We’ve completed our plurk* here in China for this trip!
Our first weekend workshop here in Guangzhou over the weekend included about 35 participants, most of them local, but some from as far away as near Beijing.
We’ve been playing a game early in the workshop to ask folks to sort themselves by when they first learned about NVC. This week, a significant number stood in one area and remarked that they had begun learning NVC “twenty minutes ago”. How wonderful to meet so many new folks interested in communicating with connection!
At the end of the two days, we asked folks to check out with one take away (to protect time and support those who had trains and planes to catch). Almost no one fulfilled our request, with many stating at least 3 insights or take always that they imagine will change their lives, from now on. That kind of feedback makes the efforts and challenges of international travel “worth it” to me!
Today is a long, long travel day. In a few minutes, we will board the train for Hong Kong, then later this evening (8 pm Monday, local time) we take off on the first of three flights home. On Monday at 8 pm in Maui we arrive. Even though we travel for more than 24 hours, we arrive and leave at the same time! This strange time shift continues to blow my mind.
I’m looking forward to coming home and seeing you all again! We intend to offer the Mediation Dojo this Friday.
We also will begin an 8 week series on NVC Academy on Tuesday at 1 pm HT focusing on 9 Skills for Navigating Conflict. If you are interested in joining us for this video based class, you can follow this link: http://nvctraining.com/media/_
Looking forward to our next connection,
*plurk = play + work, a term we learned from Dianna McKenna in Durango, CO
Greetings from one of the newest cities in China, Shenzen.
About 30 years ago, this sleepy little fishing village across the bay from vibrant, colonial Hong Kong became the first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in China. Like Yantai where we were a couple of weeks ago, China began reaching out to the world here.
Now, almost 12 million people, with an average age of less than 30(!) live, work and play here.
The city vibrates with an effervescent intensity an octave above Yantai. For me, it seems the height of consumptive society, yet with a quality of care for the future inching toward sustainability. Because it is an SEZ, Shenzhen attracts lots of ex-pats and business folks from all around the world. It has an international and cosmopolitan flavor like Shanghai.
The economic output of this single city is about the same as all of Portugal! It’s a place where lots of new businesses spring up, and perhaps that “fertility” will support the growth of NVC here. In my dream of the world, someday there will be at least one trainer per million folks, so this single city may have 12 trainers in the not to distant future. As my mentor Christa Morf says, “We’ll see what happens!”
We’ve just completed a two day workshop with about 35 folks, the first NVC workshop by certified trainers here, as far as I know. When we did a process early on the first day to understand how much previous NVC experience folks had, we discovered that about 70% of the folks had less than a year and some had just learned about NVC days ago. How inspiring to be present for the first baby steps of helping to support an emerging NVC community here!
We offered our 9 skills training coupled with some introductory processes exploring universal Needs and the connection between feelings and needs. The participants eagerly assimilated our offering as fast as we could give it. They seemed content with brief breaks and a leisurely lunch, allowing us lots of time for practice.
Hearing the checkout round this afternoon touched me deeply. It seemed they were taking away deep learning and inspiration to continue their practice. If you are still doing the gratitude practice we encouraged before you left, more than a 100 Chinese folks are now joining us from all of the cities we have visited.
One of the highlights of the training was showing a brief video Jori and I had seen this morning of the leaders of North and South Korea connecting and shaking hands. There is a precious moment in the video that demonstrated the power of an invitation as Kim Jong Un gently encouraged his South Korean counterpart to step over the line into North Korea. Many of the participants seemed to be as touched as we were. I could barely control my emotions as I shared how impactful this moment is for me, how much hope I have in the possibility of peace and denuclearization. What a long distance we seemed to have come since that wild morning in January when we all freaked out about the incoming missile that turned out to be a false alarm!
Tomorrow we facilitate a meeting of volunteers who visit schools in southern China hoping to inspire kids there to dream big, even in the face of a traditional rote-learning strategy still common in many Chinese schools. I wonder what will happen.
We hope all is well with you! We have one more weekend workshop in a few days before heading home for Maui. Until we see you in mid-May, please keep going to Zero, keep refining your intention to connect and enjoy this precious moment.
Link to video: https://youtu.be/i7LXeCTOEuU
Today is the third day of an extended weekend training here in Yantai, and our 9th day of training here over the last year. I sometimes joke that we love doing NVC here in this small village.
In 2010, there were almost 7 million people here! That’s bigger than every city in the USA except for New York City. And most Americans have never heard of it. Yet by Chinese standards, a small city. (Shanghai and Beijing have over 20 million!)
“Opened” by the People’s Republic in 1984, Yantai has been transformed from a sleepy port and fishing village into a vibrant and sprawling city linking various parts by subways and wide, modern boulevards lined with buffers of thickly planted vegetation: ground cover, shrubbery, flowering trees and evergreens that create a natural barrier between streets and the buildings set back from the avenues. Sadly, the mixture of exhaust from power plants and cars along with the natural moisture from the nearby sea create a perfect place for smog, not unlike LA.
About 2/3 of the participants come from Yantai, and the rest have come here from at least ten other cities around China, making this a “national” training. Most of the practitioners have practiced NVC for at least a year or two, and some are already on the path to becoming certified trainers. (Right now, in a country with over a billion people there are no certified trainers!)
The sense of joy, community and connection inspires my heart. So much laughter, tempered by a serious attitude when it comes to diving into the learning. Weijun, one of the organizers and a senior certification candidates claps his hands sharply at the appointed time to begin, and silence quickly descends. This is a 5000 year old culture of deep obedience to authority, after all.
We encourage folks to question that authority in a gentle way: “Why are you getting quiet? Why are you attending to us as teachers. Are you doing this out of a habit of obedience or because you are connected to your needs? What needs are motivating you?”
There are almost 40 folks studying with us this weekend, and we are focusing on “NVC as a Mindfulness Toolbox”, material which we began developing about a year ago in Maui and Oahu. The first day we focused on Self-Connection; yesterday we shifted to Empathy; and today we will settle into Mindful Dialog.
Of course, they feed us way too much food. Besides the 3 meals a day that is the current Chinese middle-class habit, there are snacks available during the training, unlimited tea and coffee, and they have fully stocked our refrigerator with yogurt and fruit that we have barely touched because we are bloated from the abundance.
This weekend marks the more than halfway point on our journey to China. Monday we head for a brief stop in Shanghai, than finish with two weekend trainings in Shenzen and Guangzhou.
One last moment of reflection and hope. Yantai is a port city on the Bay of Korea. Just a few hundred kilometers away is the Korean Peninsula, and yesterday there was big news that the two Koreas may be moving toward a peace treaty after more than 60 years of war, tension and uneasy truce. After our nuclear missile scare in January, the urge to peace feels quite present in my heart, and I hope that the various parties can come to a peaceful agreement. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to celebrate something that President Trump has done! What a refreshing possibility. I’d love to have some evidence that my enemy image is at least a little shaky, and that I can touch celebration as well as mourning about our current political situation.
Please keep practicing with Hawkeye, Becky and with one another! We look forward to seeing you in May!
Warm aloha from chilly Yantai,
This week I had a somatic realization in relation to self-empathy. My partner and I had been talking and the conversation led us to both become slightly triggered. It was a mild upset, but we both needed a little bit of space to cool off. As I sat alone reflecting, I noticed a strong desire for connection. I really wanted to be connected and loving with my partner. At the same time however, I was feeling very angry at him and hurt by some of the things he said. I held these two opposing energies at the same time, comparing the different qualities. The internal conversation went a little something like this:
Me that wants connection: I would really love to just forget this whole upset and just hug and feel connected to him.
Me that wants empathy: Not until he apologizes! He doesn’t even realize how hypocritical he’s being right now! I don’t want to connect with someone who isn’t willing to understand the problem.
Me that wants connection: He is just triggered. He’ll be willing to listen once we’re connected. I am so tired of arguing. I just want to laugh about how silly this all is and relax together.
Me that wants empathy: But he accused me of being the problem and he can’t see that there are two distinct things he’s doing that are causing the problem. I just need to show him how to avoid this in the future. I have the solution that he’s so desperate for, if he would only listen.
Me that wants connection: Telling him how he’s causing the problem won’t help. It won’t get us empathy OR connection. I really want connection right now, more than anything else. I know that empathy will come after.
When I came to this realization, that I deeply wanted to feel connected more than anything else, it didn’t erase my need for empathy. While I felt a stronger energetic pull to be close to him, I still felt the angry pull to separate myself. In that moment, I could tell that he wasn’t in a place that he could listen or give me empathy. So, to meet my goal of connection, I knew I would have to approach him with vulnerability and love. I knew that I couldn’t approach him with vulnerability until the part of me that needed empathy and understanding felt some relief. The teaching of self-empathy hit me in that moment in a way that I’ve never understood it before.
“Of course!” I thought. “This is the salve that I can self-apply on my unmet needs for empathy and understanding.” I knew that this was the solution for re-establishing the connection I was desiring. I put my hand on my heart and touched my emotional wounding.
“Yeah, there is some pain, isn’t there?” Talking to myself in a gentle voice is instantly soothing. “It makes absolute sense that you would feel this way. Anyone would feel this way in your situation.” I nod, and tears well up in my eyes as I switch back and forth between the roles of giving to myself and receiving empathy from myself.
“It’s okay to feel how you feel. I understand. I completely understand and give you full allowance and acceptance to have this pain. Everything you feel is valid.” Big sigh. That usually does it. I consistently need reassurance that my emotions and reactions are valid.
I only needed about five minutes for this process, and then I had enough courage to approach my partner with vulnerability. I approached him, sensing that he was still upset, and all I did was place my hand on his. When I can move through my anger and upset to the point that I’m able to make a loving action of waving the white flag, things usually deescalate quickly from there. Often in situations where I move through my anger quickly, it’s because I didn’t get very triggered. In this case, however, I noticed a strong desire for connection as well as a strong sense of anger. Because I was so committed to reestablishing connection, I was able to proactively engage with my anger and apply self-empathy. The relief that it provided eased the need enough that I could then move into vulnerability and approach my partner with love and openness. I am so grateful for this somatic deepening of a self-empathy practice. It is a great joy when teachings move beyond the level of thinking and come to life in more dynamic experiences.
“The Zero Step: What we do before we open our mouths influences what happens next!
“Know what you want before you open your mouth.” -Marshall Rosenberg, developer of Nonviolent Communication
The Story of the Zero Step
Shortly after meeting Marshall Rosenberg in November of 2000, Jori and I started attending the Community NVC Practice Group in Albuquerque. One member of the group, Mel Schneider, offered the group a lesson he called “The Zero Step”. Mel started the presentation by writing the numbers 1 through 4 on the whiteboard:
He then filled in the blank next to each number, enumerating the four components of NVC.
He briefly reviewed what each component meant. He said something like, “Observation refers to what we see and hear. Feeling means the physical sensations and emotions we notice in our body. Needs are the universal values that cause our feelings. Requests are the action step that moves us forward into making life more wonderful.”
This was already familiar. As I once heard Marshall say, “you can learn the basic components of NVC in 5 minutes or less.”
Then he went back to the board and wrote a 0 at the top o
And after the 0 he wrote two words
0. ZERO STEP
Intrigued, we all leaned forward. I thought, “What is this? I don’t remember seeing this in Marshall’s book! He didn’t mention this at the workshop we just went to. I wonder what this is about.”
Mel explained that his understanding and practice of NVC centered around the idea that “all the rest” of NVC follows from one underlying premise: the intention that we each bring to every communication matters to the outcome! He also reminded us of the ever-present environment in which we practice NVC: the present moment.
In other words, when we take the time and energy to get clear about our intention, before communicating with one another, we increase the likelihood of living compassionately. In the moments before we engage in a conversation, the choices we make profoundly influence everyone involved. When we begin with an intention to connect, we naturally enter into the present moment, the only “time and place” that the connection we so fervently want actually exists.
The “Rest of NVC”
I have come to understand that “all the rest” of NVC also supports our clarity of intention because each component of NVC awakens us to another important quality of consciousness- Openness to Outcome. Rather than pre-judging the moment based on beliefs and images rooted in the dead past or the imagined future, we open to the possibility of something new arising that can make life more wonderful from now on.
In each moment, our consciousness focuses on what is arising with four lenses:
1.What’s actually happening, right now?;
2.What feelings are arising, right now?
3.Who needs what right now?
4.What might contribute to those Needs, right now?
So the intention of NVC, in a dynamic feedback loop with NVC’s components, creates and sustains a natural quality of connection, a quality that makes compassionate giving and receiving both possible and inevitable. We creatively move through each moment of presence, awake and open to the almost infinite potential of what could be.
What happens if we forget the Zero Step?
With another intention, the same four components can be used at a great cost, one that adversely affects one’s own well-being and integrity, and likely leads to something other than compassionate giving and receiving, a world based on who deserves what punishment or reward. In other words, violence rooted in separateness.
When we view the world through a screen of life-alienated “jackal”* consciousness, we live our lives alternating between the dead past and the imaginary future. We fall into habits of:
1.Evaluation and analysis
2.Separative thinking and moral judgment
3.Resistance and addictive attachment
4.Demands and expectations
Even after we learn the basics of NVC, we may fall into these mostly unconscious habits. We may begin to use NVC as a mechanical process devoid of warmth and care. We can use the lens of NVC to become analytical and diagnostic. We can try to use NVC to manipulate others to get what we want without regard to our interdependence. We might start judging others for not using NVC “the right way”, or correcting others for not being vulnerable enough, honest enough, empathic enough. We might become the “NVC Police” correcting others for using words that are faux feelings or when they seem to mix up needs and strategies.
“”We might ask ourselves whether we are more intent on applying the process “correctly” than on connecting with the human being in front of us. Or perhaps, even though we are using the form of NVC, our only interest is in changing the other person’s behavior.” -Marshall Rosenberg
Becoming aware of any of these deeply embedded habits awakens us to the possibility of shifting our intention. Instead of an intention to correct, we can shift, right now, to an intention to connect!
What does living this intention look like?
When we shift our orientation to connection in the present, it affects our body, mind and world.
For the body, the intention to connect results in heightened awareness of sensations and emotions which can be read to support us in cultivating our own vitality, ensuring that our body’s needs are met with ever-increasing reliability. We learn to listen to the body and respond compassionately to its requests.
For the mind, we experience clarity, insight and openness to outcome. The safety and security we experience in our body influences our minds to become both vulnerable and empathic. We enjoy each moment as an opportunity to sense fully the whole range of human experience with a respectful quality of allowance. The luminosity of our awareness invites self-connection in the service of life.
With body and mind in resonance, our interactions with the world shift. The separateness we have habitually felt dissolves into connection and compassion. Our willingness to both give and receive blossoms.
Now, we can connect! More and more often we can catch ourselves connecting naturally. Every time we notice a pleasant sensation in the body becomes an opportunity to taste and express gratitude. Each moment of sadness or despair invites us to inquire into the source of our pain: what need is crying, “please!” right now? Each connection to a need invites us to open to the possibility that there exists a strategy (or a myriad of strategies) to fulfill the needs arising.
Here are some practices to experiment with to connect with The Zero Step:
•Acknowledge, “I am Giraffe*”, or “I’m putting on my giraffe ears.”
•Cultivate Warmth toward self and other
•Care for your vitality as well as the vitality of other(s)
•Cultivate interest in what is alive: What’s actually happening? What feelings are arising? Who needs what right now? What might help?
•Mental practice: This refers to a strategy of using the brains power of simulation to practice the Zero Step in challenging situations before they happen. I sometimes do this kind of practice just before going to sleep and/or just upon awakening. If I end up in a sleepless period in the middle of the night, one can also utilize the time for this kind of practice.
Write down one new thing that you will do to cultivate your zero step.
(*Giraffe is the symbol of Nonviolent Communication, chosen by Marshall Rosenberg because giraffes have the strongest heart of any land mammal.
C) 2017 Jim Manske peaceworks radicalcompassion.com
one.Please, let every word that you speak or type be empathically cleansed of
any thought or feeling of separateness before you open your mouth or press “send”. (This in no way implies there is a correct form!)
Please, let every word you hear be filtered by empathy so all you hear is “Please” and “Thank you”.
Please, let every communication express our common aim of living nonviolence and compassion.
May we remember our vision and mission each and every moment, and measure our own actions (and inactions) in relation to those commitments.
For me, the word “need” (as a noun) points to the essential, intrinsic energy that impels movement toward survival and thriving within living organisms. In other words, the power that motivates all behaviors.
Essential means “absolutely necessary”.
Intrinsic means “inside, coming from within” the organism. (The dictionary says “belonging naturally”.
Motivational means“spurring action toward a goal or outcome”.
Energy means “that which is non-material and contains potential to sustain and enrich the organism”.
Impels relates to a forward, directional impulse.
Movement implies dynamic, ever-changing motion.
Survival means “to have the necessary resources to continue living.”
Thriving naturally follows survival when abundant resources exist beyond the minimum necessary means to continue life and the organism has access to those resources. Thriving enhances survival as it increases the likelihood of long-term sustainability.
This energy contains a quality of intelligence, wisdom and compassion that continuously scans through observations (both external and internal) and determines whether pain or pleasure exists; it then motivates an organism to move strategically towards that which it senses will reduce pain and/or enhance pleasure. (In other word, sensations signal the organism about the state of its needs from moment to moment. Requests naturally emerge when the organism experiences discomfort, because of the deep impulse emanating from “needs”.)
Additionally, “needs” make meaning for the organism, contributing to learning ever more effective strategies for fulfillment. This is what I mean when I use the word “value”, which is more or less synonymous with “need”.
For me, the word “need” (as a verb) points to two levels:
1. “I need ___________” means “I require ________”, and if I do not get it, I will feel pain or suffer damage or even death.
2. “I need ____________” means “I yearn for a shift from what is, right now, to what could enhance and/or enrich my life; I notice pain in the present and move toward that which I yearn for to reduce my pain and sustain and/or enhance my life. Yearn means to long for. It is interesting for me to note that the archaic definition of yearn is “to be filled with compassion or a warm feeling.”
As I finish this reflection, I remember Marshall’s response to a question I once asked him at a Special Session: Marshall, what comes up for you when you see people in our community arguing about whether “______ is a feeling or a non-feeling” or if “________ is a need or a strategy”? I heard him say, “Well, that doesn’t surprise me at all; we are trying to use a language born from domination. We have not yet invented a language that comes from partnership.”
Please, let every word that you speak or type be emphatically cleansed of any thought or feeling of separateness before you open your mouth or press “send”. (This in no way implies there is a correct form!)
Please, let every word you hear be filtered by empathy so all you hear is “Please” and “Thank you”.
Please, let every communication express our common aim of living nonviolence and compassion.
May we remember our vision and mission each and every moment, and measure our own actions (and inactions) in relation to those commitments.
Week four of my internship with NVC NextGen is coming to a close, and there are many wonderful moments of learning to reflect on. After attending the last two NVC practice groups, I had experiences of the lessons integrating into my daily life. Last week, Jim and Jori taught about ‘have to’, as in things you feel like you have to do. They guided the group through finding to activities that we feel like we have to do, and then explained how to connect to the need that we are trying to meet through doing that activity. For example, I feel like I have to read my texts for school, but by reading the texts, I am trying get my needs for security and integrity met. We also looked at the needs that aren’t met by these activities and held space both to mourn the unmet needs and celebrate our attempts to meet some of our needs. This process of mourning and celebrating has really affected my thinking; I’ve noticed most of my experiences boil down to either mourning or celebrating something. To allow the space for both to come up naturally has really given me a more balanced view of my life.
Just the other day this lesson became very apparent as I was driving to the store. On the way, there’s a turn that is pretty sharp without much visibility. I can’t remember what I was doing while I was driving, but this particular time there was something taking up some amount of my attention, like drinking from my water bottle or opening Spotify on my phone. I turned the corner without anticipating how sharp it would be, and regrettably I didn’t navigate it with as much precision and attention as I would have liked. Luckily, I was taking it slow, but the woman in the car coming towards me didn’t seem pleased with my driving. I got to the store and parked, and I felt some shame. As I gave more attention to the feeling, I could tell there was a part of me that wanted to ignore and suppress it. Instead, I invoked the quality of mourning, and connected to the needs that weren’t met by my behavior: integrity and safety. When I allowed the mourning to occur, there was much more space for the feeling of shame. I also connected to the needs that I had been trying to meet during my inattentive moment of driving, probably ease and fun. I celebrated my attempt of trying to meet those needs.
A few days later, I was driving another windy jungle road, and I was trying to open a podcast on my phone. I instantly felt a flash of recognition *this behavior has led to mourning my integrity in the past*. It spontaneously arose as a reminder stemming from previously taking the time to mourn my action of distracted driving. As soon as this thought came up, I dropped my phone on the passenger seat. I focused on the road and experienced a surge of joy and celebration for seeing the potential to be out of alignment with my integrity and choosing not to. I didn’t drop the phone out of shame, but for the joy of being connected to my integrity. This experience showed me that mourning unmet needs is incredibly powerful and transformative. We react to unmet needs in so many ways: anger, depression, apathy- but to consciously mourn, to touch your tender heart with empathy and compassion, provides a quality of healing. Mourning unmet needs contributes to self-awareness and consequently self-empowerment. It creates more understanding and consciousness around how to get your needs met and illuminates the pathway to a more wonderful life.
Another experience I had that came to life through NVC teachings was around inviting a conversation. This past Monday, Jim and Jori taught on this subject and we were able to practice our conversation invitations. It seemed simple enough, I thought about it briefly and then said to my practice partner: “Hey, I was wondering if you have some time to sit and chat with me. I have something on my mind and I’d really love to share and hear your thoughts.” I spoke those words once, and then we moved on to something else. A couple days later, this practice re-entered my consciousness. I was in the middle of doing yoga when my partner got home and came into our bedroom. I stopped my practice and said “hi”. That morning, I had had a realization about how my life could be more wonderful, and there was a request I wanted to make of my partner. It wasn’t a “big deal”, but it was more important that just our everyday dialogue.
As I was figuring out how to say it, he kissed me on the head and walked out of the room. As I stood there on my yoga mat and had been about to launch into my spiel, I noticed that when I have something to say that feels important, I usually just dive right in. Because my partner walked out before I could say anything, I realized: I had been about to invite a conversation. Unconsciously. This was a wonderful realization because it provided more space in my consciousness and allowed me to really think about how I wanted to approach inviting a conversation. What did I really want to say and how did I want to set the tone? And even more importantly, it gave me the space to remember the zero step, or the intention for connection. Jim and Jori coined this term for a precursory step to the nonviolent communication dialogue.
To go into a conversation with an intention to stay connected to the other person is a profound idea. In the situation with my partner, the energy I had been about to come from was very self-centered and independent, thinking only of my needs and requests. When he left the room and I realized I had been about to invite a conversation, I remembered the zero step and it shifted the energy that I would have had the conversation from. Instead of “I realized this, I need this, wow, I’m so excited about this–” I instead would have approached it instead like “I realized this would make my life more wonderful, how does that impact you?” It’s been amazing to have these learning experiences come to life. It is so inspiring that just attending a short weekly practice group can have so much impact in my thinking and behavior. There’s nothing better than the experience of expanding consciousness contributing to more fulfilling relationships!
I like Marshall Rosenberg’s definition of empathy for its simplicity and clarity. He says, “Empathy is the respectful understanding of another person’s experience.”
We also distinguish between “empathy”, which focuses our attention and presence on what is alive in another person, and “sympathy”, which shifts the focus to our own experience in a self-reflective way. Sympathy can actually block an experience of empathy.
One other related distinction concerns what is actually happening in our own experience when we are in empathic connection. We are as present as possible to the experience of another person without feeling what they are feeling. Again, feeling what another person is feeling can prevent us from experiencing the depth of empathic connection made possible by utilizing the tools and consciousness of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). We can connect with another person’s experience without having the same experience. For me, the experience of empathy is like “meditation off the cushion”.
This distinction may become clearer if you consider how we are defining feelings, especially about what feelings “mean” in NVC. We define feelings as physical sensations and emotions, “guttural” feelings. We distinguish feelings from “thoughts” or “evaluations”, which can actually block presence to our own feelings or connecting with the feelings of others.
In NVC, we see feelings as signals that give us information about the state of our needs. To oversimplify, when our need is met, we feel a certain range of feelings (often called “positive” or “good” feelings) and when our need is not met, we feel a different range of feelings (“negative” or “bad”). Thus, the cause of our feelings is the state of our needs, not what happens in the outside world, what we call the stimulus or observation.
We define needs in a specific way as well, as “that which is required universally to sustain or enhance life.” We all have the same needs. Words that point to needs tend to be vague or hazy, like “connection”, “contribution”, “learning”, or “sustenance”. We distinguish needs from “strategies” or “satisfiers” which are concrete and specific ways of meeting a need.
One example is the need for sustenance. Humans have invented or discovered about a million ways to meet this most basic of human needs; three strategies are a vegetarian diet, a vegan diet and an omnivorous diet. All strategies to meet a need come with both costs and benefits, and as impermanence is the rule, no one strategy will always work to meet a need. A person committed to a vegan diet may choose to meet their need for sustenance by consuming dairy products or meat if their pain (hunger) is great enough and their options are limited in the moment.
So, when we are training people to empathize, we are helping to clarify these distinctions, along with several more. First we are teaching people to be aware of their own needs and what needs might be met by empathizing with another person. We are also teaching and guiding them in certain practices designed to cultivate skills and awareness around 6 aspects of empathy: presence (attention on the present moment and what is actually happening); focus (on the other person’s observations, feelings, needs and requests); space (creating an opportunity for the other person to explore what is important to them while letting go of our thoughts about “agenda” or “fixing”); verbal reflection (certain language patterns designed to support ourselves and others in maintaining presence, focus and space); sensory acuity to notice “shift” (indicators that another person’s needs for empathy and understanding have been met or are unmet); and finally clarifying requests (assisting the other person by empathizing with what they may want next.)
I’m grateful for the feedback I received from my last post. Here comes two new questions recently posed on our trainer group along with my responses:
- What does a commitment to nonviolence mean to you?
I enjoy the precision that comes when someone asks for the meaning of a word or concept. I like slowing things down in order to check and see if we are using words in the same way. I sense that some communication conflicts arise because I assume shared meaning when it does not exist.
So, first, I begin with my definitions. This does not imply that they are the “right definitions” nor that they are permanent. Its just how I am using the
words at this moment in my life to point to my direct experience. I honor that you may have the same definition, or that yours may be different.
Commitment means (to me) an agreement I make with myself to align my behaviors with my capabilities, values, beliefs and Identity/Spirit.
As for “nonviolence”, I go with Marshall Rosenberg’s paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi: “our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart”.
In other words, nonviolence is my nature. My nature is to enjoy compassionate giving and receiving.
Compassionate giving and receiving is nonviolence in action emerging from a consciousness of interdependence.
Violence and compassion cannot exist in the same moment, as far as I can tell in my experience. They belong to two realms which can never overlap, like deep sleep and waking life. Is that your experience?
My practice (of NVC and the rest of my practices) is to undo the education I have received that apparently masks* my identity as the Spirit of Nonviolence and Compassion.
So, I am committed to remembering my nature, refining my intention and focusing on Presence. (This points to what we call “The Zero Step”.)
- Do you believe that, as a community, we share this commitment?
I like seeing everyone in our community (and in the world at large) as awakening beings doing the best we can to get our needs met in the midst of an education that hypnotizes us to think we are separate from one another.
My job (commitment) is to see you as Who you are, a whole human being sometimes fractured by the hypnosis of separateness, just like me.
I like to think that in our community we share this view. Based on my direct experience with every certified trainer I have had the joy of meeting since 2000 (about 75), I sense we share my understanding of commitment to nonviolence. This shared commitment has also been demonstrated to me by hundreds of people who have attended our trainings, practice groups and online presentations.
Not only that, I believe the commitment is deep in almost everyone, almost all of the time. The evidence for this is the overall lack of violence in my direct experience.
If I were to look for the existence of violence ** in my own experience, it is very challenging to find an observation. Most of the violence I have experienced occurred before adulthood.
If I extend my experience to what I receive from the media, I notice more violence. This is a violence I impose on myself for entertainment and information. Receiving images and sounds from the media is a strategy I use to meet some needs, and it comes with a cost. When I understand the costs of the strategy, I can find modifications which can preserve the needs met (for information and fun) with less cost (e.g. traumatic impact on my the well-being of my nervous system, enemy images, anxiety.).
For example, I endeavor to keep a balance of inspiring and informative news and movies with themes that support well-being, learning and fun. When I choose consuming violence for fun, I bring warmth to myself and others as we process what we have experienced. For example, we recently went to see the latest Star Wars movie, and afterwards debriefed the film with our friends with an attitude and an environment of empathy.
I’m left with some amazement: its hard for me to imagine going to almost any movie with the word war in it, yet I have been consuming Star Wars for almost 40 years. It helps me to connect to the malignant success of the education I received, and to how the “myth of redemptive violence”*** still plays out in my thinking.
So, the essence of my direct experience is that violence is rare, and becoming rarer. Most of the violence I endure is invited by me.
This is not to lessen the traumatic impact of violence that you have suffered. Every one of us has a different violence profile.*** No matter what your profile looks like, do you agree that you have choice about how you process that violence? Does it make sense to you that empathy and warmth can soothe and heal you? Does your commitment to nonviolence support your healing and well-being?
I look forward to learning from you whatever you would like to share in response to these thoughts.
* In NVC we nickname the thoughts that mask our interdependence “jackal” or “life-alienating communication”. Examples include moral judgments of right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate, who is to blame, and who deserves what. These patterns of thinking are the hangover from an education rooted in separateness.
** Johan Galtung defines violence as “avoidable impairment of fundamental human needs or life which makes it impossible or difficult for people to meet their needs or achieve their full potential. Threat to use force is also recognized as violence.” –https://www.galtung-institut.
Final note: You may be left wondering, “What happens when we don’t fulfill our commitments? What about if someone else doesn’t keep their agreement? How does NVC approach this?” Stay tuned! That’s what I intend to write about next week!
Questions and Answers ~
Since I am a certified trainer with The Center for Nonviolent Communication, I have the benefit of participating in an online discussion group with my colleagues. Recently one trainer asked the rest of us for feedback on some questions she had received from organizers of a project she was working on. Here are the answers that came up for me as I considered her questions.
Q: Do any kind of ethical instructions exist about applying NVC?
For me, NVC is our natural, human language, so I get curious about natural ethics* . Five ethical principles emerge as I consider this question:
- Nonviolence: The “ethics of NVC” are first and foremost to intend no harm. When harm occurs accidentally, NVC can be used for repair work and healing.
- Self-responsibility and freedom: The “ethics of NVC” require self-responsibility. I feel ___________ because I need _____________. NVC, for me, is designed as a strategy to support me in connecting to my own feelings and needs and taking responsibility for them. NVC is NOT designed to tell other people what they should or should not do. NVC offers expanded choice, it does not limit choice.
- Interdependence: The “ethics of NVC” require me to remember that my needs do not exist in a vacuum; rather my needs are interdependent with yours. I do not want to get my needs met at your expense, nor do I want you to get your needs met at my expense.
- The Zero Step: The “ethics of NVC” require me to remember the intention of NVC (to support a quality of connection that inspires compassionate giving and receiving) and the attention of NVC, the present moment. My partner Jori and I use a nickname for this essential combination, the Zero Step.*** In other words, what comes before we “use” the model or the process? This, for me is the whole key to NVC. When I remember the Zero Step, all of the rest of NVC flows naturally.
- Safety and Protection: Although the intention of NVC is connection, that connection can occur only if there is safety. Thus, assessing safety and following up with protection, if needed, must come before connection. (i.e. the protective use of force.****)
Q: To whom does NVC suit and in what life situation?
In my experience, NVC is suitable in all life situations where I can connect to the ethics pointed to above. NVC works best when I am committed to its practice rather than expecting another to comply with the model or the process.
I have “used” NVC with pre-verbal babies, non-verbal plants, animals and objects, people with more or less structural power than me, with friends, my life partner, my parents, my kids, strangers; even people with a mental health diagnosis; but mostly with me.
The main criteria, that I heard from Marshall during a private conversation are:
1. Are you speaking and acting from your own experience?
2. Is your practice of NVC contributing to well-being?
Q: When should NVC not be applied for a reason or another (eg. bad physical or mental health situation)?
I cannot think of a situation in which self-compassion, self-empathy and self-connection is not “appropriate”. There is much research about this. See especially the work of Kristin Neff. (https://education.utexas.edu/
It seems the skill of discernment answers the question of when to “use” empathy or honesty. I notice my discernment emerges from my self-connection, so we focus much of our training on developing self-awareness (and the Zero Step).
Q: Are there any risks about applying NVC (have they been surveyed, can they be predicted)?
I am not aware of any studies or experiments that identified risks or harms related to practicing NVC. I have had experiences when my proficiency of NVC has been lacking and caused harm.**
Using NVC is vulnerable! (Not using NVC is vulnerable, too!). We human beings are remarkably vulnerable, but we are also powerful in our resilience!
Q: Have situations been examined when NVC is hard to use/apply?
For me, NVC often seems hard to use and apply, and I’ve been a practitioner for 17 years and a certified trainer for almost 15. NVC is designed to navigate conflict (among other things) and conflict is hard!
What makes NVC hard to use are the residual effects of the programming or education I have received. The emotional slavery built into our existing cultural system (that claims and worships separateness) means, in my experience, that almost every communication is a challenge. Even expressing an NVC “apology” or gratitude can have unexpected effects!
NVC is certainly not a panacea.
There is no such thing as a perfect strategy, and after all is said and done, NVC “is” a strategy. Any strategy comes with costs and benefits, yes?
It is a powerful strategy for fulfilling its purposes:
- To create and sustain a quality of connection that inspires compassionate giving and receiving;
- to promote the healing of separateness and emotional slavery;
- to create more honest and empathic relationships;
- to resolve conflicts harmlessly;
- to inspire social change that meets more needs at less cost than the present state.
In my experience it does not always “work” in the way that I would like, at least within the time frame I wish it would. Even as I celebrate the success I have with NVC, I’m left with the sweet pain of mourning how often I fall short of my own aspirations to live the Zero Step, to listen empathically and speak authentically and vulnerably, and especially to treat myself and others with compassion.
I wonder if any of this is helpful, and as always I look forward to your responses!
*I like using the word “ethics” as opposed to “morals”.
For me, ethics emerge from an internal place, focused on our own values and universal needs. No external enforcement of ethics is required because we are naturally sensitized to the feelings and needs that emerge from congruence or incongruence with our values. In other words, when we act outside of our values, we naturally feel pain!
For me, morals derive externally from a set of rules imposed by Authority which must be enforced using punishment and reward. In the face of moral Authority, we seem only to have the choice to submit or rebel.
** Ultimately, using NVC and things like it are quite “harmful” from the point of view of the Powers That Be. Once a critical mass of people live NVC consciousness, I believe all existing social structures will “fall apart” if they rely on punishment and reward as the motivators. From the point of view of the Powers, that is a disaster, and they will likely suffer terribly. (To learn more about The Powers, see Walter Wink’s books.)
***Zero Step is a concept we learned at the first NVC practice group we ever attended. As far as I know, the term was coined by Mel Schneider who offered a session with that title on that evening. I will be forever grateful to Mel. (An article on the Zero Step is coming soon!)
****The protective use of force seems to me one of the least understood parts of NVC for many people. I recommend reading Chapter 12 of Marshall’s book “NVC: Language of Life”.
What if there’s no such thing as a perfect strategy? (Strategies are behaviors intended to contribute to fulfilling a universal human need.)
What that means to me is that no matter which strategic choice I make, some needs will be satisfied while others remain hungry. We all do the best we can to make wise choices that meet the most needs for Life at the least cost. Only the passage of time will clarify how wise our choices have been.
A year ago (in November of 2016) a few days after the US presidential election, I wrote in a Facebook post:
“We have made a choice. There is only one Us. Right now, I feel mourning about the results of this election and the likely consequences of this choice. It’s easy to touch and taste the unmet needs mostly around safety, security and well-being for people and our planet.
As I look towards needs met, I see unbounded possibility for connection in the service of natural giving and receiving. Unending vistas for our vision, our hopes. And, as we make our contributions each day in the service of our mission, we constantly have the opportunity to live our values, inspiring others to join us. I wonder, how can I show my love for people and planet, right now…
The bottom line for me is that no matter who the president of the United States is, I have a purpose, vision and mission.
The person who holds the office (as all other leaders) may either support me or hinder me. That’s for them. My role is to persevere in fulfilling my purpose.”
So, now a year has passed. It’s hard for me to keep track of the myriad events since President Trump took office. There is a wake of unsatisfied needs following the ship of state that Mr. Trump pilots. Never before have so many been so unsatisfied with a presidency at this point of our election cycle.
On the other hand, many people seem to have found their voice and gathered together to advocate for a way of being in our country and in our world much more in harmony with Needs consciousness. We seem to be speaking more, sometimes shouting, other times screaming.
I don’t experience as much listening, and I feel concerned by the continuing polarization and siloing that seems apparent. We may listen to those with whom we agree with, but I’m not sure we are listening to those we do not agree with.
How could I turn this complaint of mine into a commitment?
- First, notice what is. As I look at who I hang out with, my tribe mostly looks like me, talks like me and shares many of my beliefs.
- Consider how to expand the circle of connection, beginning with the Needs. I imagine if I expanded my circle, it would contribute to learning, community, self-expression and empathy, among other needs. It may come with a cost. I imagine the likelihood of conflict will increase. I may feel uncomfortable. My beliefs may be challenged. Including other people may not contribute to ease or flow.
- Sitting with the needs, I open to wonder…what steps could I take that may contribute to these needs.
- I wait for requests to emerge, trusting that we human beings have everything we need to come up with satisfying strategies to support our survival and our thriving. Sometimes I notice the requests arise after a good night’s sleep. Other times, after a soak in the tub or a hot shower. Sometimes in conversation with others, and other times, ideas arise immediately or at random moments. Sometimes by writing, it supports my creativity as well.
- Once the ideas emerge, take action. Small steps are ok, even teeny tiny ones! It seems so important to honor our need for safety when we embark on something new and challenging.
So, now, reading this, what will you do?
The process can be used for any creative puzzle, not just the political conundrum I notice on this chilly November day, one year after an historical election.
Please let me know your responses to what I have written, especially what you harvest from trying the Complaint to Commitment process.
Giving the Gift of Compassionate Giving
What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.
-Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.
Can you imagine that? What would the world be like if there was flow between all of us based on “mutual giving from the heart”? Can you think of a more effective and reliable strategy for peace than making sure everyone’s needs are met reliably and abundantly? Are there any models for us to follow that could inspire this quality of compassionate giving and receiving?
There are likely many such models. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you catch yourself living in this world of compassion every day if you look carefully. I agree with Marshall when he says that “it is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving in a compassionate manner.”
Can you remember some acts of giving today? Practically any act of kindness counts, even a smile or a hug given to a family member; a kind word to a stranger at the grocery store or post office; retrieving something that someone has accidentally dropped and giving it back to them; giving a whole-hearted gratitude or even a tip in acknowledgment of the connection you feel with a person serving you. Even a friendly word to your dog or giving your kitty a scratch in her favorite spot. You’ve probably racked up more than 10,000 acts of compassion in your life!
And, you probably would like to be more effective in compassionate giving and receiving, or you wouldn’t keep reading this! For inspiration, let’s look at the ultimate model.
Ho Ho Ho!
The cultural superhero of this consciousness is of course Santa Claus. No other being, whether mythical or real, embodies compassionate giving and receiving more than St. Nick.
First, he enjoys listening to others express their needs. Imagine the excitement of a child climbing onto Santa’s lap and betraying her secret wishes. Nowadays, these wishes are often encrusted with layers of consumerism and materialism, but Santa hears more deeply. I imagine he connects to the needs each child expresses underneath the strategies of the latest toy or game craze: Fun, Connection, Belonging, Love…do you have other guesses?
I do not know of a more compassionate gift then deeply listening to the needs of another person without any expectation of reward or fear of punishment. Do you? In NVC, we call this kind of listening “empathy”.
Second, Santa hears only requests instead of demands. Santa understands in a deep way that he is not the exclusive and only strategy to fulfill another’s needs. If his bag of goodies does not contain exactly what another has asked for, he trusts that a multitude of other bags (strategies) exist that can fulfill the other’s needs. Santa has transformed scarcity into abundance!
Third, he also understands that requests people make to him are made with an open heart. In other words Santa hears something like, “I would really enjoy this toy Santa, and I understand that there are millions of others who may have similar requests. I trust you Santa, that you will give to me only that which you can enjoy giving!”
When Santa hears requests in this way, I’ll bet his whole body relaxes. There is no need to guard against giving a gift that you cannot give. There is no need to fear the resentment that comes with obligation or threat of punishment. Santa understands and conveys that there is a “yes” behind every “no”. The yes points to needs that we all share.
Fourth, Santa understands the joy of giving. Imagine what goes on in Santa’s mind as he checks his list, matching requests with resources and lovingly placing gifts under the tree or in the stocking. His joy must be boundless as he does not even need to watch the enjoyment of the child receiving a particular gift. I imagine Santa savoring second hand joy “in advance”, as he empathizes with the feelings and needs of the child receiving their heart’s desire hours after Santa has dropped off the gifts.
One image Marshall often used to convey this is the “joy of child feeding a hungry duck.” Who’s having more fun as the child offers bread crumbs to ducks in the local pond, the kid or the ducks? Both are enjoying the interdependence of giving and receiving. The child does not leave the pond thinking, “now that duck owes me!” There is never a hangover of resentment for a gift given from the heart.
Finally, Santa feels enriched by the opportunity to give! When children ask him for support in fulfilling their needs, Santa feels grateful because they have given Santa the opportunity to give to them. This is a virtuous cycle of hearing from another what would make their life more wonderful, then fulfilling their hearts desire triggering gratitude and joy in both give an receiver, and empowering both to ask for their needs to be met in the future. This is the flow Marshall dreamed of.
How can you participate and embody the consciousness of Santa?
- Look for and make opportunities to listen deeply to others. How about you find a practice buddy and share speaking and listening for 30 -60 minutes each week? Who could you call right now to set something up?
- Be on the alert for you hearing another person make a demand. If you hear a demand, take responsibility for how you heard it. Transform the demand into a request by connecting what the other person is asking for into their needs. See that the idea they expressed to you is just one of a multitude of possible ways to get their needs met.
- Be willing to say “No” by revealing what you are saying “Yes” too. For example, if someone asks you to attend a holiday party with them and you feel unwell, consider saying something that conveys your empathy for the other’s request, expresses the needs you are attending to, and offers an alternative way for the other to get their needs met. “I imagine you want to have fun together at the party. I’m feeling exhausted and need to take some time to recharge my batteries by myself. How would you feel about asking Bill to go with you instead of me? I understand he is eager to meet new people.”
- Pay attention and savor your acts of compassionate giving. Each gift you give is an opportunity to celebrate and feel joy. See how many times you can catch yourself each day giving a gift whole-heartedly. Write them down in a gratitude journal, expressing gratitude to yourself for creating the world you want to live in!
Certified Trainer for The Center for Nonviolent Communication, cnvc.org
President, Network for NVC
Please check out my online newspaper: http://www.scoop.it/t/radical-
“Contributing to a world where everyone’s needs can be satisfied reliably & abundantly!”
…Although this was very tender for her, she wasn’t bringing it up for empathy or sympathy. She was bringing it up because she wanted to find a way to transform her thinking about what her sister had shared with her, so she would know what to do with the violent thoughts that were populating her mind and challenging her commitment. Out of respect for her dignity and choice, I never asked for the specific nature of the thoughts.
Anita is part of a very small tribe of people who are fully committed to nonviolence: in thought, word, and deed. There are many people who are committed to nonviolence in action; far fewer are committed in word; and way fewer are committed to nonviolence in thought. Since leadership, for me, entails inspiring others by what we are able to model, if we are committed to nonviolence in thought, and we make our inner struggles known to others as Anita did that day, we act as leaders. What we are modeling is how we can support ourselves, others who have been harmed, the communities around us, and the world at large, without creating new cycles of violence.
The practice of nonviolence begins, for real, precisely when our actions, words, or thoughts are not aligning with our commitment. Because, as I finally understood recently, our capacity often lags behind our commitment. This does not mean we are not truly committed; only that we need more practice…
Read more at: The Fearless Heart: Inspiration and Tools for Creating the Future We Want. Courage to live it now. by Miki Kashtan
“At an NVC parenting class I recently attended, I had the opportunity to go over an exchange that I had with my two year old son. The exchange with my son had left me feeling frustrated and sad, as well as at a loss for how to deal with his refusal to cooperate with me in the morning.
I just wanted a way to work together with my son that was respectful, and effective at getting him dressed!
After reviewing the scenario with the trainer, we then created a redo of the exchange to look at what I could try doing differently. I then “tried on” the idea of checking in with myself before reaching the boiling point of my frustration. I would simply pause to see what my own needs were in that moment. In this process I was able to identify what was really important to me in the situation. I then reflected on what needs were being unmet for me (the actual cause of my frustration), and what was really going on for my son, what was motivating him.
It was suggested that I also take a moment to notice that he was in fact only playing a game, and connecting with where he was at. In this case I could say, “Ah, seems like you are having a fun game right now?”
He was playing his “you cant get me game”, and I was needing to take care of myself and feeling unable to.
My frustration began melting in the realization that underlying my need for cooperation, was my need for my son’s and my own well being, i.e.; getting him dressed warmly, and myself fed.
I took this practice home and tried applying it right away, my son noticed a difference in my approach and our level of cooperation, and even more importantly to me, our level of connection improved tremendously! All of this shifted in mere moments. It turns out, cooperation and respect are only possible when both of us are feeling connection first.”
by Joy Parker-Brown, NVCnextgen Parenting Class attendee