‘Readings in Nonviolence’ features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)
In this occasional series INNATE is looking at some inspiring stories of well-known and less-known nonviolent figures. The idea is to read about their lives, to learn and to be moved from their teachings, experiences and actions. It is not to idolise them as icons and unique heroes but to humanise them and to get a spark from them to ignite our innate fire of nonviolence. Each individual can make a difference. We plan to portray different approaches and focuses where nonviolence is the common denominator.
By Stefania Gualberti
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
And rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.” - Rumi
Marshall Rosenberg was an American psychologist, mediator, author and teacher. He was born in 1934 and died in 2015, at the age of 80.
Rosenberg grew up in racially-divided Detroit where he witnessed different forms of violence.He was bullied in school for being Jewish. He grew up in a loving family where his mother and uncle took care of their ill mother. Since an early age he was interested in the ability of some to keep an empathic connection with the other even in the most difficult circumstances.
He went on to study Psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Rosenberg worked with and was influenced by Carl Rogers, whose most famous work is “On Becoming A Person” and client-centred therapy.
In the 1960s after his doctorate in Clinical Psychology, he was working with civil rights activists in schools, colleges and with gangs to tackle racism, segregation and sexism in San Francisco, California, when he developed Nonviolent Communication (NVC).
Through his studies and experienceshe realised how language and the use of words are such a powerful tool to maintain that empathic connection.
Nonviolent communication, compassionate communication or communication forlife, is “about connecting with ourselves and others from the heart. It’s about seeing the humanity in all of us. It’s about recognizing our commonalities and differences and finding ways to make life wonderful for all of us.” (*1)
He found that the skills of Nonviolent Communication wereaneffective conflict resolution and peacemaking tool and were easily transferred, so he founded the Center for Nonviolent Communication to begin training as many people as possible towards social change.
“Since the inception of the Center, the response to Nonviolent Communication training has been extremely positive. It is seen as a powerful tool for peacefully resolving differences at personal, professional, and political levels. Dr. Rosenberg provided Nonviolent Communication training in 60 countries He worked with such groups as educators, managers, mental health and health care providers, lawyers, military officers, prisoners, police and prison officials, clergy, government officials, and individual families. He had been active in war-torn areas and economically disadvantaged countries, offering Nonviolent Communication training to promote reconciliation and peaceful resolution of differences.”(*2)
Marshall Rosenberg believed compassion and empathy are human beings’ natural responses, unlearned through a violent culture but that theycan be re-learnt
Nonviolent communication is based on these ten assumptions:
- All human beings share the same needs
- Our world offers sufficient resources for meeting everyone's basic needs
- All actions are attempts to meet needs
- Feelings point to needs being met or unmet
- All human beings have the capacity for compassion
- Human beings enjoy giving
- Human beings meet needs through interdependent relationships
- Human beings change
- Choice is internal
- The most direct path to peace is through self-connection (*3)
Nonviolent communication offers a formula which asksus to focus on four elements:
Observation, notice a behaviour of the other, being specific and without judgement;
Feelings, connect with our feelings towards that behaviour we observed;
Needs, connect those feelings with the needs which are either met or unmet;
Request, express clearly and specifically to the other what they could do to enrich our life.
If we are able to keep our attention on these four elements and help the other to do the same we establish the flow of communication and the empathy manifests naturally: what I see, how I feel, what I need, what I am asking you do to enrich my life; what you see, how you feel, what you need, what you are asking me to enrich your life… (*4)
In his books and during Nonviolent Communication trainings this new language is taught. Exercises on how to connect and express with this four elements are learnt. List of feelings and needs are provided to give vocabulary sifted from judgement and blame which we use without even realize.
In “Speaking peace, connecting with others through nonviolent communication” (*4), Marshall Rosenberg talks about using nonviolent communication in different ways, when speaking with yourself, in relationship with others at home, at work and to bring in social change.
He asked “how would I like human beings to behave in their daily lives, their relationships, and their political activities?”
If we want people to change towards nonviolence, they have to see there are better ways to meeting their needs at less cost. People will not change out of fear.
He talks about the importance of focusing on needs and take away the judgement at different levels. Blame and judgement are hard ways of learning.
When we are in touch with our needs, we are in touch with life.
Connecting with self
Whenever we make a mistake, instead of judging ourselves and being paralysed and depressed by guilt, shame and blaming, we have other options. We can use those feelings as an alarm clock that we are not in touch with life. Looking behind these judgements we realize what needs weren’t met. We never do anything unless is for a good reason. Every behaviour is a response to a need. Need is always a good reason. Look at the need you are trying to meet. In taking away the judgement we learn from our limitation without losing self-respect.
In connecting with ourselves we give ourselves space and compassion which brings clarity. This process helps recognise and take responsibility for our own feeling and need, without blaming the self or the other, and recognise we have a choice to respond to the need and making specific and clear requests.
Once people don’t have to defend themselves they are much open to other possibilities.
“When our attention is in the present and our intention is to connect with the other person without judgment, they receive the message that they are cared about. They then feel safe enough to explore their inner world, share their journey, and find their own solutions. Focusing on non-evaluative observations, universal feelings and needs that we all share creates the connection, understanding, safety and trust that facilitates the discovery of what is alive in both of us. Then we can look at ways in which we can truly make life more wonderful for all of us, without compromise, by making requests.” (*5)
The other is not seen as an enemy but as a human being with their feelings and needs. With nonviolent communication both people connect with their feelings and needs andtheir communication is a “dance” of connection and requests (not demands) towards finding a solution which meet the needs of both.
Social change and the economic system as gang system
Rosenberg believed we all need to learn to make peace with ourselves. We need to do the inner work simultaneously as contributing to social change. When looking outside, we need to look at what change we need to see in the world.
Marshall Rosenberg believed violence serves a purpose in maintaining our economic structure, which is like a gang. Governments and the economic structure are the problems not individual behaviours. The use of violent language, punishment and blame are tactics which support gang behaviours.
Schools - as a system- are contributing to this gang culture as they teach obedience to authorit y- to do what you are told - and to work for extrinsic reward. So when students finish school and move to the workforce they won’t ask if the product they are producing is really serving life, they will work for a salary.
With violent structures we are maintaining a caste system and make it look like democracy.
The structure is the problem, not the individual in it. That is why we need to work at different levels.
Gratitude and purpose
How can we get the energy to work nonviolently with the self, the other and the system?
Marshall Rosenberg believed that to bring social change gratitude is necessary; gratitude to sustain spiritual conscience, the necessary energy to sustain the beauty that can be, not to fight evil forces. Instead of worrying about the amount of things to be done and how bad things are, we need to use gratitude.
Gratitude, celebration, giving thanks are necessary to sustain living in harmony with values, and spirituality. With gratitude we become conscious moment by moment that our purpose in life as human being comes from compassionate giving and compassionate service. The greatest joy is to use our energy towards the wellbeing of all.
Nonviolent communication is a language that connects, heals. It is a language that follows a structure that might appear simple but it is nonviolence in its pure form, as takes at heart the wellbeing of all. Like any other language, to be fluent in it, it must be practiced. It is an extremely powerful and effective wayto find peace at different levels.
Words are Windows (Or They’re Walls), a poem by Ruth Bebermeyer
I feel so sentenced by your words
I feel so judged and sent away
Before I go I got to know
Is that what you mean to say?
Before I rise to my defense,
Before I speak in hurt or fear,
Before I build that wall of words,
Tell me, did I really hear?
Words are windows, or they’re walls,
They sentence us, or set us free.
When I speak and when I hear,
Let the love light shine through me.
There are things I need to say,
Things that mean so much to me,
If my words don’t make me clear,
Will you help me to be free?
If I seemed to put you down,
If you felt I didn’t care,
Try to listen through my words
To the feelings that we share.
~ Ruth Bebermeyer
(from the book Nonviolent Communication – A Language of Life)
*2 Inbal Kashtan, Miki Kashtan, “Key Assumptions and Intentions of NVC”, BayNVC.org
*3 Marshall Rosenberg, “Nonviolent communication: a language of life”, Puddle Dancer Press, 1998
*4 'Speaking Peace' - Marshall Rosenberg - Nonviolent Communication. 2003 https://www.youtube.com
*5 March 2018 Donal Gannon - www.donalgannon.com Developed by D. Gannon, D. Campbell-Ross, C. Crombie, G. Lawrie, B. Belgrave, I. & M. Kashtan & M. Rosenberg
- To see Ann Kristin Sivertsen’s take on Nonviolent Communication, see “Nonviolent communication: NVC at a glance