Can I take one moment to make a case for “nonviolent communication” in human connection?
I recently came across a method of communication that has rocked me to my core, and I think that with our needs for communication and social interaction changing, this subject is more relevant than ever. The technique is called Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, and since learning about it, I’ve had to re-examine some of my values, and especially the secure, lifelong definitions I held for communication and nonviolence both individually and strung together.
“If ‘violent’ means acting in ways that result in hurt or harm, then much of how we communicate could indeed be called ‘violent communication,” according to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, clinical psychologist, and founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Think of blaming, discriminating, reacting angrily, being defensive, or judging who is ‘good or bad.’
If any of these communication pains sound familiar, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there. What’s important is that we remain open to refining our skills in listening, loving, and communicating, as we learn new ways to practice them.
Ultimately, communication comes down to getting our needs met and having our feelings heard. When someone communicates in a way that leaves you feeling judged, hurt, tricked, manipulated, or demanded of, Dr. Rosenberg hears “Please meet this need of mine. I am hurting.”
Violent communication can be as simple as asking, “Do you love me?” to your long-time partner, who might, at that precise moment, not experience the exact feeling of love for you, but in an effort to evade emotional punishment, such as a fight, will dutifully reply, “Yes.” They may feel admiration for you, or desire in that moment, but not love. In the social context we live in, it’s likely that “No” would result in a dispute.
According to the site, “NVC is a process for creating the quality of connection out of which people more easily resolve conflicts, prevent misunderstandings, and tap into a natural generosity that happens spontaneously when relationships are positive.” It involves learning new ways of thinking, use of language, perception of power, and methods of communicating.
With an emphasis on NVC, I think it’s important that we connect with one another, especially in hard times. Social media etiquette be damned. Check in on your coworkers. Check in on acquaintances. Make peace with people. I hope we can forget about looking cool, inhibition, expectations, and anything else holding us back from just taking care of each other.
Along these lines, I can imagine these days we are all feeling a sense of stress and a lack of security. But I think now’s an important time to be generous. Just be generous. Tip service staff. Support local businesses. Be honest when giving feedback to classmates. Change your turtle’s water tank. Donate blood. Give yourself a foot massage. Be generous.
It’s also the perfect time to see what’s going on in your community. Is there a dog park near your house? Are there community services being offered in your neighbourhood? Is there a service or event going on that could use volunteers? Generosity is the language of community. Giving your time, your understanding, your skills — generously — goes a long way, and I know this is corny as hell, but it really feels good to do.
I also think it’s time to make right where we go wrong — apologize for your mistakes, make amends, return long-borrowed items, thank people for their help. 2020 is the year. Some situations merit a meaningful reflection that brings peace without contact, maybe a bit of a letter burning session. Some situations merit meaningful communication. I think it’s up to each of us to determine for ourselves which is which.
While it can be scary to do, in order to avoid misperception, “It’s better not to rely on texting or email to heal your relationship. Do not worry too much about the words,” says Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “How to Fight,” detailing practical methods of integrating the health and understanding formed with a mindful practice in conflict resolution. He goes on, “If you are solid and at peace with yourself, your words will open the door to the heart of the other person. It might not happen right away, but the door will eventually crack open.”
When we connect to others with an awareness of our intentions, a sensitivity to our needs, and the tools to communicate those needs clearly and kindly, we set ourselves up for fulfilling and supportive connections.
Reaching out doesn’t have to be heavy or intense. It can be simple. It can be relaxed. Be friendly, and be considerate.
There are so many inventive ways to connect with your loved ones. Have fun with it. Mail your close friend a handwritten letter. E-transfer someone $5. Did I mention to donate blood? Take an online class in literally anything. Pay people back. Return what you borrow. Practice communicating from an honest and loving place.
All of this makes connection bear fruit.
Feature graphic by Taylor Reddam