– A Community Building Tool –
Making Life Wonderful…Part 1 of 3
Nonviolent Communication (NVC), sometimes called Compassionate Communication or Compassionate Connections was originally founded by Marshall Rosenberg as a way of communicating and resolving conflict amidst dangerous, even murderous, circumstances around the world. Thus the name Nonviolent Communication came into wide use. It was also famously used earlier by Ghandi during his campaign to liberate India from British rule. What does Nonviolent Communication mean to you? To some it sounds harsh and you might say, “I’m not violent!” and thus dismiss it as something that applies to others, not to you. This would be a mistake.
Since the NVC method of communicating was used as an effective and compassionate method of resolving dangerous conflicts between people killing each other — gangs in Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit; warring tribes in Africa; ethnic clashes in Kosovo and Ireland — it was also found to be brilliantly effective in everyday relationship communication. Many of us who have learned this communication method sometimes prefer to call it by its softer name Compassionate Communication to reflect its ultimate purpose of facilitating empathic connections. I view NVC as serving three areas of human aspiration:
–relationship enhancing, and
–a spiritual path.
In short, NVC has earned a reputation for making life wonderful for those who practice it sincerely.
What Is Violence?
The root of the word “violence” reveals itself when we make others (or ourselves) wrong. In cultures based on conformity, oppression and obedience to authority there is a learned undercurrent in language and conversation that often implies that others are wrong. Even using the word “should” falls into this category, for example, whenever we think we know how others should live. Thus make-wrong behavior springs from a learned attitude of superiority, insecurity and separation. We may have an unconscious propensity to make people wrong when it takes the form of blame, judgment, criticism and shame…and it can manifest as very subtle or very loud.
In Buddhism, the word “aggression” is used to denote violence, a violation of some kind, the opposite of respect and openness. Violence characterizes any behavior that causes harm and pain to oneself or another. There is also a quiet emotional violence that manifests when we withdraw or push others away in a misguided effort to protect ourselves from vulnerability and authentic connection. Since humans manifest a wide range of behavior and speech -from aggression and violence to compassion, vulnerability, respect and openness- we might well wonder what our real basic nature is.
Some say it is separation, aggression, originally sinful and evil while others say it is compassion, unity, openness and connection right out of the womb. NVC defines aggression and violence as learned behaviors, and like Buddhism and Sufism, teaches that our basic nature is, in fact, goodness…that we are hardwired for unity, connection and openness.
What lies on top of our basic goodness, covering it up, are various conditioned behaviors from our family upbringing and cultural influences and emotional woundings. Thus we have developed habitual patterns of communication that originally served to protect us from danger, pain and abuse -such as withdrawing or attacking or going numb- but that no longer serve us as adults who inherently and universally desire connection, harmony, happiness and peace.
The Fires of Consciousness…Part 2 of 3
So, in order to cut through these old habits that cover over and make us blind to our basic goodness, NVC encourages and trains us in remembering our basic compassionate nature that we have forgotten. And the way NVC specifically does this is to train in changing our daily consciousness from the old destructive, isolating and emotionally reactive habits over to recovering and remembering how to identify and honestly express our feelings and needs. NVC practice reveals that feelings and needs are an easy way to experience what’s alive in us.
It seems we have to go through the fires of changing and expanding our consciousness in order to become fully human. The fires of grief, anger, sadness, pain and vulnerability are like initiation experiences. From this perspective embracing emotional pain is a way of undoing habitual patterns of self-deception. In this sense initiation experiences bring a feeling of newness and change that undermines fixed identity. They are really nothing special, only more or less human portals we must peel open and embrace in order to glimpse our true compassionate nature. This is part of the positive journey that NVC invites us to engage in. It is none other than the basic human task of cultivating our lost legacy, which is to master the literacy of our core feelings and needs. This involves learning how to honestly express these in ways that are non-defensive and non-aggressive.
By being vulnerable in this way, NVC serves to increase our chance of receiving a compassionate response from others, a response that is not defended. NVC reminds and trains us in connecting in an empathic manner with our own feeling and needs as well as the feelings and needs of others. It is a softer way of living that opens us up to a gentle way of seeing the world and ourselves. Since we are addicted to our old largely unconscious habits of emotional reactivity and defensive postures, it might at first feel awkward, like we are running low on oxygen to live from this new and softer place.
The change of consciousness that NVC is pointing out is asking us to give up the pleasure trap of being right, and making others wrong. These old habits limit us, hold us in a limiting pattern of daily consciousness. By contrast, the new consciousness we are creating and discovering might feel like a no-man’s land of blankness and uncertainty, and that is indeed what a change of consciousness feels like. However, to reconnect with our long-alienated basic nature we might have to tolerate a few uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms until we catch on to the process of waking up to the healthy and wonderful world of freedom, free from aggression and making others wrong. It is so liberating! We learn that softness is ultimate strength, ultimate maturity, ultimate security, ultimate wisdom!
The Basic Method…Part 3 of 3
The basic method of Nonviolent Communication that fosters connection is to learn and practice these four components:
-How to make an observation
-How to honestly express feelings
-How to value the beauty of needs, and express them
-How to make a request, instead of a demand
We do this deliberately, slowly and consciously at first as an honest expression of who we are in a given situation or moment. We do this within ourselves with a new consciousness. It is actually a first step of awakening an inner life. And we develop empathy by seeing these same four components in others, at least the feelings and needs part. Eventually it becomes a dance back and forth that operates from the truth that everyone’s needs matter.
In a diagram the new consciousness looks like this:
HONESTLY EXPRESSING <———> EMPATHICALLY RECEIVING
This is the MAP of a new consciousness in relationships that NVC trains in. It invites us to come out from hiding, to see through emotional reactivity, and to connect our intrinsic need, for happiness and connection, with an actual process of realizing and manifesting it on the spot. This is vulnerability and it might feel scary. But it is our new assignment, should we choose to accept the challenge, for cultivating sustainable conversations, cooperation, unity, richness and perhaps as Bucky Fuller said, our “final evolutionary exam.”