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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Dominic Barter
http://bit.ly/xA7Hh1

 

Empathy Connects, Transforms and Removes the Blocks to Action!
Dominic Barter and Edwin Rutsch

Dominic Barter plays with dialogue and partnership, focusing primarily in the fields of education, justice, culture and social change. In the mid-90s he collaborated in the development of Restorative Circles, a community-based and -owned practice for dynamic engagement with conflict that grew from conversations with residents in gang-controlled shantytown favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

He adapted the practice for the Brazilian Ministry of Justice's award-winning national projects in Restorative Justice and supports its application in a further 25 countries. In recent years he has supervised the mediation program for the Police Pacification Units in Rio, served as invited professor at the Standing Group for Consensual Methods of Conflict Resolution, at the High Court of Rio, with a focus on school mediation and bullying, and focused on the development of restorative community. Currently Dominic directs the Dialogue Restoration project for the State Education Department of Rio de Janeiro and partners with the Centre for the Study of Public Security and Citizenship at Candido Mendes University.

"There's something really unique about empathy,
 that it clears the things that are blocking action,
and that it connects both inside and
to other people in a way that

is transformative."
 

La danse -  Henri Matisse (Wikipedia)

"So I prefer to invite people to experience the
quality that weíre calling empathy rather
than talking about it or illustrating it,
or telling stories about it."

As a long time student and colleague of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg Dominic serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Nonviolent Communication, shares Nonviolent Communication throughout Brazil and internationally, and supports its learning in project-based, community contexts. He has been active in the street movements and occupations in Rio in recent years. Heís the very happy dad of an amazing 14 year old.
You can find out more about Restorative Circles at restorativecircles.org

Sub Conference: Justice

 
 

Dominic Barter on Empathy and Restorative Circles: Interviewed by Edwin Rutsch  

 


Interviews from the Dominic Barter - Restorative Circles Workshop
Oakland CA. 2009-11-01
(Thanks to Mike Epstein for transcription)



Dominic Barter on Empathy (1 of 3)

     

 I've been exploring the question of how can we build a culture of empathy? A while back, I interviewed Dominic Barter, who facilitates restorative circles in some of the toughest drug and gang ridden favelas (shantytowns) in Brazil. He has created a process based on Nonviolent Communication and Restorative Justice that brings conflicted parties together to reconnect internally, with others and with the community at large.

Dominic told me restorative circles are like a series of empathy hot tubs. This is first part of my interview with him where I asked him about the nature of empathy.
 

One of the things I experience
when empathy is present,
is that the blocks  to action,
which does not exclude,
 are removed.
 

Dominic Barter: One of the things I experience when empathy is present, is that the blocks to action, which does not exclude are removed. So one of the ways that I can identify that empathy is present, is that whatever is impeding action is gone, and that the quality that that action has is that it tends to include, it connects, it brings pieces together, it resolve what appears to be knotted and bond.

And I can remember a situation in a practice group where somewhere came, and they said, "You know I'm so pissed off with my boyfriend. I came in last night, and I've been working all day, and he sat on the sofa watching TV, switching channels. And there's this huge pile of washing up."

And she had her pain, that she felt around that heard, and she felt much better. And it was great. And she went home, and everything for her seemed in her experience of that, very different.

And next week we gathered again in a practice group, and she said "I can't believe it. I'm so upset. I came home, and my boyfriend sat on the sofa, and you know, he's smoking and watching television, and there's this huge pile of washing up."

And she gets her pain heard again, and the next week I'm thinking "I'm not sure what's going to happen", and sure enough, there she is saying, you know, the same thing happened again. So listening to someone's pain, which is a very supportive regenerative experience for many of us, is a very key element, but for me, it is not the piece that I'm looking for. It is not something that removes the blocks to action yet, if it doesn't translate into a new relationship between these two people, an initiative taking back the power to actually express myself and create change. That's what I like to reserve the word empathy for.

So I can listen like a friend to someone else, and that can be very valuable, but there's something really unique about empathy, that it clears the things that are blocking action, and that it connects both inside and to other people in a way that is transformative.

But I like the word empathy. It suggests to me more than an understanding of what has happened to someone else, but almost like a lending of my sense of them to them, that helps them reconnect with themselves in a deeper way.

I like the word empathy.
It suggests to me more than an understanding
of what has happened to someone else,
but almost like a lending of my sense of them to them,
that helps them reconnect with themselves
 in a deeper way
.

And when we really reconnect internally, we discover that we have a wealth of options, and the joy of life is the engagement in what is happening around us, to celebrate and support those things that are aligned with our values, and to engage with those things that aren't, and invite them to transform.

So that's what I'm looking for, that inner connection that leads to action. The inner connection is within myself, and it is with that that I'm able to engage with someone else in a way that doesn't involve me being submissive to them or attempting to dominate them. So that's why I say it clears the blocks to action which is inclusive.

So I'd describe empathy as one of the conditions that enables me to connect internally, and therefore, to act in a way that doesn't create separation and distance, but brings people together and creates power, basically, through partnership, through the desire to co create the conditions that we want to live in.

I think when the word was unusual - you know, it's still very recent - and I like speaking about it. So in communities where that word is not common, I very much like being able to identify the specific dynamic that the restorative circles are creating the conditions for, and naming it, so that people can start thinking about it more consciously.

But in other communities where the word is used a lot, and sometimes used to describe for me something that doesn't have the same power as that which I am interested in supporting, then I tend not to use it. Because when people hear it, they think "Oh, I already know what that is". That's why you verbalize feelings and needs, for the other person. And that might be a very powerful inner guide for me as I lend my presence to someone else as a support for them to reconnect internally with themselves.

But I don't see that or anything else as being a recipe for empathy. I don't want to reduce empathy to any particular way of speaking or any particular trick or procedure that I'm going to use with other people.

Because it's fundamentally to do with me being fully present with you in such a way that that quality of presence becomes almost contagious, and your organism is supported in you reconnecting inside, and therefore, able, willing and engaged to take the next step.

EDWIN: So you didn't bring it up here, because I'm just speculating, because a lot of people have Nonviolent Communication (NVC) experience, and they have a certain definition of it, and you thought it would confuse the discussion?

DOMINIC: Well, my understanding of NVC and my understanding of what I am doing in restorative circles - the quality of empathy is exactly the same. But as NVC becomes more well-known, and lots of us have - because all of us in the end have a partial understanding of it - then I've seen a lot of examples of people doing something that they call empathy which in my experience doesn't increase the degree of self-connection for the person who's receiving that presence. And that's the quality that I'm really interested in.

So I don't mind if we don't call it empathy, but for now I use the word empathy to describe that quality.

 
 


Dominic Barter on Empathy (2 of 3)
 

     

EDWIN: If you scan back over your life, are there moments when you learned about empathy, like saying, ďOh, I just learned this lesson about the nature of empathyĒ, and can you recount that experience?

DOMINIC: The first time I ever met someone who had studied nonviolent communication, and I was talking to her about a relationship struggle that I was involved in, and she heard me in a way that was just so different. I had never seen anyone verbally respond to me in the way that she was doing it.

And it was extraordinary. And what was extraordinary was that I was brought back, deeper, further into myself, and used to saying what I say. And as I say it, it leaves me, and then it is in the other person, and then the other person will respond somewhere, and the focus of attention is there.

But something in the way she heard me and accompanied me brought me deeper into myself, and at the end of the few minutes in which I was expressing myself and heard in that way, I had a very, very clear specific sense of what I wanted to do next. And the thing I wanted to do next was something that I wanted to do because I believed it would increase the sense of connection between me and the other person with whom I was confused at that moment.

So that was a very clear transformative experience for me.


EDWIN: In terms of exploring the theme, the topic of empathy, how would you go about exploring that theme. What would be your approach in getting deeper insight into the experience.


DOMINIC: Iíd like to invite people to participate in a very simple exercise where they share with each other something that is important to them that has happened recently. And as they share, I ask the person who is listening, simply to listen. And at the end, I ask them how it feels.

And I donít think Iíve ever done that and not heard a large number of people saying ďIt feels really good to be heardĒ. And I take that as a clue, and I follow that deeper: ďWhat is it that is so good about being heard?Ē ďWell, Iím seeing. I become visible. Iím being understoodĒ.


"What is it that is so good about being heard?"
 "Well, Iím seeing. I become visible.
Iím being understood."


And people give out language which I think everything already knows. And my understanding is that they are describing a sense of supported in being myself, in being at peace with reality as Iím experiencing it from this viewpoint.

And that is profoundly empowering. And once we are empowered, we transform, because thatís what the most fun to do Ė we support the things that are working for us, and we engage with the things that arenít.
 

"So I prefer to invite people to experience
the quality that weíre calling empathy rather
than talking about it or illustrating it,
or telling stories
about it."


So I prefer to invite people to experience the quality that weíre calling empathy rather than talking about it or illustrating it, or telling stories about it. Because itís a taste for me, a taste that I want to learn to savor in more and more detail, more and more precision, like people who taste wine can identify all these myriad different aspects of the taste behind wine, and layers and layers or taste that emerge over time.

I want to become a connoisseur of that process of being in connection with someone which supports action in that way. And so Iím interested in deepening that for myself, and sharing that with others as best I can.
 

I want to become a connoisseur of
that process of being in connection
with someone which supports
action in that way.


EDWIN: Thereís a lot of new science out about the mirror neurons. Iím wondering if youíve been following that, and have you made the connection between what youíre doing and that science?

DOMINIC: Yeah, I read some fascinating research just last week. People who discovered that playing a recording of a child crying to that same child does not provoke that child to cry. But when that child hears a recording of other children crying, then they do cry.
So the levels in which we are organized in such a way as to be aware of our interconnectedness, I think, are very, very deep, and we are only beginning to get an understanding of how that is an essential element of our sociobiology.

So I think itís absolutely fascinating. I want to keep following the experiences that these sciences are investigating, and keep learning about it, and keep being stimulated by the questions that this is brining up. And make the connection between what the scientists are discovering and the kind of things that Obama has been saying Ė which places empathy as being a key aspect of our ability to live together in community and relate to each other.

From what I understand, he and other people are saying, is that empathy is almost a precondition for citizenship Ė the ability to recognize what I want, articulate it, and negotiate with other people to get it in such a way that works for them.

The ability to listen to other people expressing what it is that they want, despite the way in which they express it in action or in words, however tragic, however violent the forms that they use. And then to support them to articulate it, and then to negotiate with them in a way that leads them to have those needs met. For society to be organized in a way that is in line with their values.

This ability to listen empathically to myself and be able to share it with you, and listen empathically to you, especially when you appear to be totally different than me, and work with you in order to meet your needs.

This that I understand that empathy is about is an essential aspect in our ability to live together. And I see similarly as Obama does, that part of the problem that we are experiencing at the moment is that there is a gap in our ability to do that on a daily personal, interpersonal and social basis. Thereís a gap between our ability to do that, and the society in that we want to live in.

Itís not sustainable to live in the way that weíre doing -- unless we recover this ability to see each other as being human first of all.

Iím really interested in the creation of social structures that support the emergence of empathy as the logical next step between people who are living together. So I love the way in which the Ė for want of a better word Ė the personal growth culture over the last few decades has investigated the question of empathy, made it its own, and started to develop it as a skill.
 

Iím really interested in the creation of
social structures that support the
emergence of empathy as the logical
next step between people who
are living together.


But I donít actually experience it as a skill. The artificiality implicit in skill is something that is at odds with the authenticity that I experience when real empathic change occurs.

So as I interested in building a capacity through personal practice, Iím also really interested in what is a school that supports, that makes it logical for empathy to be the next step that I take in my day-to-day dealings.

  • What does that school look like?
  • What does a family in which empathy is the logical next step when disconnection emerges, or conflict becomes painful?
  • What would a justice system look like where it makes sense that empathy is at the heart of the way in which these people come together to create balance, safety and inclusion for everybody?


So Iíd like to invite people to start thinking beyond the intra- and interpersonal, and to start questioning what it looks like to set up social structures which are designed with the intention of creating the conditions for empathy to emerge.

The restorative circle work that I do is my attempt to do that investigation. But itís just the first few seconds of whatever needs to be done. So Iíd like to invite people to join this investigation.

 

 


Dominic Barter - Empathy as Super Food Metaphor (3 of 3)
 

     EDWIN: Do you have a metaphor, something that works for you to describe the experience of empathy in metaphorical terms.

DOMINIC: I donít think I do I like the word presence. The first three letters of the word presence, the suffix meaning ďthat which comes beforeĒ Ė pre. And the rout of the word means ďto beĒ. The ďsenĒ from Latin.
So presence is that we are before anything else. Before we do anything, before we have a sense of our own identity. Before we have an intention or make any movement.

So presence is not something that I need to train. Itís not a skill. I donít accumulate presence or the ability to be present. And yet it is in some way a practice Ė or rather it is a practice not to interfere with presence, and to allow it to be in a way that is fuller and fuller and more and more visible to someone else.

So my understanding is that when I connect empathically to someone else, what Iím doing is Iím turning up the volume on my presence in such a way that it includes them. And Iím inviting them to experience me as being fully present with them.

I may be judging them Ė I probably am, in my case, judging them, making some kind of diagnosis, believing that they should change in some way, agreeing with them, or disagreeing with them.

Whether I am doing that or not doesnít seem to make an affect on the quality of presence. What makes an effect is where do I focus my attention. Do I focus my attention on that constant stream of judgment that I have in my head, or do I focus my attention on the place in which they and I connect Ė our common humanity, that which we share.

When I focus my attention there, things begin to shift, or at least the invitation for them to shift is clearly on the table.

So thatís my experience of empathy while I am experiencing it as something alive and dynamic happening between us. And the way that I connect to the meaning in that is through remembering what the word presence is pointing to.

EDWIN: Itís not quite a metaphor in terms of turning it into Ė like some kind of image or something, in terms of the experience. So do you mind if I kind of try something else with that? If empathy is a type of animal, what kind of animal would it be?

DOMINIC: I heard you say animal, but what I saw is a plant. So Iím going to answer in that sense.
When Iím taking care of a plant, the plants on my balcony, then what Iím interested in is what supports them to grow. So, empathy is like this super food. Itís not exactly sunshine, itís not exactly water. Itís not exactly the soil. Itís something else which imbues all of these and creates the conditions for growth.
 

 So, empathy is like this super food.
 Itís not exactly sunshine, itís not exactly water.
Itís not exactly the soil. Itís something else which imbues
 all of these and creates the conditions for growth.


I want it to be silently, invisibly, or visibly present Ė not simply in moments in which someone is experiencing pain and would really like to be heard. I would like it to be the baseline from which I establish relationships when they donít exist, care for those relationships when they do exist, and heal those relationships that are being diminished in some way by distance and mistrust, by separation and disagreement.

So itís a quality of nutrition that human beings, and perhaps humans and the animals can exchange which creates the conditions for growth, for movement, for that which takes us deeper into a sense of living together, of being one.
 

 

Resolving Conflict Through Restorative Justice 

"Restorative Justice is an alternative to the judicial system that is proving successful around the world in keeping youth offenders out of jail and reducing recidivism. A partner process, Restorative Circles, is a community-based system that supports those involved in conflict by bringing together the parties involved and creating conditions for mutually beneficial action.

Dominic Barter is an internationally recognized expert on restorative justice. In the 1990s, he developed Restorative Circles in the favelas of Brazil and the process has been applied on the community level in 22 countries and has been used as a part of award-winning government projects in justice and educational and social services"



Toward Peace and Justice in Brazil: Dominic Barter and Restorative Circles -  Joshua Wachtel
"In the mid-1990s, Dominic Barter began working with favela residents, including drug gang members, to help them strengthen nonviolent options for working with young people. ďI saw violence as a monologue,Ē said Barter. ďAll the state and gang responses to violence were more of the same. I wanted to create a dialogue.Ē In early 2005 he helped organize the countryís first public presentation on restorative practices, at the Brazil-based annual World Social Forum. The Ministry of Justice heard Barterís presentation and hired him to develop a conferencing model and train facilitators for two of three new pilot projects, in S„o Paulo and Porto Alegre."


More videos


Other Interviews from the Oakland  Workshop

  Empathy Documentary - Mikhail Lyubansky on Empathy and Authoritarian Family (1 of 2)    
 

Mikhail Lyubansky on Empathy and Authoritarian Family (1 of 2)

 

  Empathy Documentary - Mikhail Lyubansky Empathy is like a Kangaroo v Lion (2 of 2)    
 

Mikhail Lyubansky Empathy is like a Kangaroo v Lion (2 of 2)

 

  Empathy Documentary - David S Smith on Empathy and Restorative Circles (1 of 2)    
 

David S Smith on Empathy and Restorative Circles (1 of 2)


 
  Empathy Documentary - David S Smith Empathy is like a Kite and String (2 of 2)    
 

David S Smith Empathy is like a Kite and String (2 of 2)


 
  Empathy Documentary - Jack Lehman on Empathy (1 of 2)    
 

Jack Lehman on Empathy (1 of 2)


 
  Empathy Documentary - Jack Lehman - Self-Empathy is like Listening (2 of 2)    
 

Jack Lehman - Self-Empathy is like Listening (2 of 2)


 
  Empathy Documentary - Patrick Siebert on Empathy (1 of 2)    
 

Patrick Siebert on Empathy (1 of 2)


 
  Empathy Documentary - Patrick Siebert Empathy is like a Common Breath (2 of 2)    
 

Patrick Siebert Empathy is like a Common Breath (2 of 2)

 
  Empathy Documentary - Susan Holper on Empathy and Role Playing (1 of 2)    
 

Susan Holper on Empathy and Role Playing