I mention “NVC” sometimes. Along with Zen and a few other things, it has informed my daily practice, and feels like a big part of who I am. Sometimes I hear curiosity about what it is, so I thought I’d try to talk about it a little.
I can describe what it is pretty quickly, but it feels like something’s missing if I don’t also talk about what it’s not. It has a long tangled history, and (unfortunately, to me) exists in kind of a private world. I enjoy pulling it into real life, talking with people who maybe don’t want to sign up for a weekend “life-changing” workshop, and all that.
Briefly, it’s a practice that involves
- noticing what’s happening inside me
- discerning the difference between what’s happening in the world (what observers can agree on) and what I’m telling myself about it
- paying attention to the common human experience, the things we all treasure and long for, to help me see things from another person’s perspective
- learning to see the world sometimes without looking through the lens of my own ideas about how things should be.
There’s more to it, of course. I actually find weekend workshops and stuff pretty helpful. Books, discussion and practice groups, stuff like that. Otherwise, someone could have shown me that list, I’d have got it, and my life would have instantly become easy. ^_^ So while it’s not complete, I think it’s a pretty solid summary of what I mean when I use the phrase.
But NVC is hard for me to talk about.
What I really wanted to start with is what NVC is not, and all the reasons I talk about “the path” and “compassion” rather than talking specifically about NVC these days.
…what NVC is not.
- It’s not limited to people who are in the club. Sometimes it seems that way, but the practice only has a place in my life if enhances my relationship with myself and then with regular, non-NVC people.
- It’s not the robo-speak that sometimes comes out of workshops or reading The Book that started it all… It’s not a way of talking to other people that’s rehearsed, awkward, and… well… fake. This is one reason why I don’t practice it as some sort of communication method. If it’s about what’s going on inside me, I can be content speaking naturally, and know that I’m welcoming connection. Since other people are their own people, I can’t create connection. I can only invite it, welcome it.
- NVC or compassionate communication is also not a way to get people to do what you want. It can be seen as a way to solve problems but it involves new ways of seeing these problems.
(* The robo-speak I’m referring to looks like this: “When I see ___ I feel ___ because I need ___. Would you please ___?”)
So these are things that I say NVC is not, but others might suggest NVC is. “Reasonable people”, as they say, “disagree”. I have a deep love for what I’ve learned from NVC, and what some practitioners call “NVC consciousness”. Yet if those things defined it, I’d be completely uninterested.
For those who are still with me, some comments about what gets called “NVC”.
There are people who have claimed to have a service mark (trademark) on the name, and who want to decide who can define it. Remember when ideas didn’t work that way? A philosopher who took a utilitarian approach to ethics didn’t have to ask anybody’s permission to call it that. Fruitful arguments could even happen about whether someone was or wasn’t, and what it really means to be utilitarian.
I like when ideas work that way, rather than we live as though someone has ownership and control over them.
It’s been hard for me to talk about what NVC is, partly because I’ve had to learn to feel free to talk about it as an idea in the world, rather than a rigid, unmoving system. (I think I’m there now.)
Which brings me to the (not unrelated) issue of the name…
Nonviolent Communication is a weird name.
I’m pretty sure the guy who named it (Marshall Rosenberg) didn’t mean that other communication is violent. The way I understand it, it’s about communication based on principles of “nonviolence”, which Mahatma Gandhi said is only a rough translation of the word ahimsa. In fact, he said ?ahimsa ? is more than just the absence of violence; it is intense love.? So think of it as that sort of communication, from a place of love and trust.
But wow. That’s almost scarier than the word “nonviolent”, isn’t it?
Some people use “compassionate communication” instead. But that brings me to another problem…
It’s also not about communication.
NVC, as an evolving practice in my life, is about what’s inside me. It’s about how I hear and respond to others, and about how I hear and respond to what’s in me. But it’s not, at least at this stage of its evolution (at least in my life) mainly about communication. It’s about being human together. (Oooooh! I like that!)
Care to give some feedback?
So I see this big, long post about NVC, and I notice something. I’m really torn. The typical NVC model goes like this: take an intro class, then go to weekend workshops, then longer “intensives” (up to a week or two), then become a teacher to bring new people in. I don’t like that model much, but I do like sharing these ideas with folks. I guess I’m swimming around in that tension, and that’s why I’m posting all this (possibly TMI) about it. I’m not willing to not teach it, and I’m not willing to teach it. Looks like I have some work to do on that, huh? ^_^
And maybe my ideas have evolved so that they’re not really NVC anymore. Feels lonely, thinking about that. I like the little bit of “NVC community” I do have…
I guess what I want to end with here is my curiosity. If you’re up for commenting (I hope you are!) I’d like to know about you.
Is this your first intro to NVC, or have you been practicing for a while? Something in between? Does my description (way up top) match how you see NVC? Or did I miss important things? If NVC is new to you, does it sound interesting? Scary? Confusing? Delightful? Are there questions I didn’t answer?