30 June 2009

20. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion

20. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. (4/5)

Not long ago, I read a review of this book (more of a story about how it changed her life really) over at Havi's The Fluent Self. I found a copy through my library, and thought I'd give it a look.

I did take Havi's warning: "It has unbelievably cheesy poetry that will hurt your brain to read. Skip those parts," to heart and I suggest you do the same. Also, don't get too hung up on the title. Personally, I don't care for it, but I'm not sure what else to call it either.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC), or Compassionate Communication, is about relating to people without judgment while clearly expressing your feelings and needs and listening to theirs. The book uses lots of anecdotes from the author's NVC workshops with groups all over the world to exemplify the process. What I like most is the personal accountability of NVC. Though others may provide stimulus for our feelings, they are not responsible for them. Intellectually, I get this, but try describing how you feel about what someone did or said without saying "because you..." and you'll start to see the challenge of NVC. The author also dismisses the use of words like "neglected" or "ignored" as feelings because they are about other people.

The book's approach may come off as hippy-ish to some, so it's probably not something to read if you don't feel open to it. If you are, however, it's pretty amazing. If politicians had to express their campaign views using NVC, for example, politics would be completely changed, and for the better.

Some of the language used in NVC strikes me as formal and awkward, but it is clear and designed to promote compassionate interactions between individuals. Taken all the way, NVC would abolish punishments and rewards as ways to motivate people. I'm not ready to release murderers and rapists based on their compassionate understanding of the consequences of their actions. However, I do understand that punishment doesn't really motivate people to change for the reasons we might like them to.

The other catch for me is that I don't necessarily want to interact this deeply with everyone I encounter. Particularly with people unfamiliar with NVC, it seems the NVC-user ends up as a quasi-therapist for them. In theory, the compassion gets reciprocated at some point, but I'm not entirely convinced or perhaps don't have the patience to wait for it (or interest, introvert that I am).

In some regards, I feel like I've spent the past few years trying to be less compassionate to protect myself. Certain friendships were very one-way which would lead to resentment on my part and passive-aggressiveness which was no good for anybody. However, I'm not sure I could say that I ever clearly expressed what I needed from those relationships.

Clarity of expression is what I hope to take from Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion: to make observations that are specific rather than general (always, never, often, usually...) and without judgment, to recognize my feelings independent of other's actions, and to be clear about what I want.

There's also an intriguing section which talks about applying the technique internally. I'm not convinced depression can always be solved in this manner, but I'll gladly keep another process for resolving internal critical monologues at hand.

There's a lot to this book, and I'll probably try to read most of it again before it's due to help it sink in.

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