Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Out Beyond Ideas of NVC And Not-NVC, There Is A Field, I Will Meet You There

A few months ago I stopped considering myself to be an "NVC trainer". However, if I were asked to facilitate an NVC training, I would probably still do it. I no longer consider myself to be an "NVC person" in general. However, I still associate with other folks in that scene, and I usually enjoy those interactions. I have given up on trying to get people interested and involved with NVC. At the same time, I still personally find great value and meaning in the practices, processes, principles, assumptions, and intentions that are all associated with the term "Nonviolent Communication".

This situation of no longer being something while still being something is not new to me. This same thing has recently come about for me regarding the term "anarchist" as well. In common with both of these I am hoping to take something out of it's label, out of it's terminological container, and still keep and use the good stuff inside.

This is all based on a belief that I have now that the term "Nonviolent Communication" more often than not serves more as a hindrance to the actual practice and proliferation of what is referred to with that term. There are eight points that I have regarding this which fall into three separate categories: "organizational", "social" and what I call "evolutionary":


1) The request regarding the term.

The term “Nonviolent Communication” is a Service Mark belonging to the Center for Nonviolent Communication. This organization has requested that those who are not officially certified by them refrain from using the term "Nonviolent Communication" in what they do. The process for becoming a certified trainer with this organization has been closed to new people entering for a number of years now with no indication on when it will re-open. If everyone who has affinity with what is called "Nonviolent Communication" were to follow this request then most of the people who are promoting it would not be using that term.

2) The originator of the term

The term "Nonviolent Communication" is strongly associated with the Center for Nonviolent Communication and its creator, founder and main leader, Marshall Rosenberg. I no longer have trust in that organization or that individual doing the job that they have set out to do within integrity of the values that they proclaim. I am no longer interested in being associated with that particular organization or individual. Using the term "Nonviolent Communication" when promoting this kind of work regularly brings a conversation to the topic of Marshall Rosenberg and I am no longer interested in introducing, explaining, or defending the actions of this man. This topic has been discussed at great length elsewhere, and others share the views that I have as well. I consider my time and energy to be more effectively and enjoyably placed elsewhere.


3) Turning off and misleading

The term "Nonviolent Communication" turns off a lot of people and it is often misleading. I have personally come across a lot of people who have negative associations with the words "nonviolence" or "nonviolent". People also often see these words as not relating to them and their lives. Also, a lot of what "Nonviolent Communication" refers to is not directly about "communication" per se, so using that word is not entirely accurate in describing what is being talked about.

4) Disembodied robot-speak

There is a very pervasive and recurring phenomena of people becoming very excited about and involved in NVC and as a result speaking to others when "using it" in ways that are described as being very robotic, formulaic, stilted and unoriginal. A lot of folks find these ways of speaking to be very disconnecting, whereas the whole intention behind it all is to increase connection! Additionally, an emphasis on the words used and the way that things are phrased often encourages people to loose touch with their bodily-felt understanding, to be "stuck in their head" so to speak. Abandoning the term "Nonviolent Communication", and these particular associations and habits that go along with it, could help with emphasizing other approaches based on more fully felt authenticity.

5) Priceless connection

What is called "Nonviolent Communication" is usually publicly presented in the social context of a commodity exchange relationship – the buying and selling of a product. Usually one person or a group of people are selling something, a training, a workshop, a retreat, a private session, a recording, a book or some other kind of written material, and everybody else is either buying it or are expected to buy it. I do not want to judge this kind of relationship as being "bad" or "wrong", but I do want to ask: Are there any other ways that we can be together where we are learning, growing, and deeply connecting with each other and are not expected to purchase something? I have known a number of people who when they saw the asking-price for an NVC event they immediately lost interest in it. I am convinced that there are other ways that we can organize these kinds of experiences without folks having to play the roles of entrepreneur and consumer.

6) Like-attracts-like

What is called "Nonviolent Communication" is popular among one particular demographic of people, namely, white women who are middle-aged, from a middle class background in a first-world country, and who hold views that are considered to be "liberal" or "progressive". There is nothing "bad" or "wrong" with this particular demographic of people, some of my best friends come from that demographic! However, I want to point out that there are many many many other different kinds of people in the human race besides that one particular demographic. I am concerned that the NVC scene, like every other social scene out there, has a like-attracts-like dynamic taking place. I am convinced that people are subconsciously drawn towards being around other people who are similar to them. In order to open up all that goes under the label of "NVC" to the rest of humanity I see it as being essential to go beyond residing with this one particular label and this one particular social scene of people that goes along with it.


7) Evolving into something else

As more and more different people use what is called "Nonviolent Communication" the practices, processes, understandings, etc. associated with it will naturally over time change. Things will be tweaked and adjusted, other practices, modalities and traditions will be synthesized with it, developments will be made, in short, what is called "NVC" will evolve. As NVC evolves in different directions according to the contributions made by different people eventually what some people are calling "NVC" will look very different from what was originally called "NVC". Some people may no longer wish to call their developed version "NVC", while others may wish to keep that label. Some people may not recognize what other people are calling "NVC" as being at all similar to what they are calling "NVC". What I wonder is: At what point does the term "Nonviolent Communication" lose it's descriptive value in fostering common understanding between people?

8) People learning together

The learning-context in which "Nonviolent Communication" is usually presented is that of the teacher/student model. If the students persist in not having a sense of their own power, this eventually becomes the demagogue/follower model. This approach overlooks the fact that everybody's knowledge is incomplete, that everybody's perceptions are limited, and that everybody makes mistakes. With this in mind I would like for us to discover and implement ways for people to come together to learn with each-other. We all have stuff to share, things to contribute, and areas where we can learn and further grow in, no one is above or below this. I'd like to see this done together cooperatively with everyone's contributions being valued.

What to say instead?

If the term "Nonviolent Communication" is no longer used, what do I suggest be used to refer to what it refers to? Personally, I do not recommend any one particular term to replace it. Any one term used could eventually develop the same kind of problems that the existing term has. What I would like to see is a new approach of openness and versatility: different terms and phrases used for different people and purposes. Some terms would appeal to and make more sense to some people than other terms that are more useful for other people. A diversity of words and labels can be used to connect with a diversity of people. The key thing is that we continually check in to make sure that we understand each-other and feel connected with each-other, regardless of the particular words used.