First off, I am declaring that the main ground rule for this email blog is – we will not fall into the “better than thou” trap here. 

If you’ve known me for awhile, you may know that this is an act of will for me, a conscious choice:) Righteousness is an old, familiar companion of mine, well exercised in earlier days – in my religious upbringing and in my peace and environmental advocacy.

(Special note – photographer of featured image, of the girl, is Mohammad Asadi, found on Unsplash)

Accosting, Name Calling, and Bullying At High Levels

In case you missed it, last week U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, known as AOC, accused U.S. Representative Ted Yoho of accosting her on the steps of our Capitol, including cursing to dehumanize her as a woman, calling her a f*cking b*tch.

Yoho’s anger was apparently stimulated by AOC’s view that poverty is a factor in the crime they experience in her district in NYC. “Do you really believe that people are shooting and killing each other because they’re hungry? You know, You’re unbelievable. You’re disgusting,” Yoho said, according to Ocasio-Cortez, saying the Florida conservative was wagging his finger at her.

Ocasio-Cortez then said she “tried to calm him down, but he wouldn’t. And then I just told him he was being rude, and he got even more angry, when I called him rude” she said.

After the incident Yoho came to the floor of the house for a little less than 2 minutes, and spoke what may have been intended as an apology, but came across like excuses, or, as one Representative called it, a “nonapology”. 

Seeking Understanding and Shared Reality

That is when AOC decided to take the issue to the house floor. I appreciate AOC’s courage and fortitude in speaking up in Congress about the incident, and I appreciate her point of view that this kind of behavior is an important systemic problem we need to address. 

At the same time, from my perspective she used a shaming, punitive tone. This fueled the already-always “us and them” mentality that the two congressional parties struggle with.

She did not want to “allow victims of abuse to see that (nonapology) and see her silence as a form of acceptance.” She also called him out on using the women in his life, his wife and daughters, as a shield for his poor behavior. 

AOC’s statement might have been even more powerful and connecting had she been more vulnerable. Had she admitted feeling hurt, and shared where and how comments like Mr. Yoho’s land in her heart. 

Instead she claimed she is impervious because these kinds of attacks by men have happened so frequently in her life. But her expressions and my experience with the human heart tell me differently. I believe these kinds of attacks still hurt. 

Her possible withholding here is completely understandable though, even expected, given that the culture in the U.S. Congress does not support this level of vulnerability and authenticity. It does not provide the emotional safety that would require. 

She pointed out that by using that language in the media, Yoho was giving permission to other men to use that language against his daughters, his wife. 

“Having a wife and daughter does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. When a decent man messes up, as we all are bound to do, he tries his best and apologies, not to save face or make a vote, but he apologizes, genuinely, to repair the harm done, so we can all move on…You can take photos and project to the world the image of being a family man, and accost women, without regret, and without impunity.”

Some of her colleagues, many also women of color, came to the floor to speak to the abusive culture they have experienced during their careers in the House of Representatives. The Governor of Florida, for example, referred to AOC as “whatever that is”. One woman reported that she was told by a white male colleague, “that I was a young lady and didn’t know what I was talking about.

Another Way to Bring Understanding and Shared Reality

I like to view conflict from the NVC (Nonviolent Communication) understanding that all human conflict is about “unmet core human needs, tragically expressed”.

From that view, I’m guessing that Rep Ocasio-Cortez felt hurt and angry, maybe scared, because her needs for emotional safety, respect, understanding and kindness were not being met in her exchange with Rep Yoho, as well as from Rep Williams who was present as well. 

I believe that she longs for these same needs to be met for her and other women from society at large. She sees a power structure that supports psychological and sometimes physical violence. She called out a pattern of dehumanization of women and others. 

I’m guessing that Rep Yoho felt angry, frustrated, and maybe afraid, and had a core need for shared reality about the causes of poverty and violence. He may have a desire to protect society from people thinking that because they are in poverty, it justifies them committing crimes to alleviate their problems. And/or maybe his anger was stimulated by his need to be accepted for his own past, when he “wore the face of poverty” as a young man on food stamps.

Those are my empathy guesses about what was going on for each of them. In an NVC process, we would sit down together, with empathy and genuine curiosity to understand each person’s experience. We would inquire into what each of them were/are needing and valuing, that was not met in their exchange, and thus stimulated their painful feelings of anger, fear etc. In the strength of that connection we would get creative and generous about finding ways to meet their needs.

Tragic Strategies 

In our conflict resolution process, Yoho would likely soon realize that the strategies he used to get his needs met for shared reality, protection and perhaps acceptance –  were “tragic”. It is highly unlikely that cursing and aggressive posturing will ever help him to achieve deeper understanding, connection or support from Occasio-Cortex or anyone else. 

Another tragic strategy he may have used, after the incident, is lying, ostensibly to meet his needs for safety and belonging.

Is there an opportunity for Ocasio-Cortez to root out her own tragic strategies, for meeting her needs for emotional safety, respect, understanding and kindness?  

During the incident Ocasio-Cortez was apparently trying to de-escalate the situation, for the most part. However she did resort to labeling, which is not a wise de-escalation strategy, when she said he was being “rude”.

I noticed two AOC tragic strategies unfold after the incident. 

Ocasio-Cortez objected strongly to Yoho’s sexism, yet resorted to a similar “tragic strategy” during her interview with CNN in an interview.  From my perspective, she belittled him and Williams in her interview, with a gender reference, which seems sexist to me,they think their little man card will be taken away if they apologize for their absurd behavior.”

This comment puts their masculinity at stake. 

She also objected to Yoho calling her crazy, yet in her CNN interview she also used the strategy of labeling or name-calling.

“Williams, meantime, was first watching Yoho and then Williams literally started hollering about throwing urine,” Ocasio-Cortez said… “I don’t know what he was talking about. I think he was maybe talking about an incident at some protest somewhere that I don’t know about. But he started talking about throwing urine and at that point, I was so bewildered. I was like, these folks are out of their minds.

These comments were not made from a place of empathy or heart connection. Are we surprised? No, of course not, because empathy skills are not yet widely held, nor understood in our society for their key role in conflict resolution.

In an NVC relationship restoration process both Yoho and Ocasio-Cortez would be able to “mourn” the actions they later regretted, and reclaim their innocence by getting in touch with the needs they were trying to meet when they used their tragic strategies.

But because they didn’t come to an empathic understanding of their needs, the disconnection probably continues today, marching on to entangle and burden their efforts to carry out their Congressional mission to pass just and wise laws for us. 

More Fallout

Rep. Ted Yoho was asked to resign from the board of a Christian organization, Bread for the World, that works to fight hunger. According to a statement from Bread for the World.

“We believe that Rep. Ted Yoho’s recent actions and words as reported in the media are not reflective of the ethical standards expected of members of our Board of Directors…Bread sought his resignation as an action that reaffirms our commitment to coming alongside women and people of color, nationally and globally, as they continue to lead us to a more racially inclusive and equitable world.”

I Drink the Humble Drink

I invite you to witness, as I humbly drink in the lessons of Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep Ted Yoho, as my own lessons.  

Have I done what each of them did in their explosive interaction on the steps of the capitol and in the apology, statement and interviews that followed? In some form, yes. 

I have lied to protect myself – the bigger the stakes, the quicker and bigger the lie. 

I have “gotten into someone’s face” and cursed at him when I was angry. 

I have called someone out on her “bad behavior” in front of others.

I have wagged my finger at someone accusingly.

I have called someone “rude” and accused him of being out of his mind. 

I have accused someone of doing something that I then turned around and did.

I have accused men of being sexist, then found myself participating in male bashing with my sisters.

I have pressured people for an apology, rather than dialoguing to inspire their heartfelt apology. 

I have justified my righteousness and verbal aggression for a good cause, like for the prevention of hunger and poverty or, more typical for me, for making peace and saving the environment.

I have done even messier ones than these.


  • Like Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Yoho, I did these things because I was trying to meet my core human needs.
  • Like them, my strategies were “tragic” – because they painfully disconnected me from the people I was engaged with and because they had very low to zero chances of meeting the needs I was fighting for.
  • Like them, I chose my tragic strategies unconsciously – not knowing in those moments that my words and actions were strategies to meet my core needs. Not knowing what the unmet core needs were, that were causing so much pain that I would allow my reactivity to throw out the window the needs and values that I usually hold dear and aspire to – such as loving kindness, respect, teamwork, understanding, and heart connection.
  • Ouch, ouch, ouch and ouch.

Welcome to humble humanity, right?  Especially a humanity that has been living submersed and locked into a good/bad, right/wrong morality, and the accompanying disconnecting language and behaviors that come with “making it a good thing to punish a ‘bad’ person.”  I.E. justifying and promoting verbal and physical violence. A humanity that has not yet been able to understand the depth of the permanent interconnection of all of us, of all of our well being, every day.

As I wrote this, as soon as I started viewing my “tragic” actions through the lens of needs, I started to feel some ease washing over me, some relaxation in my body, some relief of the buildup of guilt and shame that was stimulated by remembering and admitting where I have “fallen short”. 

That is the healing balm of self empathy doing its work – the balm I desperately wish for, for our U.S. Representatives and beyond. 

Your turn…Making it Real…with Compassion

If you want to deepen your compassion and your connection to humanity’s shared reality of falling into “tragic strategies” to meet needs, I invite you to join me and “drink in the lessons” too. 

Have you done some of the things on the “Humble Drink” list above? 

What have you done this past week that perhaps you regret?

I invite you to reclaim your innocence by:

Empathizing with Self  (forgiving oneself without implying wrongdoing), and

Mourning (apologizing without implying wrongdoing)

Think of a situation in which you would like to have done things differently.  

First give yourself empathy, in a heartfelt way. I.e. understand the needs you were trying to meet by doing the action you now regret.  

Then mourn the loss of not having done things differently.  What core needs or values of yours were not met when you spoke or acted the way you did?

If you accept the invitation of this exercise, I’d love to hear about  your experience of it.

As always, please feel free to share your conflict and relationship (work or home) topics or questions you would like me to reflect on and write about here. Of course I will protect your privacy, with no mention of your name or details.

I hope you feel inspired to continue to engage with me as I share fresh, real life peacemaking and relationship transformation, with practices that you can do for yourself. Let’s use our moments together to create greater levels of peace and love in your self growth and relationship adventures!

Peace and many social blessings,


P.S. Please visit if you would like to learn about my work. 

If you or your organization are in conflict, experiencing a #7 out of 10 or higher pain levels, then I invite you to set up a complimentary session with me to explore your options for relief and transformation. 

You can find a time that works for you here Breakthrough Conversation.

About the Author Catherine

Catherine Cooley is a mediator and a communication coach. She has worked in environments of extreme conflict including prisons, the court system and local communities teaching what she calls "Breakthrough Conversations." She specializes in helping people foster clear, respectful, warm, cooperative relationships at home and in the workplace.

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