Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It usually begins in Detroit

Yesterday I discovered that Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication (aka "NVC"), passed away last Saturday February 7th.

I feel as if I am still processing this news. As I said in my Facebook post about the subject, "Both NVC and Marshall Rosenberg personally had an enormous impact on me and my life. I simply cannot imagine where I would be, or who I would be, if it was not for him and his work."

A number of different things are coming up for me regarding this. One of these are of various memories that I have of interacting with Marshall Rosenberg. I have a number of really vivid intense memories of being with him, and they are not all sentimental, sappy, or even necessarily positive memories of him. I have a lot of vivid memories of antagonism, frustration, and general conflict with him. I also have a lot of memories that I find to be generally reassuring, that I feel grateful for having. It is all a mixed bag, and I don't want to throw any of it out.

To be clear, I do not fault or blame Marshall Rosenberg for anything. If anything, I get the sense that a lot of my interactions with him brought up to me, right in front of my face, my own lack of clarity as to what I am really wanting and/or asking for. I had, and still have, a whole lot of different vague generalities with strong emotional attachments to it floating around inside my head. I acknowledge this.

And I usually have not sat down to take the time and effort necessary to find out what is behind it and how I can better move forward with it. The NVC process that Marshall Rosenberg taught is one way to help productively address this, but that does not necessarily mean or guarantee that the work is being down. His contribution has been to show spotlights on the matter, for better or worse. The rest is up to me.

Then there is my relationship with NVC itself, which also is coming up for me as a result of Marshall Rosenberg's death. When people think about NVC they usually think of "the four-part model" which is often given the four-letter acronym "OFNR" for "Observations Feelings Needs Request". Practically-speaking, this translates into a sort of robotic formula that I have no interest in hearing. This is not how I usually relate to NVC, at least not anymore.

Nowadays when I think of NVC I usually think in terms of a series of key assumptions and intentions as well as some personal commitments that those who have really dedicated themselves to integrating NVC into their lives often take on in some way. However, none of these things I hold as dogma. I see it all as being quite fluid and dynamic, open to change, and even being dropped altogether, depending on the particular situation and context. None of this even needs to be called "Nonviolent Communication", it can be called whatever, as long as the basic elements are kept in mind.

Marshall Rosenberg's death also brings up another thing for me - my ambiguous relationship with what can be called the "NVC community", or put another way, the "international subculture of enthusiasts who often can be found at venues that are adorned with the label 'Nonviolent Communication'". Basically put, for the past year or so I have stopped affiliating myself with the NVC community altogether, aside from my occasionally reading something on the internet.

The reason for this is that I have discovered that I am usually bored going to these kinds of events. The way that NVC events and activities are usually structured do not interest me. I imagine that if the events were "unstructured yet intentional", or, if I was considered to be the "leader" or "facilitator" of the event that I would feel quite differently.

And this brings up the last thing that comes up for me regarding Marshall Rosenberg's death, which is actually something that the NVC trainer Miki Kashtan expressed quite nicely in her recent e-mail about this as well:

"With his passing, I suddenly feel like an elder, along with others from my "generation" of trainers, ever more deeply committed to the calling. I sense that I am not alone in this; that many of us are drawn to taking even more responsibility for carrying forth the extraordinary potential that we see in this body of work."

Yes, I am interested in being an NVC trainer/teacher/facilitator, and, at the same time, I feel torn about this since I am not interested in pursuing this in the standard ways that people usually go about this. I am also not at all interested in marketing or self-promotion. I am also, for the record, not interested in advertising, arguing, debating, persuading and trying to convince & convert others towards how I see things or the NVC worldview in general. Both the kind of connection that I am looking for with others and the quality of personal change that I am wanting to work towards with others all exists on a level that I consider to be far more deeper than any of those things. I am open to receiving requests of my services, and I am also open to looking on as the NVC world continues to change and evolve.

This brings me to a few things that have caught my attention and interest in the NVC world as it stands now. One of these has been the growth and proliferation of what are often called "NVC Family Camps". I have volunteered at one of these, and I am interested in volunteering at more of these again in the future. The kind of social environments that are created at these are unlike anything else that I have experienced in the NVC world.

Another thing that I am excited about is the work that is being done in El Salvador teaching/practicing a hybrid model of NVC and Focusing. I do not have personal experience with this, but I am quite interested in learning more and seeing where it all goes.

And lastly, I am also interested in the ongoing process that the international Center for Nonviolent Communication has embarked upon to try to reform and reorganize itself in a way that is more open and participatory. This process is a lot slower than I would like, but I am hoping that that fact means that more deliberation and consideration is being put into the process than what was the case with previous attempts at organizational change within the CNVC before.

So this all leaves me in a kind of wait-and-see state at the moment. Wait and see which requests are made of my services, and wait and see what new developments arise and opportunities present themselves. In the meantime, I am grateful, I do honestly feel that way for all of the many rich experiences that I have had through NVC over the years. I feel grateful for all of the many people I have met over the years as a result of my involvement with NVC, and I feel grateful for all the ways that they have contributed to my life, and I dearly hope that I contributed to theirs as well.

I feel grateful for all the very practical ways I have learned to work with both myself as well as with other people, using the tools, models and principles that were first outlined by Marshall Rosenberg. And I feel grateful to Marshall Rosenberg, who as a result of all his efforts ended up making all of this possible.


The title for this blog post comes from the fact that Marshall Rosenberg, like my parents, spent his formative childhood years in the Detroit, Michigan area. Marshall Rosenberg would frequently cite his experiences of living in Detroit as a child during the 1943 race riot as being a big motivating factor as to why he was inspired to create NVC.


Anonymous said...

I would like to say, Ian, that I have witnessed the changes and deepening in you that you attribute to NVC. And like you, I have had occasions of sheer frustration, resistance, and even aversion, to some aspects of it.

Recently I was speaking to a friend who had attended a training of Marshall's in France, at a Buddhist center. She said, "We wondered, are we witnessing an extraordinary gift, or can this be learned by anyone- can we be like him?"

I replied that "being like Marshall" was not the point, and that even small shifts (for example, the ability to hear past the language, to the need) would shift conversations and one's inner state.

His gift was that: to give clear methods that could enable immediate improvements in ones' self or one's interactions.

I enjoyed reading your memoir, thinking of you- and hope we can connect again someday.
- Kathleen, Montréal

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your integrity in not painting a rosie picture of Marshall or NVC. I use NVC every day,have two empathy calls per week and am part of the team promoting the New York Intensive 2015 which I highly recommend to anyone wanting to Jump-start their NVC practice. Anyone who's interested in this retreat, which takes place July-11 can contact me via Ian.

Regarding OFNR, Marshall himself described the formula as "training wheels." People skilled in NVC think it but don't speak it.

As for Marshall, I could go on at length about things he did or let happen that limit the impact of NVC in the world. To his credit, he expressed concern at a retreat I attended years ago, that, at that time, the majority of Certified Trainers did not really share his vision but had become Certified to increase their marketability. On the other hand despite his being reported to have been very upset about being regarded as a "guru" imo he did allow the development of what I would call a "personality cult among people who were close to him. I personally witnessed someone enthusiastically refer to him as "my guru" to which he raised no objection. Perhaps he had just given up, acknowledging that people have a need to worship someone or some thing, which can also be
a set of ideas.

Although I disagree , Ian, with much of which you say, particularly about the strategy of disconnecting yourself from the organized NVC network[I wouldn't call a group of businesses competing with each other for scarce resources(workshop participants) a "community"]
I'm grateful for the sense of shared reality I get from your presenting a non hagiographic picture of Marshall.

The way in which the NVC network became organized has set up a momentum that will probably insure that it remains a primarily white
middle class network.

It doesn't follow that those who are uncomfortable with this shouldn't continue to participate.

Thanks again for this post!

All the best to you and Elizabeth.

Bob Rosengard, NYC