A few months back I read an article that greatly changed the way I look at communication and language. The article, by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, is called “Raising Children Compassionately.” In this article, Rosenberg outlines his theory of “non-violent communication.” Non-violent communication states that there are embedded tendencies, taught in us from a very young age, to manipulate our language in a way that is oriented around implicit threats or violence in our interactions with others.
Rosenberg’s theory is that we are creatures who have tended toward using people as means toward ends rather then as ends in themselves. Ronseberg goes on to posit that we embed implicit threats into our conversations. We tend toward demanding what we want out of the people around us through a oftentimes manipulative web of hazardous expression.
“I learned that it is much more natural for people to connect in a loving, respectful way, and to do things out of joy for each other, rather than using punishment and reward or blame and guilt as means of coercion. But such a transformation does require a good deal of consciousness and effort.” (Raising Children Compassionately)
No time is this more true then between the parent and child relationship. The typical relationship between parent and child often involves demanding, threatening, and imposing will unilaterally on the subject to a much greater and more explicit degree then in our communication with one another. The type of “implicit violence” that Rosenberg suggests is a common pattern in our language is not something as simple as physical threat.
Instead, Rosenberg identifies our tendency to manipulate language to suggest fear, guilt, shame, and other manipulative emotions in the persons we communicate with. Oftentimes these appear to be very affective means of achieving our desired ends, but the behavior is ultimately destructive and causes far more harm to our long-term pursuits of virtue then we may realize.
“As soon as a person hears a demand, it’s going to make any resolution that will get everybody’s needs met much harder to come by.” (Raising Children Compassionately)
What is the solution then? Rosenberg’s “non-violent” communication focuses on using deep empathy to recognize the essential “humanness” and shared qualities we all possess. By recognizing that all human beings have the same essential needs, to feel secure, to pursue purpose, to be treated with dignity and respect, we can begin to comfortably express ourselves as fellow human beings with our own essential and particular needs.
Beginning communication by recognizing the needs of others and plainly and clearly articulating your own needs allows for compassionate, mutually beneficial, and truly voluntary agreements. These are the kinds of relationships we ultimately want to have. These are the relationships that prove to be lasting and fulfilling. There is no reason why we cannot elevate all our relationships to this level, if we begin by communicating our needs rather then making demands.
“We get this kind of power, power with people, by being able to openly communicate our feelings and needs without in any way criticizing the oth- er person. We do that by offering them what we would like from them in a way that is not heard as demanding or threatening. And as I have said, it also requires really hearing what other people are trying to communicate, showing an accurate understanding rather than quickly jumping in and giving advice, or trying to fix things.” (Raising Children Compassionately)
The following are listed as assumptions made by non-violent communication, and lead to the methodology followed by practitioners.
- 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.
There is a lot more that I could write about non-violent communication, and I plan to comment further on it in the future. For more information, a good starting point is: the wikipedia entry or the center for nonviolent communication