage you. Being here at this conference means you are on your journey of becoming someone who dares, who takes risks and participates in creating a better world. • It gets easier • You get wiser • You will feel fear • You will experience great freedom On your journey: Remember
  66. 66. I look forward to a future where each of us show up authentically, connect and communicate honestly and work together to become and build the future we long for. Go dive into this journey, you’re going to be just fine! Go Dive In! Thank you.

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