Nonviolent Communication

By Marshall B. Rosenberg

What allows us to remain compassionate even under the most trying of circumstances? This is the question that Marshall Rosenberg seeks to answer in Nonviolent Communication. To answer this question, he examines the crucial role that language and and our use of words play in our thinking and communication.

Rosenberg points out that most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to “label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.” He believes that “life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots.”

It originates from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals’ own benefit.

Wow.

The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad.

Nonviolent communication is a “specific approach to communicating—both speaking an listening—that leads us to give from the heart, connecting us with ourselves and with each other in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish.” When practiced, this communication method can help you move beyond feeling attacked to really listening and extracting other people’s underlying feelings.

NVC asks us to focus on clarifying what is observed, felt, and needed rather than on diagnosing and judging. When we focus our attention on clarifying what we observe, feel and need, we are more likely to get what we are seeking.

Our cultural conditioning leads us to focus our attention on places where we are unlikely to get what we want. That’s one reason why it can be so difficult for us to get along, and once we know how this works, it’s relatively easy to address our differences by communicating differently, more accurately, and with more compassion.

Our language leads us astray. Instead of articulating our needs and values directly, we insinuate wrongness when they haven’t been met. We say: Violence is bad. If communicating through compassion, we would state our feelings or needs and then our values: I am afraid of violence, I value resolution of conflict through other means.

Notice how the version without the judgement is longer and less fluid. To me this points to the fact that humans have not evolved to be nonviolent and our language (at least English) is a reflection of that.

Our language also helps us deny that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. This easily observable in the phrase: I had to. As in: I washed the car because I had to. This implies that someone was making us and we didn’t have a choice. Denying our own responsibility is “life-alienating.”

The NVC translation of “I have to” is: I choose to do X, because I want Y.

Our language obscures awareness of personal responsibility.

We deny responsibility when we attribute our actions to factors outside ourselves:

  • Vague impersonal forces
  • Our condition, diagnosis, or personal psychological history
  • The actions of others
  • The dictates of authority
  • Group pressure
  • Institutional policies, rules, etc.
  • Gender, social, age roles
  • Uncontrollable impulses

Rosenberg believes that it is in everyone’s best interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.

The concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment is also associated with life-alienating communication.

Four components of NVC:

  1. Observations (articulate without judgement or evaluation/interpretation the concrete actions we observe that affect our well-being)
  2. Feelings (state how we feel in relation to this action)
  3. Needs (state what needs, desires, values of ours are connected to our feelings)
  4. Requests (something specific the other person could do to make our lives better)

The other part of NVC is receiving this information from others.

  1. Connect with them by sensing what they are observing, feeling, needing
  2. Discover what would enrich their lives; getting their request.

With my husband, because of his brain injury, I am often in the dark as to what he is feeling and needing. NVC has shown me that a lot can be gained by guessing. It is also helpful to have this kind of conversation with yourself.

Your guess doesn’t have to be correct. What matters is that your guess is a sincere attempt to connect with the other person’s feeling or need. If this makes you feel uncomfortable or vulnerable, you’re on the right track.

What’s tricky is that our language sets us up to confuse thinking with feeling. For me personally getting these two straight is pretty difficult.

The other critical aspect of this is not to judge. I think we are all wired to judge. It’s a survival mechanism. So if catch yourself judging, becoming aware of that as soon as possible is helpful. Try to move past your judgement and into a space of curiosity. Question your perceptions. Find out if you are correct. Judging alienates us from compassion. Rosenberg includes great examples that tease apart simple observation from judging. If your observation contains an element of rightness or wrongness, you are judging. Try thinking through your observation once again to get to the bare bones facts. And don’t forget, comparisons are a form of judgement.

Classifying and judging people promotes violence.

If we can stop thinking and communicating in terms of what’s wrong with others, we get closer to our NVC goal. Instead if we ponder what other people are needing and not getting, we can open up an area of compassion in ourselves. By questioning others to see if our guesses are correct, we can begin a dialog with them and open up a space of compassion in them.

One thing I really loved about this book was that if clarifies a misquote that I’ve often heard and always doubted as false. People will say that whatever you think others are doing that’s wrong, you are actually doing yourself. They say you are projecting. Rosenberg puts this concept a bit differently:

Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.

Now that, I can get onboard with. I get that. If I say you are hateful, it doesn’t mean I’m hateful. It means I’m needing something from you. Maybe connection.

My interpretation of you as being hateful is a judgement I’m making about you. This judgement isn’t helpful for me to get what I want from you: connection. What I need to do to get what I want is to find out what you need and feel. Once I do that, we can start to progress into a space where we both get what we need, and hopefully feel better.

Of interest to me in my new goal as a caregiver was this:

We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a sense of either external or internal coercion. They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond to use out of fear, guilt, or shame.

He goes on to say that each time they respond to our needs out of fear, guilt or shame, their compassion for us decreases.

Bingo.

Beyond putting NVC into practice in difficult situations, it also appears to be a good method of self examination for the purposes of introspection or for writing memoir. How can you nonviolently communicate with yourself? A good question for those of us who are plagued with negative self-talk.

In difficult situations, it’s helpful to take charge of our feelings. But how?

When making sense of your feelings, try this linguistic construction:

I feel … because I need …

We have four options for receiving negative feedback:

  1. Blame ourselves
  2. Blame others
  3. Sense our own feelings and needs
  4. Sense others’ feelings and needs

Worldwide, NVC is used to mediate disputes and conflicts on a wide range of levels.

The more directly we can connect our feelings to our own needs, the easier it is for others to respond to us compassionately.

Read the book for exercises and to test yourself. Learn more about feelings and non-feelings and how expressing your own vulnerability can help resolve conflicts.

But because I can’t resist, here is one more example, of a  conversation between two people in a relationship:

Partner 1 (not having awareness and taking responsibility for their feelings): “You are so needy and dependent. It’s really stressing out our relationship.”

Partner 2 (enlightened by NVC): “So you find yourself in panic. It’s very hard for you to hold onto the deep caring and love we’ve had without turning it into a responsibility, duty, obligation…. You sense your freedom closing down because you think you constantly have to take care of me.”

Alternative a non-empathic response from Partner 2 where Partner 2 takes responsibility for Partner 1’s feelings could look like this: “Are you feeling tense because I’ve been making too many demands on you?”

This last version keeps both partners enmeshed in emotional slavery, a real bummer of a place to be.

You can use the components of NVC to tune into the feelings and needs of others in stead of blaming them or blaming yourself.

Notes from Memoir Class

Interesting writing is universal and personal at the same time.

When reading, pay attention to what is gained and what is lost.

The character’s job in a memoir is to reveal the narrator to the reader.

The narrator: where are we going and who’s going to take me there?

Have four major characters at most.

The only trouble with writing a travel blog for $5K per month

Is that I’m not traveling!!!!!

I just read an article about how easy it was to blog and make money. They said that although there are so many blogs out there, hardly any bloggers were using their blogs to make money. They concluded that the competition really isn’t that fierce.

Then they went on with a very nice descriptive post of how to write a travel blog to make money.

As many of us have already figured out, the deal is to get ads posted on your site and you get the money when people click on the ad from your site.

Easy, right?

So, ok, I’m not traveling. I could write about something else that would lend itself to ads so that someone would read my content and then click on the ad.

First of all that kind of makes me want to wretch.

But, hold on. We all buy stuff. Most of us like to buy stuff. I write about stories and books. Seems like that would lend itself to adding ads on where you can buy whatever book or story I’m writing about.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to love everything I read. 😉

And, you’ve got to have a mission:

Such as: I’m on a mission to help writers grow their income.

Or: I’m on a mission to help you realize your life’s dream.

So what’s my mission? Not as good as these.

 

I’m on a mission to cure my husband’s brain.

I’m on a mission to put food on my table and keep a roof over my head.

I’m on a mission to make traveling easier for ME. (I mean who am I kidding?)

In fact, most of my missions are pretty self centered.

I’m on a mission to amuse myself, and maybe you, by grousing this morning.

When I started this blog, I was on a mission to prove that I wasn’t some idiot who had never read a book.

I’m on a mission to find readers to commiserate with.

I’m on a mission to learn Spanish really well.

I’m on a mission to learn Russian. This might not count because I’m rather ambivalent about it.

I’m on a mission to figure out the secret to learning languages quickly, painlessly, and have fun while doing it.

I’m on a mission to get myself a house in the country.

I’m on a mission to have fun.

I’m on a mission to find more free time.

I’m on a mission to enjoy life.

I’m on a mission to find ways to eat good, healthy, non processed food.

I’m on a mission to improve my piano skills.

I’m on a mission to get through the next week without going crazy.

Articles:

Can you really make money by starting a blog?  Posted on WiseBread.com

How I make 5,000 a month as a paid blogger

Travel Writers: 37 publishers who pay

How to Start a Travel Blog and Earn Money in 6 Months

15 blogs that will help you make money off your writing

Make money blogging: 20 lessons…

Of course, I my hero Dan Carlin does something similar. He does two podcasts, one about history and the other about current events as he sees them, and I’ve never in my life seen so many links to Amazon. But then it makes sense. He reads A LOT! Like I said, my hero.

I dunno. I feel like I should be doing more with this. At the very least putting in more of an effort. But it takes time to accomplish my goal of not going crazy each week.

How to Write a White Paper

Purdue Owl’s YouTube Advice:

Purdue says that white papers are written to inform about new trends and research. They provide background for decisions. They address the question of how these new trends are changing the nature of a particular industry and suggest actions to take so that the people or industries concerned don’t fall behind. At minute marker 3:33, the video addresses how corporate white papers can function like ads. These white papers can tell potential customers why they need to hire your firm.

Alphabet Short

“Abra-ca-dabra!”

“Bossy, isn’t she?”

“Casually causing trouble.”

“Do you think he’ll notice?”

“Eventually, they all figure it out.”

“Fortunately, we’ll be long gone.”

“God forbid, we would stay this time.”

“Hell! Do you mean to say you want to stay?”

“I’d like to see what happens.”

“Jeez.”

“Keep quiet. I think he’s coming to.”

“Larry, can you hear me?”

“Mommy!”

“No, I’m not your mommy.”

“Oh, my head.”

“Purple!”

“Quit moving around.”

“Right and why do I have a tail?”

“Stay still.”

“Tell me why my hands are purple.”

“Usually, the tail turns purple first.”

“Vikings, I see Vikings!”

“What?”

“Xanadu.”

“You see, Larry’s starting to see a different landscape.”

“Zeke’s a better name than Larry for a dragon.”

At the Heart of Personal Narrative

These lines were given to me (us) by a grad school professor. I don’t have any attribution to go with them. All I can say is I didn’t write them. They do such a good job of explaining what’s going on when people write memoirs that I’m recording them here.

In nonfiction, the writer has only the singular self to work with. So it is the other in oneself that the writer must seek and find to create movement, achieve a dynamic. Inevitably, the piece builds only when the narrator is involved not in confession but in this kind of self-investigation, the kind that means to provide motion, purpose, and dramatic tension. Here, it is self-implication that is required. To see one’s own part in the situation—that is, one’s own frightened or cowardly or self-deceived part—is to create the dynamic.

 

Short stories I read in grad school

Having recently moved from an 1800-square-foot house to a 545-square-foot-house, I am still desperately trying to clear my clutter. The key to not going crazy in a small space is to get rid of EVERYTHING you don’t need. I once read somewhere that if you don’t use it in a certain amount of time and it doesn’t bring you joy, throw it out.

Paper clutter is a big problem for me. Right now I have a desk that I can’t use because it’s covered in papers. Many of these are copies of stories that I was assigned to read in grad school. Some of it consists of notes I’ve made over the years for starting stories of my own. I could probably blindly throw all of it in the trash and it wouldn’t make any difference.

It occurs to me that it’s been more than seven years since I read these stories. Are they so exemplary that I cannot simply record their names and look them up again—if I ever need to? I haven’t needed them in seven years. Do I really need them now? Or, should I go back through them and reanalyze them?

Go back through them and reanalyze them?

Ok, even to me that sounds insane.

No. I should just say no. I have a life. I’m going to be taking weekend classes soon. I’m learning to meditate. I’m trying to work out. I’m on a diet for crying out loud. Who has time to redo assignments from grad school?

So here is my compromise. I’m going to simply write down their names and toss them aside.

About this Life by Barry Lopez (Chapter 5 Flight).
Ah man, this is harder than I thought.  The writing is really good. And my notes in the margin, well, exceptional if I do say so myself. Hmm, I see this one going back into the sheet protector and back into the three-ring binder, where it will sit on my shelf for another seven years. Or, perhaps, I’ll buy the book. Is this what I want my writing to me like? Maybe.

Waiting for Salmon by Barry Lopez
I remember liking this piece and Barry for his ecological thought. Shoot.

Pecked by Heather Caldwell (From Salon.com)
“Dale Peck’s scathing review of Rick Moody and a dozen other writers of ‘postmodern drivel’ has the literary world buzzing about what makes for good — and bad — criticism.” Oh dear. Well, I can’t toss this one out either. I have to read about what the literary community is buzzing about. I’m not going to even bother to take this out of the sheet protector. Wonder when I’m going to read all of these?

The Moody Blues by Dale Peck
This must be the review that was so scathing. Well, this one has to be kept as well then.

Critical Condition: Reading, Writing and Reviewing: An Old-Schooler Looks Back by Sven Birkerts
Well, this looked a bit dull at first, but this is another author complaining about Dale Peck, so I guess it stays in the pile.

A Pondered Life by Lorrie Moore
I recognize the author. She wrote a collection of short stories that an old boss gave me and that I never read. My notes on the page say: Use this to think about structure. Moore plants seeds so she can open them up along the way. Keep.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace.
Well, this one I have to keep. After all, I agree with Wallace, the lobster should be considered. In fact after reading this, I can’t eat lobster any more.

Einstein and Newton: Genius Compared by Alan Lightman
I obviously have no self control. Keep.

The Messages of Nature and Nurture by Gregory Bateson
Ditto.

Religion and Science by Alfred North Whitehead
And ditto.

Climate Change is Playing Havoc With Rare Species and a Proud Way of Life by Charles W. Petit
Ditto.

Raising Hell: A Citizen’s Guide to the Fine Art of Investigation by Dan Noyes
I don’t remember much about this at all. So…keep.

Unusual Properties of Space by George Gamow
And why not. Keep.

Civilian by Tobias Wolff
Same.

Vibes by Lewis Thomas
My notes says: The Lives of a Cell. How does he hold interest: many good examples.

The Obligation to Endure by Rachel Carson
My note says: Word choices; combinations of ideas.

Weighing Science by John G. Bryan
Seems like it could be helpful. Keep.

What is Geomorphology? by Keith Tinkler
I almost tossed this. The first line was a bit dry. The world “geomorphology” is completely dry—that is, until you break it down by its roots and think about its meaning. Geo = earth; Morph = shape. So this is an article about the shape of the Earth, or more exactly, the Earth’s surface. What, the Earth’s surface is changing? Now that’s interesting. Why didn’t he just say so? Keep for translating.

Scientific Writing and Editing: Problems, Pitfalls, and Pratfalls by Elaine R Firestone
Skimming this article, this is so closely related to what I do now. I don’t edit scientific papers, although many of my associates do. I edit marketing materials which are written for the most part by electrical engineers. Now, electrical engineering is fascinating! To be sure. I do a lot of thinking about how to make very complicated material digestible by a wide and busy audience. So I’ll keep this one. It’s certainly food for thought.

The Uniformity of Biochemistry by Francis Crick
My note says: Good article. Pay attention to how he explains things. Use of description. Voice. Tone. Use of humor.

E=mc2 by Albert Einstein
My note says: Pay attention to how he uses details to describe things. How he communicates with a popular audience. It’s striking me suddenly that I am an serious nerd. Keep.

A copy of a page from Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware
I kept this because I was enthralled with the idea of telling a story with only pictures. No words. As I look at this page, I realize that I am not smart enough to understand this. I may go check out Jimmy Corrigan, but I’m not keeping this page.

The Mendelian Laws by George and Muriel Beadle
This looks like a huge snooze, but since I’m keeping practically everything else…

An excerpt from Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
My note says: Short, tight sentences, interesting, verbs are alive, no fluff; description has to matter. I may want to get this book.

An excerpt from Chasing the Sea: Lost Among the Ghosts of Empire in Central Asia by Tom Bissell
This was a book I wanted to read but never did. My note says: Study how he handles time. Cultural and personal stakes woven together. Participant. Self deprecation builds credibility. All seeds have to be planted in first chapter.

Sister Cities: The Cooper’s Tale
This was an article in the New Yorker. Doesn’t look amazing, but like the others, maybe I should keep it.

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett
I dunno. Keep.

The Science of Scientific Writing by George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan.
This is so close to what I actually do for a living that I’ll keep it and read it again.

The Man Who Shouted Teresa by Italo Calvino
Keep. Amazing short short storyteller.

Orientalism by Edward W. Said
This was given to me by a professor in the Graduate School of Social Work where I worked for about two years. I tried reading it. I swear I did, but it was so far over my head, I just didn’t get it. I think I’ll try again now and see what happens.

On Being the Right Size by J. B. S. Haldane
Keep.

Science and Ultimate Truth by H. G. Wells
Keep.

The Barbarism of “Specialization” by Jose Ortega y Gasset
Of note, the book by this author: Revolt of the Masses

On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion
Keep.

A Time of Gifts by Stephen Jay Gould
Keep.

She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo
Keep.

Twenty Titles for the Writer by Richard Leahy
Keep.

The Essentials of Micro-Fiction by Camille Renshaw
Keep.

Excerpts from Quick Fiction.
Keep.

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us by Bill Joy
This is an article I picked up before grad school; it was published in Wired, April 2000. Incredible. That was 15 years ago. This article had so much buzz around it at the time that it even permeated my little bubble. I thought it was amazing at the time. Guess I should read it again.

Caught by Jonathan Franzen
Keep.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by E. J. Levy
Some of these require a little detective work. I’m still not sure what Salmagundi is, but I guess it’s related to this story in some way. Except for the grey, I like this author’s webpage.

Civilian by Tobias Wolff
I thought this author was very interesting and I wanted to read more at the time. Other books, says my note, are This Boy’s Life and In Pharoh’s Army.

Twelve Moments in the Life of the Artist
My note says: Like a 12-Step program, Wonderful. Awful. Keep.

Except from Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
I was a little upset when I read this. I was writing a short story called “Running With Scissors.” It wasn’t good, but still, my title was taken by this guy.

Mama Gone by Jane Yolen
I remember it was interesting. Keep.

When God Laughs: A Piece of Steak by Jack London.
I remember thinking this was a great piece of writing. Keep.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
I have the book, but in this copy, I have circled some words in a strange fashion. Intrigued. Why did I do this? Keep.

Working with Archetypes
From my business class. I wasn’t really impressed, but I’ll have another look before tossing it.

History of Writing Class Notes.
Keep.

The Dynamics of Building and Resolving Tension. Music as a Metaphor for Organizational Change.
Again, from my business class.

In Bed by Joan Didion
Not what you might think. Keep.

The Waking (Villanelle) by Theodore Roethke
Of course keep. I love villanelles.

Type Tools.
Keep.

Not Wise by George Packer
Keep.

My Father’s Life by Raymond Carver
Keep.

Fathers, Sons, Blood by Harry Crews
Keep.

Excerpt from A Death in the Family by James Agee
My notes: Age, authority, conflict, tone; has released himself from bonds of time. Passive voice slows everything down; gives sense of the summer evenings that he’s talking about; repetitive in structure. Keep.

The Unwanted Child by Mary Clearman Blew
Keep.

Vessels by Daniel Raeburn
Keep.

Four More Shots by Kevin Sampsell
Keep.

Ok, that’s just about it. Now I’m just looking at piles of my own writing and some old Russian notes. I didn’t throw a whole bunch out, but I did organize it. It’s no longer cluttering up my desk keeping me from working. And doing this gave me a chance to think things though. I found a memoir I had started 7 years ago. And, I eeked out a tiny bit of inspiration to get started again.