Guest post: Farmer Haley’s Take on GMO Labeling

Earlier this summer, I wrote a post for farmer Mike Haley on what GMO labeling looked like from a consumer’s point of view — well, mine, specifically. He agreed to return the favor and talk about how labeling would affect his farming practices. It’s a perspective I haven’t seen elsewhere and that I think adds to the conversation on this complex and emotional issue.


Farmer Haley’s corn fields

Before I get into the post itself, I would like to thank Jennifer Mo for getting me thinking more about the topic of labeling foods that are derived from genetically engineered (GE) crops and the effects that proposition 37 in California will have on farmers like myself.

As a farmer who grows both GE corn and GE free corn, I often am asked how I feel about this labeling question.  I must admit while I lean towards no labeling, I also have mixed feelings as to whether or not this is the correct stance to take on the issue.  Rather than give my opinions, I want to share how this proposition would affect my farm.

There are several reasons why we plant genetically engineered crops on our farm.  In corn, we choose to plant a variety that was developed to resist insects naturally rather than having to use insecticides that are not as effective and can be very harmful to the handler (me) if a mistake is made when applying it.  Depending on the type of soil, history and current weather trends, we often decide that insects will not be a major issue in a field and plant a non GE variety allowing us to save money, if the trend holds true and we don’t have any issues with insects in that field.

Currently, when it is time to harvest, no measures are taken to completely segregate corn varieties that are GE as there is no premium to do so; we get paid the same price for both GE corn and non GE corn.  It’s hard to tell what would happen if Proposition 37 passed, but I am assuming that my mill would want me to find a way to separate my corn into batches of non GE as well as that that contains GE corn. In other words I would be expected to follow procedures of identity preservation (IP) of all the seed on my farm.

Sounds simple right?

Not really, as I would have to start this process early in the spring.  While planting my fields, I would have to completely clean my planter out when switching from GE varieties as just one seed could completely contaminate the rest of the field.  Then in the fall I would have to do a thorough cleaning of my combine, trucks and wagons when switching between the same fields. Furthermore, it would also be necessary to shut the combine down for about 24 hours while the corn dryer had a chance to catch up so I could clean it out and switch it to the proper grain bin to maintain the identity of the seed.  All of this is possible, but requires valuable time to accomplish and could mean the difference between getting our crop harvested before it snows or not.

It doesn’t stop there, as the real tasks occur after my grain leaves the farm.  Each truckload will have to be tested to determine if the genetic makeup of the grain has been engineered before the farmer would be allowed to dump it into its specified bin, making the lines and time spent at grain terminals longer, as testing delays the process. For the grain terminals, it would also mean having to build more infrastructures that can handle both types of grain without contamination of the non GE varieties.  From this point on, the grain would have to remain segregated.  From railcars to processors and packers and finally the grocery store where it can be labeled as containing GMOs, each step is important and a level of quality control will need to be added.

All of this adds up in cost that will get passed on to the consumer.  On my farm it would be an added cost of about $.50 per bushel on a normal year, or 10 percent, and I could only imagine the increased costs would be similar through each step, adding a huge cost to the amount of food individuals spend on food each year.

All that said, I truly believe that if individuals want labeling, it should be provided, and it is in several ways already on a voluntary basis.  If one wishes to avoid GE foods, it’s simple to purchase organic foods or even look for non organic foods that have the Non-GMO Projects label on them.  These choices may cost more, but that is because it costs more to raise food and preserve the identity of foods by those standards.  This is where I have mixed feelings. Is it right to force everyone to pay more for food just so those who are concerned can have more choices?

The USDA, EPA , FDA and hundreds of other experts say it is as safe as other plants found in nature as other food and from my experience on my farm, I know it has a favorable environmental profile. I’m completely comfortable with it. But I understand others may not be and I’m glad to know the market provides clear choices for them.


About Mike Haley

Farming’s n my blood! Love raising crops & Simmental Cows! N my spare time I enjoy writing, find me on Twitter @justfarmers & @farmerhaley email: farmerhaley(at)

DIY: Make kitty litter bags from newspaper

Plastic bags are a precious commodity in my house. In the past few years, we’ve settled into the reusable bag groove and hardly ever miss a beat these days. Nothing changed when San Jose banned the bag at the beginning of this year. Our remaining plastic bags come from the odd produce bag (we don’t always remember to bring our reusables, and some things like green beans and cherries can’t really go in the bag loose), my mom (who likes to give me food and thinks I am too skinny — yes, she’s Asian), and bags that food came in (bread, potato chips, frozen vegetables).

We definitely don’t have enough for me to use one every day to clean Brie’s litter, so I came up with another solution a while ago: origami kitty litter bags. Oh yeah. Green, meet the ancient art of paperfolding.

A few years ago, I was really into origami. I think my crowning achievement may have been the two headed crane (two heads plus a tail and wings, made from a single square piece of paper). It’s still hanging from the mirror on Kevin’s car. The fold that I use for cat litter bags is traditionally known as a cup fold. It will actually hold water if you use sturdy paper and chug. But even better, it’s quick and easy, reuses materials, and biodegrades (or would, if you use non-clay cat litters and our landfills let things biodegrade). I find it especially satisfying to fold up an annoying politician’s photo and use it for cat excrement.

This is just about the simplest origami fold I know, and one of the most useful. Observe.

Step 1: Take a full sheet of newspaper. The San Francisco Chronicle is very close to square, which makes things easier. Notice the original vertical fold. We’ll need it later.

Step 2: Fold in half along the diagonal. You’ll notice that the top and side corners are slightly offset because the paper isn’t perfectly square.

Step 3: Bring the right corner up. This step requires a little eye-balling, but you’re basically looking for the bottom of the right corner to be parallel with the original vertical fold of the newspaper.

Step 4: Turn it over and bring the left corner up. You can adjust if things aren’t lining up well at this point.

Step 5: Fold down just the top layer. Turn it over and fold down the other side.

Done! You should now have a pocket in which to deposit all the lovely leavings of your favorite feline. Attention: this fold stays together best if you pull it wide apart (the mouth should look square or diamond shaped) while putting things in it. That locks everything into place.

Once you know what you’re doing (and this is by no means rocket science), it takes 5-10 seconds to make one, as long as the cat doesn’t come over and sit on your newspaper. (I sometimes leave out a sheet of extra newspaper just so the cat can sit on it and leave me alone.) On Sunday, the only day on which we get a newspaper, I sit down, pull out my least favorite sections, and make a stack of kitty litter bags for the week to come. Even if you don’t get a newspaper regularly, you probably have a neighbor who does and would be happy to share.

You won’t save the planet doing this, but if your plastic bag drawer is empty, it’s a reasonably green solution. Dog owners, I apologize, but I’ve got nothing for you.

In praise of weeds

Dandelion. Photo credit: David Hepworth

If you can eat, breathe, or exist, thank a plant. Plants often get the short end of the stick when it comes to Things Humans Are Interested In. They’re not all that cute (some might surprise you), they don’t talk (at least not to us), and all in all, compared to your average smart phone or polar bear, seem pretty boring. Yet all the organic carbon on this planet ultimately comes from plants.

From your windowsill miniature rose to the predatory bird of paradise in your backyard, all plants are busy wrenching apart water and carbon dioxide molecules, stripping them of hydrogen and carbon atoms to make organic hydrocarbons (plant sugars). Humans can’t do this. Your Android can’t do this. My fuzzy gray cat can’t do this. Only plants (and algae) do this. Almost every food chain everywhere on the planet starts with plants. 

I’ve taken you on a number of virtual nature walks (woodstreespoisonous plants), but now I’d like to introduce you to the most common and least loved plants of all: weeds.  Weeds are one of the ways I first started to interact with the natural (naturalish?) world. I’ll be fond of them until / unless I start trying to grow things on purpose.

I grew up in my mom’s postage stamp sized garden in northern California. She wasn’t a fastidious gardener (still isn’t), and I was short (and still am), so I paid as much attention to crawling weeds as I did the taller stuff. At that age, I didn’t recognize a distinction between wanted and unwanted plants. Sorry, Mom. I’m responsible for your dandelion explosions. <Poof…>

The names and details came later. Many of them surprised me, since the books that I had first read about these plants led me to expect something…bigger. Grander. Less common. But the more I learned, the more interested I was for their own sake. Here’s a virtual garden of weeds I grew up with. What weeds are in your yard?

Sorrel (genus: oxalis)

Woodsorrel. Photo credit: Pellaea

I thought these were shamrocks for the longest time. One of their alternate names is actually False Shamrock. I wonder if you’re still lucky if you find a four-leafed oxalis? The most common type of sorrel I know has tiny yellow flowers, but among the shade of the redwoods, sorrel has big heart-shaped leaves and tall pink flowers. Oxalic acid gives sorrel a tart flavor. In large doses, oxalic acid causes kidney stones, so if you’re trying to keep yourself alive after the zombie apocalypse, don’t eat too much sorrel. Nice accent on a salad, though. (Note: don’t forage near roads or where plants have been heavily sprayed, like most lawns.)

Clover (genus: Trifolium)

Clover. Photo credit: Public Domain Photos

Clover flowers make nice daisy chains. I cleverly figured this out for myself while sitting in outfield during the softball unit of PE each year. (This should tell you something about my athletic prowess.) It also flavors honey and feeds cows. Red clover increases cows’ milk output, but too much clover can lead to fatal cow bloat. Burr clover has pointy spurred burrs that stick to clothing and fur, so watch out.

Scarlet Pimpernel (genus: Anagallis)

Scarlet Pimpernel. Photo credit: Rictor Norton and David Allen

Instead of crushing on boy band members as a teen, I crushed on well-dressed fictional gentlemen in cravats, including the Scarlet Pimpernel. After reading the book, I hopped online to see what a scarlet pimpernel looked like and was devastated to find that it was neither scarlet (salmon…maybe) nor impressive (flowers are usually smaller than 1/2″). In fact, this was the same unheroic weed that had taken over one corner of my mom’s yard years earlier. My mom was similarly unbelieving when I pointed it out to her on a walk many years later. Despite my disappointment, I still think scarlet pimpernels are pretty. But should anyone be looking for an emblem under which to subvert the French government, may I suggest the star glory instead?

Rattlesnake Weed (genus: Euphorbia)

Rattlesnake Weed. Photo credit: David~O

This one grew in the mortar between bricks, which says something about its tenacity. The stems are filled with a sticky, milky sap that is intensely bitter. Bitterness is often an indication that something has toxic alkaloids. Good thing I never took more than a lick! A tea made from rattlesnake weed was an herbal remedy for snake bites, but you probably don’t want to take a chance on it. Euphorbs are characterized by toxic milky saps that can blister, so although nothing ever happened to me from playing with rattlesnake weed, handle with care. As a rule of thumb, don’t eat a wild plant that has milky sap. And if you taste any plant that is bitter or makes your mouth tingle, put it down at once!

Purslane (genus: Portulaca)

Purslane. Photo credit: Frankenstoen

I recently found out purslane was edible, so this summer, when my mother was ready to weed her garden, I asked her to save the purslane for me. I tried it with scrambled eggs and mushrooms. It wasn’t bad, though a little slimy. The technical term, I believe, is ‘mucilaginous.’ Most importantly: I didn’t die! Purslane is a succulent with a slightly tart edge and interesting texture. If you’re going to eat it, don’t harvest from areas subject to spraying (either from pesticides or dogs).

Pineapple Weed (genus: Matricaria)

Pineapple Weed. Photo credit: ArranET

This small plant with rounded yellow flowers and lacy leaves didn’t grow in my mom’s backyard, but it did grow at my school. When I learned the name, I figured that the flowers look maybe a little (if you turn your head to the side and squint?) like upside down pineapples. But actually, if you pinch a flower open, they have a pleasant, fruity smell that has a hint of pineapple to it. Pineapple weed is related to chamomile, although more bitter, and if you’re in a pinch, rubbing the plant on your skin is supposed to repel insects.


Even recognizing that weeds are a tremendous agricultural problem with no good solution (till and you degrade the soil; no-till and you have to use herbicides), I feel a certain admiration for these hardy, unwanted plants that survive despite the harshest conditions — no water, poor soil, herbicides, insects, fierce competition. They’re continually evolving resistance to our most powerful herbicides and other ways to kill them.

We city dwellers often bemoan the lack of nature in our immediate surroundings, but I dunno…maybe it’s just that we don’t pay enough attention. Do you know what weeds grow around you?

Weed identification resources:

Also, this is what I’ve been up to lately.

Just label it! Supplements, that is.

Let’s talk about a big, billion dollar industry. Lots of hype, little solid data. Basically unregulated. No need to perform safety tests or clinical trials before putting a product on the market. No review or testing by an independent party. Checkered safety record, certain products strongly linked to organ damage, cancer, hepatitis, and death (among other things). Consumed by millions of unsuspecting citizens every year.

GMOs? Nope. I’m talking about the supplement industry.

Image credit: Ano Lobb

Twitter friend @donnzpg recently pointed me to this article on Consumer Reports: 10 Surprising Dangers of Vitamins and Supplements — don’t assume they’re safe because they’re ‘all-natural’. It struck a chord with me because I know people — lots of people — who are intensely skeptical about synthetic cosmetics ingredients and pesticides and GMOs, yet take many supplements and herbals without requiring independent, double-blinded clinical testing results.

I am absolutely guilty of this. I choose cosmetics with very few ingredients (and yep, generally natural ones) and use very few of them, because I fundamentally don’t think the cost/benefit assessment pans out when it comes to something like cosmetics. Yet I haven’t once checked up to see what tests have been done on my daily vitamin. Probably not too many — it came from my well-intentioned mother, who got it at Target. In fact, I feel downright virtuous when I take it even though I’ve read the studies that question the efficacy of vitamins and supplements. (High doses of vitamins can be downright harmful.) I buy fortified orange juice even thoughI just saw a study that suggests that too much calcium and Vitamin D can cause blood and bone issues

Goddammit, brain. If this is the best you can do, I might have to replace you with a more rational model.

As a plant lover and photosynthesis fan, I’m struggling to overcome my naturalistic fallacy and look at plants in a more rational way. Some can heal, many can harm, and a fair number can kill. If you’re not convinced that plants have a dark side, think about this. When the first photosynthesizing organisms arose, they caused a major extinction on earth by flooding the atmosphere with that most unstable, reactive, and poisonous gas — oxygen. But then oxygen became the basis for the ozone layer, which protected life from that other tremendously dangerous, carcinogenic force: UV radiation. If you can eat or breathe or walk under the sun, thank a plant.

At the same time, because plants can’t move, they’ve evolved into incredible chemical factories that protect them from predators. Coffee, bread, chili peppers, and basil are just a few of the things we eat that have naturally occurring carcinogens, and there is nothing that makes these natural chemicals inherently less toxic than synthetic ones. Many of our synthetics are actually based on natural chemicals! As Bruce Ames has said, 99.9% by weight of all pesticides we eat are entirely natural.

What this means is that supplements are chemicals. Essential oils are chemicals. Herbal medicines are chemicals. And the fact that they come from natural sources says exactly nothing about their safety. (It terrifies me when I read about well-meaning green pet owners applying essential oils to their pets. Without clinical testing or dosage information, it’s all one big experiment on a favorite quadruped.)

I’m biased, of course. My aunt died of kidney failure just after turning 40. She had an intense distrust of western medicine and instead relied heavily on traditional Chinese herbal medicine. An autopsy revealed a startling accumulation of heavy metals in her body. These were traced back to the high doses of unregulated herbals she took for 10+ years. She left behind two young children and is much missed.

It’s an anecdote, not a peer reviewed study, but it made an impression on me. And I don’t think it’s altogether an unusual story, either. Supplement makers do not need to test their products or back up their health claims. They do not need to test for or list possible, sometimes extremely serious, drug interactions. They do not need to show allergenicity studies. They have to be proven harmful before the FDA steps in. And they are quite common in processed foods, so it would be fairly easy to overdose on certain vitamins if you drink fortified milk, eat fortified cereal, and pop a daily multivitamin.

I guess my question is: why is the consumer standard of proof so different — and lacking — for supplements? If cosmetic chemicals and GMOs are so alarming, why are we not up in arms demanding that supplement manufacturers prove the safety of their products before peddling them to us?

Just some of the things I’ve been thinking about. Do you take supplements? Have you looked into their safety?

The Great Kale Experiment

Mountains of kale. Image credit: SweetOnVeg

This story starts with what Kevin, with his usual verbal adroitness, calls the kale pillow.

This was a bag of kale similar in size and heft to a standard bed pillow. Now, let me say that I don’t get why people (especially greenies and vegans) think kale is OMG AMAZING. From my experience with the stuff, it has a similar mouth feel to plastic Easter basket grass (don’t ask), resists all attempts to soften, and traps grit like a sponge. Still, the kale pillow was $2. I’m cheap. I know I should be eating more nutritious leafy greens. Kale grows almost year round in California. And hell, I want to know what people are talking about when they swear that kale is the BEST THING EVER.

So I embarked on a week of kale everything. There are a few yellowing leaves left in the bag, but I’m feeling downright virtuous after chomping my way through three pounds of the stuff this week.

Alas, after our week-long fling, it’s clear that kale and I are doomed to be a failed romance. I just didn’t learn to love kale, though I’ve included below some of the recipes I found modestly enjoyable. Maybe it’s just my contrarian inability to embrace anything so trendy. Or maybe it’s that kale is a tough taste to acquire. Hmm…

The bad (spectacular kale failures):

  • Massaged kale salad with olive oil, lemon juice, and other stuff. 500+ positive reviews can’t be wrong, right? Perhaps I bought the wrong variety. Maybe my leaf-massaging technique is off. It didn’t soften up nearly enough. It still tasted green. And then I oversalted it.
  • Kale in my smoothie. Even with a measly half a leaf dropped in a smoothie otherwise chock full of yummy summer fruit, I found myself looking suspiciously at the dark green flecks and wondering if they were adding that astringent edge to my smoothie. I’ve got my eye on you, kale.
  • Kale ice cream. A not-in-earnest Twitter suggestion that made me gag just thinking about it.

The mediocre (might make this again):

  • Kale with scrambled eggs. Not too bad, couldn’t help thinking that it would taste better without the kale.
  • Finely chopped kale mixed with brown rice, mushrooms, and herbs to stuff eggplants. Could neither see nor taste it. That’s good, right?
  • Ethiopian-style gomen (usually made with collard greens). I tried a recipe adapted for kale and non-Ethiopian kitchens. It was edible, but hardly thrilling. Maybe if I started with more authentic ingredients, like the spiced, clarified butter traditional to Ethiopian cooking.

The good (relatively painless way to eat kale):

  • Kale chips. Ignore the panegyrics; these bear zero resemblance to potato chips. And the texture takes some getting used to. (Ever jump into an autumn leaf pile and start chowing down? Me neither. But the brittle crunch of kale chips seems very similar to the crunch of dead leaves underfoot.) After the first crumbly mouthful, they’re oddly addictive. There are lots of guides on how to make them, but most of them involve baking at around 350 for 15 minutes or so. I like mine with a sprinkle of garlic, nutritional yeast, and parmesan.
  • Colcannon. Twitter friend Mem_Somerville sent me a link to an Irish dish that involves, essentially, mashed potatoes, cabbage, and onions, lightly pan-fried until crispy. You really can’t go wrong with anything that involves fried mashed potatoes. This one was a keeper.
  • Kale and white bean stew. I’ve made this before, and up until the colcannon, it was the only kale recipe that had a place of honor in my recipe box. Tasty, comforting, and nutritious, if not quite appropriate for summer. (I substitute veggie stock for the chicken stock in the recipe, of course.)

Do you find it hard to get in your leafy greens? Or are you a die hard kale devotee? What are your favorite kale recipes?

Non-Violent Communication, parts 3 & 4: Empathy and Asking for What We Want

This is the final part of Ian Peatey’s guest post on non-violent communication. I apologize for the irregular posting, as my cumulative bio final was yesterday and many things got put on hold while I studied. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and will consider applying it to how you communicate. If you missed them, please check out part 1 and part 2 in the series!

Empathy and asking for what we want. Image credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service


Empathy is a fashionable concept at the moment and I celebrate this. Learning to listen with empathy is, I believe, the most important step towards a more peaceful and sustainable world.

Applying the NVC approach to empathy means listening to what someone is expressing beyond the words they use. Most people have been educated to express mainly their judgements and analysis. So being able to hear their unexpressed feelings and needs is a great gift to them – it’s reaching out to what is really alive in them and not only staying in the relatively narrow realm of the mind. If their judgements are directed towards me then empathy is also an essential act of self-protection!

Quick Exercise

Guess the reaction you might get if you did say what you wrote down in part 2 above.

  • What would they say to you
  • What might they be feeling?
  • What needs of theirs might be at play?

The reaction I might get to the litter situation could be, “Who the f*** are you telling me what to do. Mind your own business, asshole!”

My guess, which I might verbalise if I thought it would help: They’re feeling irritated and need freedom and autonomy. They might also be feeling embarrassed as they didn’t meet their need for care and consideration of others when they dropped the trash.

Jennifer: I think my neighbors would be likely to react this way. They would probably be embarrassed and angry to be approached about something like recycling. They might need to be able to finish chores quickly to get back to taking care of their families.

Asking for What we Want

If I view people as basically generous and compassionate and if I’m equally interested in getting my needs and your needs met, then asking for what I want ought to be straightforward.

NVC suggest treating a request as a suggestion about what current action would meet my needs. If my suggestion also works for you and then we’re good to go! If not, it’s the start of a dialogue where we can get clearer about both our needs and come up with a solution together.

Contrast this with some of these common approaches we learned as children:

  • Punishment (“clean your room or no TV for a week”/ “Come home now or I’ll leave you here on your own”)
  • Reward (“Get good grades and I’ll buy you a new ball/iPad/bicycle/keg of beer”)
  • Denial of choice (“You must do your share of the chores … so you have to wash the dishes!”)
  • Exclusion from the rest of society (“Nobody talks to their parents like that”)
  • Emotional blackmail (“If you tell me the truth I won’t get mad”/”If you lie to me I won’t love you as much”)

All these methods rely on fear of some kind to get children to act. And children grow into adults who learn either to use fear themselves or continue to act out of fear.

The NVC way might take a little time, and for me it’s a small price to pay for reducing the amount of fear we bring into our lives.

Quick Exercise

Continuing the example from the previous sections. What do you want to hear or see right now that would meet your needs?

Ideally I would like this person to never throw litter again and join me on a crusade to convince everyone they know to keep trash off the streets. Somehow I guess I might be wanting more than they are ready to commit to right now.

More realistically I might ask: “Would you agree to throw your next piece of trash in one of these bins?” and I’d also go over and pick up the litter they dropped and throw it away.

Going off on a bit of a tangent – I can’t remember actually meeting a litter-dropper, so I tend to do a lot of picking up of other peoples’ trash. It’s not ideal as I would love to have a dialogue with them – human to human – and see where it led, but I’m not prepared to loiter around the park, pouncing on people as they discard their rubbish.

Picking up other peoples’ litter might sound like a dumb thing to do – but I’ve tried complaining, feeling resentful and disgusted or hoping for some wave of awareness to come over the neighbourhood. None of those things made me feel good so cleaning up myself is a the best choice I’ve found.

You know what, I was in the park the other day and I saw someone else doing exactly the same thing, which brought a smile to my face.

Jennifer: I’ll think about asking for what I want the next time I meet a non-recycler at the trash bins. Maybe offering to help them sort their trash or addressing why they don’t recycle could open up a conversation. And until then…sigh, I guess I’ll keep fishing recyclables out of the trash.

About the Author

Ian Peatey is a Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) living in Romania where he runs and writes for NVC World and does a bit of business training. Together with his wife, he runs the Romanian Association for NVC delivering workshops and training courses aimed at supporting parents and couples as well as organisations involved with children. His main contributions to the environment are refusing to eat meat, walking a lot (and not owning a car) and buying local, natural foods wherever possible. On the other hand he does have 3 kids but he’s not willing to give any of them up.

He can be contacted here.

Non-Violent Communication, Part 2: Honesty

This guest post series on non-violent communication by Ian Peatey continues. If you missed part 1 on needs, please take a look!

NVC part 2: Honesty. Image credit: laszlo-photo

NVC suggested an approach to honesty that, while not easy to master, was worth the effort because it gives a way of expressing myself that doesn’t make people hate me as much.

This ‘connecting honesty’ is the art of expressing what’s alive in me. Alive as in what am I noticing in the world around me, how am I reacting to it (thoughts AND feelings) and what’s going on with my needs.

This is a broader view of honesty than the narrow one I grew up with.

Like many kids, I was taught to tell the truth. I was also taught how to analyse, interpret and judge and then defend my views and argue against different positions than my own. I could say the main aim of the education system I was exposed to was to develop my logical, rational brain. There were some attempts to develop my creative, sporting and musical talents but they were largely half-hearted and mainly ineffective.

It’s not surprising, perhaps, that I grew up to equate truth with thinking and the highest form of honesty, therefore, was to tell people what I thought of them. Just to complicate things, this was often in conflict with another piece of my education – how to be polite. As is the case with many of us British, politeness usually won – which is probably for the best, as a lot of what I think is garbage and probably best left as random, irrelevant clouds passing through my brain.

Intuitively I knew uncensored expression of my thoughts was more likely to result in heated exchanges than productive, meaningful relationships. The best I could usually hope for was a triumphant, ‘I’m someone who speaks my mind – if you can’t take my honesty then that’s your problem’. After all few people enjoy being judged and not many like being educated when they haven’t asked for it. So I learned to keep my mouth shut in the interests of harmony and maintaining at least a few relationships.

Quick Exercise

Imagine you say something to the person doing the thing you wish they wouldn’t do (from part 1). Try formulating in no more than 2 sentences:

  • What you observe they do (just the facts, none of your interpretations or judgements)
  • What you feel when they do that
  • Which needs of yours are not getting met.

If I bumped into one of these people throwing litter in the playground and honestly told them what I think about them, I can be pretty sure it’s not going to end well. I doubt there’s a person alive who responds well to: “You selfish, low-life, moronic litter lout”. I want a different kind of honesty.

I might start with something like, “I saw you drop that empty soda bottle and I’m feeling concerned and also nervous, right now, about opening my mouth. My daughter is playing over there and I need her to be safe and grow up caring for the world around her.” I hope it would be easier to hear (even if a bit awkward), though I still predict I’ll get an aggressive, defensive reaction. At least I’m more grounded in myself, less confrontational and genuinely interested in reaching a solution that works for both of us.

One thing I should just add here.

Before opening my mouth I would make an assessment about how safe the situation is. If I  guessed I might get into some physical harm then I would leave it alone. I want to make the world a better place, and getting beaten up in front of my 2 year old daughter is not going to help that.

Jennifer: So, going back to my neighbors who throw recyclables in the trash and drive their pick-up truck 50 feet to the laundry room. If I said what I was actually thinking, it would come out something like this: “For f***’s sake, people. You can’t even be bothered to recycle your plastic water bottles? Hope your kids like it on a dead planet.” To put it in more NVC terms, maybe I could say something like, “I noticed that you throw out recyclable items like bottles and cans. I feel upset when I see recyclables in the trash because I need my community to respect the environment we all live in.”

I think I need to work on that some more. What eco-oblivious actions make you want to start pulling out the asterisks and ampersands? And can you think of NVC ways to rephrase how you feel?

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