Living Kind: Shivani Gail Carroll
Shivani Gail Carroll is a trainer with Art of Empathy, where she and Paul Merrill teach mediation skills in a special workshop for couples in relationships. She also offers individual clients and couples NVC empathy and mediation through her private practice in the Boston area.
Mary Sitze: What are you most looking forward to about the Dec. 1-2 workshop?
Shivani Gail Carroll: It’s enjoyable to watch people come to this work and benefit from it, no matter what their previous exposure to this work. At the end of a recent couples workshop, a guy who had never been to one of our trainings came up and said, “I’m so much closer to my partner than I ever was before because of a conversation that she and I were able to have this afternoon.”
MS: Wow! It must have felt great to hear that.
SGC: I want people to come to the Boston workshop because I love it when, at the end of the day, people say things like that. One thing we always encourage in our workshops is for participants to work on real, live issues. It is moving to watch them move toward new possibilities and toward connection, even in the midst of real conflict. As trainers, we really try to live the practice and model that! I have benefitted so much from the work of NVC and Mediate Your Life, so I have to share it. That’s key to what I like about the workshops for other people—that they can immerse themselves in new possibility.
MS: You have a reputation as an effective teacher and one who prepares carefully for each training. But the experiential learning aspect of these workshops means that they are never “canned” or scripted.
SGC: At the start of a workshop, you never know who is walking into the room or what they’ve brought with them. You don’t know who’s going through a divorce, who’s just lost a loved one, whose best friend is in the hospital. When you offer to teach, you’re offering to be as present as you can be to whatever someone is bringing in that moment. That’s what I like about teaching. I like being called upon to be my best.
MS: “Being your best.” I notice how well that aspect of the teaching aligns with the workshop content.
SGC: Yes. I continually am amazed by how effective it is when we just live what we’re teaching and model it. It keeps coming back to the NVC that I have immersed myself in for years now. I can trust that I’ve trained my senses to respond calmly, and so more effectively. During a recent workshop role-play, one participant asked, “How do you do that? When you’re upset, how do you stay in control of what you are saying?” And I told him that I don’t need to work on staying in a self-conscious or tight control. I’ve built a habit of responding with as much care as I can in a given moment. But I can trust that if I make a mistake, I’m going to be able to make my way out of that mistake because I have these tools. I have the capacity to stay in the game and not walk away. That creates a different life. It’s a much more alive, authentic and exciting way to be.
MS: That skill of “staying in the game” is something that you’ve practiced by team teaching with Ike Lasater and Paul Merrill, most recently as part of the MYL East Coast Immersion Year program.
SGC: Teaching with Paul and Ike will be an adventure. It always is. There is some reconfiguration of the material and I’m looking forward to that. I’m always learning. I’ve learned things from Ike for three years now and I expect that will continue. Same with Paul. I learn from inside my relationship with him most every day.
MS: Would you be willing to summarize some of the journey that brought you to the place you are now?
SGC: I’ve been a seeker since I was 8 years old, when I came home and told my parents I had researched a new church. I transferred myself from a traditional Protestant Congregational church to Unitarian Universalist that was a few towns over. Today, I follow a yogic tradition that has as its basic tenet “See God in Each Other.” This means I really want to honor everyone. I’m working on having no exceptions. When I am looking at someone I’m in conflict with, I want to find a way to move through that conflict with care and awareness. NVC and my Mediate Your Life skills give me the language and the framework to trust the person I’m at odds with and to see that person’s humanity. I look for the needs that are driving them right then.
MS: Can you say a little more about what it means to see a person’s humanity?
SGC: When my daughter was 4 and 5 she became obsessed with the Wizard of Oz books. One day, I asked her, “Does the Wicked Witch frighten you?” And she said no. Then she added, “The witch just doesn’t know how good she is yet.” How was it that a five-year-old could look at this Wicked Witch who had been set up as an unsympathetic villain and know that she actually deserved our tenderness? That’s seeing the other person’s humanity. That’s how I want to live.
MS: Hearing you talk about how you approach the world helps me understand the serenity and clear-headedness that you always seem to project.
SGC: Most of my life, I’ve heard people say, “You’re so kind, you’re direct, you’re fair.” I always knew these were my values, and hoped it was true, but it’s only recently that I’ve really been able to settle into the fact that, oh yeah, I AM those things, and in a way that is coming from a more centered, more confident place that is about me and my self-connection, and not about the other person. I think I’ve probably been a kind person my whole life, often acting kind because I thought it was important to be kind. I was wanting the other person to have an experience of kindness. Now, it’s more because I’m living kind.