Post by contributor, Kathleen Quiring
I’m blessed to live in a time and part of the world where physical violence is not widespread. It still exists; but in present-day Canada, most of us live in relative safety from physical harm.
But I am aware that violence comes in many forms, and we are not immune to it all, even when physical violence is not a threat. We can still be violent with our words. We can be violent without intending to. We can wound one another in powerful, long-lasting ways. And history has taught us that violence always begets more violence.
In a world of turmoil, hate, and violence of every kind, I have decided that I want to be an agent of peace.
In order to be an agent of peace, I realize that peacefulness has to permeate every aspect of my being. My actions. My thoughts. My purchases. The words I speak and write. I need to train my voice and my body to communicate peace to everyone I meet.
Peacefulness is an attitude, a posture. It takes commitment, practice, and effort. It requires patience with myself and lots of forgiveness.
I personally believe I need to Prince of Peace to help guide and shape me, so I seek his influence in my life through prayer.
It’s also helpful to have some tools at hand.
I recently came across Marshall Rosenberg’s book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, which has proven a wonderful resource in my quest for peaceful interactions. I thought I’d briefly share some of the main points on the book, and a template that I’ve found helpful in guiding my communication.
Image by James Forbes
Rosenberg offers a model for communicating in the midst of conflict that replaces defending, withdrawing, or attacking (which he calls “life-alienating” communication). It avoids blaming or taking things personally.
Instead, Nonviolent communication (or NVC) reframes how we express ourselves by focusing on what we’re feeling or needing instead of diagnosing and judging.
As Rosenberg explains, when we do this, “we discover the depths of our own compassion” (p. 3).
This model of communicating can be used in any relationships or interactions: within your family, with your coworkers, with strangers you meet on the street, even people on the Internet.
There are four parts to the NVC model:
1. Observe: Express what we are seeing, without judging or evaluating.
2. Feelings: State our feelings in response to what we’re observing.
3. Needs: Say what needs are connected to those feelings.
4. Request: What can the person do to meet those needs?
So, for example, if you see your kid leaving her empty cup in the living room as she walks out, instead of making a judgment or a demand, you might say something like, “Honey, when I see you leave your dirty dishes in the living room [observation], I feel really frustrated [feelings] because I’m needing some order in this house [needs]. Can you please take your glass with you and put it in the sink? [Request].”
Let me tell you. This is hard. It takes way longer to say than, “Ugh, come on, you lazy bum. Can you clean up after yourself for once? Geez! No one ever helps out around here!” (Okay, that might still be just as many words, but it flows off the tongue so much easier, am I right?).
But look: the first example involved no attacks on your daughter’s character, didn’t make you out to be a martyr, and made it easy for her to know how she might remedy the problem. Since she’s much less likely to resent the request, she might even be more likely to help out! It’s much harder to do and takes way more effort, but it makes life so much more pleasant for everyone.
I admit, I rarely remember to do this. I still spit out harsh words, tell people they’re wrong, and make dramatic declarations of the world’s problems all the time.
But at least I’m aware there’s a better way, and sometimes I am able to take a moment, think it through, and express myself peacefully.
Image by Adam Przewoski
Making it Easier to Remember: A Helpful Template
For me, I’ve found that the following template makes the four parts of NVC easier to remember:
“When you _______ [observation], I feel _______ [feelings], because I ________ [needs].”
(Sometimes I need more time to come up with the fourth part, a request. But I think this sentence is a good start.) Just remember: When you . . . I feel . . . because I . . .
A key part of this sentence is the second “I”: “because I” instead of “because you.” With NVC you want to avoid blaming or judging, so just stick with your own needs. Your sentence begins to lose its nonviolent quality when you start to focus on what the other person is doing wrong. (“I feel frustrated because you’re doing it all wrong” can ignite strong negative feelings.)
There are lots of ways you can mix things up to still express the four parts of nonviolent communication; but for now I have found this template helpful for getting me in the habit of thinking and speaking this way, until it becomes more natural.
To give you a bit of an idea how NVC might look, here are a few real-life examples.
I feel like all my husband’s touches are sexual advances, because he keeps only touching me when the kid isn’t looking/around.
Typical Response: Rolling eyes; saying, “Ugh. You always just want sex” [Judging].
NVC Response: “I’m noticing that lately you only touch me when L’s not around [observation]. When you do that, I feel annoyed [feelings] because I would like regular old affection, too, that’s not necessarily going to lead to more. I want to know that I’m not just a sexual body to you [needs]. I would like it if you also just hugged and touched me casually throughout the day, in her presence, as well [request].”
Benefits: No attack on him for his character or what he’s currently doing; providing an easy-to-follow solution to my negative feelings.
A friend shares an anti-gay article on Facebook I don’t agree with.
Typical Responses: “This is why so many people hate the church.” “This kind of thing doesn’t help our cause.” “This is full of prejudice/ is small-minded, insensitive, etc.” [Blaming, criticizing, judging, etc. It’s also very unspecific.]
NVC Response: “When the author says X [observing], I feel concerned [feelings], because as a member of the Body of Christ I want all people to feel loved and welcome in our midst [need]. I fear that agreeing with this author creates the appearance of a united front, barring gay people from community with us [more feelings]. I wonder if we can talk about this issue in a way that invites all people to participate without fear of judgment? [request – sort of].”
Benefits: I’m not blaming anyone; hopefully it invites calmer dialogue instead of inflaming passions.
Scenario # 3:
I open up my two-year-old’s sensory table for her to play in, and she immediately throws a couple of handfuls of sand onto the clean floor.
Typical Response: “@$#%!! Why did you do that? What’s wrong with you! I just cleaned up this floor. Why do you always have to mess everything up?!” [Blaming]
NVC Response: “I feel really frustrated [feelings] when you throw sand onto the floor [observation], because I like to have a tidy house [needs]. Can you help me sweep this up before we continue playing?” [Request].
[Note: with a two-year-old, she might not understand everything and my request is likely to be ignored, but at least I’ve avoided shaming and have bought some time to work on a solution.]
I am so new to this. I have so much to learn. But already, I’ve found that conflicts often resolve much more peacefully when I remember to use some of these tools.
If you’re interested in learning how to practice NVC, I highly recommend reading the whole book. Rosenberg goes into much more depth with all of these elements; offers many more examples; and also discusses how we can listen to others and encourage them to express their observations, feelings, needs, and requests, too.