“Love is the most durable power in the world. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
The nonviolent life has many dimensions and steps. Four of these steps are:
- Centering ourselves;
- Articulating and sharing our piece of the truth;
- Receiving the other’s piece of the truth; and
- Agreeing on a new way.
Center, Articulate, Receive, and Agree – CARA, for short – is a process for engaging the world and its inhabitants nonviolently.
“Cara” means “face” in Spanish. The CARA process invites us to meet others, including our opponents, face-to-face in a nonviolent way. ”Cara” also means “dear one” in Latin and Italian. CARA encourages us to face all people – and especially those with whom we are in conflict — in a constructive and openhearted manner, regarding them the way we regard the dearest and most important person in our lives.
This is not always easy. That is why we need to learn and consciously choose to use this process, over and over. Fortunately or not, we are offered an opportunity to practice this virtually from moment to moment.
Putting each of the following steps into practice can be simple or complex. It will often require ingenuity and persistence and allies, especially where no level playing field exists – that is, where there are power differences between the parties. It can be carried out in a moment, or it can take years. It can be used in interpersonal conflicts, and it can be used in the process of arduous social change.
What is presented here is the framework; it is up to each of us to find creative and appropriate ways to put each step into practice in whatever context or situation in which we find ourselves.
Step One: Centering
Centering ourselves means becoming present and grounded. Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls it “being a mountain.” It is the process of making contact with our truest selves even in the most difficult situation. It is being rooted in our heart. By being anchored in our truest self, we are preparing to respond – and not simply react – to the situations we face.
Some ways to center ourselves include: conscious breathing; taking time to identify and name our emotional state in the moment (fear, anger, sadness, happiness); repeating inwardly and attentively a meaningful or sacred prayer, word, mantra, or name; changing physical position (for example, sitting down if one is standing); and removing ourselves from the situation for the purpose of coming to clarity about it. It is a good idea to discover the tool or process that works best for us in bringing us back to our true self. And instead of waiting until we are blindsided, it’s a good idea to find a way to practice and sharpen this every day, so that it becomes a daily practice that prepares us for the moment when it will be most necessary.
Step Two: Articulating and Sharing Our Piece of the Truth
While we sometimes think that we have the whole truth, in fact we have a piece of the truth — and the un-truth. In Step Two, we identify and share our piece of the truth, a process that has four aspects:
- First, perceiving and assessing the situation in which we find ourselves.
- Second, getting clarifying feelings about this situation.
- Third, identifying what we need in this situation. What is essential and what is non-essential? What is real need and what is the un-truth (our ego, our greed, our desire for revenge, etc.).
- And fourth, sharing our “pieces of our truth” with the other
This is a process of clarifying and conveying what is happening around us and within us by asking:
- What is really going on in the situation? What is the issue? What factors are contributing to this issue? What are the deeper interests and motivations of each party in the situation?
- What are we really feeling? Are we angry? Sad? Frustrated? Feeling powerless?
- What do we need? Can we be specific?
- How can you convey this? Can you use “I statements”? What would it take to be open, direct, vulnerable, and inviting? Can we be disarmed and disarming so that we can both feel less defensive?
Step Three: Receive the Truth of the Other Person
Step Three involves listening deeply to the other person’s truth: what they are feelings and what they need. This involves being curious about this person and her or his position, feelings, needs. Interested in the other, in their position and in them as human beings. What is her or his piece of the truth? There is a reason that they are holding a position different from the one you are; try to get to it. Try to create an environment where this can be shared.
Ways of doing this can include: Listening actively; being curious; use questions not to cross-examine or trap the other but to really find out something about the other person’s point of view that you don’t know (sometimes, as Sharon Ellison suggests, this is helped by lowering our voice at the end of the question or sentence); asking what the person means by certain words, beliefs or feelings; checking out any of our own assumptions concerning the situation; explore any inconsistencies we may notice between the other person’s words and their non-verbal communication (for example, when someone says in a loud, forced voice, “I’m fine!”); resume the conversation later if we need to have some time to think about what has been shared.
Step Four: Seeking Agreement
Step Four seeks to “put the two truths together” as the basis of creating an agreement where the needs of both parties are met. This often involves:
- Reviewing the needs and pieces of the truth of both parties.
- Working together to develop an outcome that meets these needs.
- Letting go of all non-essential elements.
- Making a plan to implement the agreement.
At first glance, it might seem that the CARA process would only be successful where both parties are willing to use it. While this can sometimes help achieve an agreement sooner, it is not necessary. In most cases only one party will be committed to using this process. But this doesn’t matter. All the steps remain the same. The one taking the initiative still centers, articulates, receives and agrees. This involves creating an atmosphere that elicits the truth of the other and persuades them that the agreement is better than the cycle of conflict and violence.
CARA draws on elements from Bill Moyer’s “Moving from Domination to Intimacy” workshops; Sharon Ellison’s “Powerful, Non-Defensive Communication and Nonviolent Communication” program; and “Nonviolent Communication.”