John G Bell


Winter '03 - Hill

Book Response: “Nonviolent Communication” Marshall Rosenberg

A. Important things about ...

  1. the power and limitation of dialogue

    Once again, I'm reminded of the idea that there's a need for a facilitator sometimes. There's several stories in this book that point to the need for a third person, a mediation between others. For example, there's the story of the man with cancer and his wife that are unable to talk about how they feel. They required the help of the mediator, the facilitator to provide them tools and opportunity to talk. In this secular world, there's less chance that we have these kinds of roles. In the past, hopefully this isn't a glorification, there was more reliance on either the elders or the religious figures to provide a ready resource for mediation in all kinds of conflicts, not just between people but also people's own internal conflicts.

    In some sense, I see the kind of communication in this book as an attempt to train ourselves to be our own facilitators, but I'm reminded about the way lawyers talk about people defending themselves. It's almost axiomatic that people that dismiss their lawyers to defend themselves are ensuring their failure due to lack of knowledge but also because they are too close to the events and lack a way to distance themselves. This is similarly expressed in the medical field by the prohibition against acting as the doctor for close friends or family, where one is likely to make a misdiagnosis because one can't observe with the kind of detachment necessary to consider all the possibilities.

    It seems like this is another alienating force in our society and a limitation of dialogue. There's need for facilitation that may not be available, whether it's on a small scale because people want to keep conflicts private or it's on a big issue because there's no one acceptably detached from the issues.

  1. American or world society


  1. these specific groups

    In some ways I'm reminded of a scene from the movie Baraka, where the monk is walking deliberately, intentionally down a sidewalk in Japan out of sync with the fast pace of the other pedestrians, basically ignored. The monk serves as a reminder of the spiritual life, but is also mostly missed as long as the pedestrians don't think he's in the way.

    We're creating a little society of compassionate communicators and I think there's a danger in becoming too different than the people around us because then we end up becoming unable and unwilling to build bridges all over again. We become the monk, mostly ignored by those moving around us.

    The struggle is to be progressive but still stay part of the world around us. There's also a danger that we become self-righteous missionaries that “know what's best” for our less fortunate, backward society and lose touch with humanity, theirs and ours.

  1. myself

    I feel like I have the emotional maturity of a 2 year old after reading this book. The amount of work and intentionality necessary to do this seems overwhelming to me.

B. Talking points

  1. Roots of violence

p18 “moralistic judgments”

p18 “making comparisons”

p19 “denial of responsibility”

p21 “dream-killing language”

p23 “life-alienating communication”

When I think about these sources of violence in our society, I'm feeling overwhelmed by them. I think they are so very fundamental in the way we live. This is what we learn when we “learn to be white” and what we learn when we learn to be humans in this society.

Making moralistic judgments about other people is the way that we create, as Sam Keen says, the “faces of the enemy.” We dehumanize and demonize the others in the world that are outside our threshold. But, I find myself wondering if this is the source or just the tool. Isn't this just the mechanism that makes it possible to hate another human instead of the source of the need?

We talked about this after watching American History X, especially when reflecting on the scene on the basketball court where there's this will to power, this desperate need to feel worthy and important. Actually, more than that, a need to feel more important than someone else. There's this desire to think and feel that one is one rung higher in the grand pecking order, and humans seem to resort to violence when they think and feel they are a rung below someone else or have their position threatened.

This is difference and hierarchy again, not just our comparisons but the way we make ourselves different than others to imply superiority. This alienating techniques are examples of how this society maintains a violent dynamic and we have learned and consistently choose, tacitly agree to be part of this dynamic.

C. Outrageous statement or claim

p4 “It is an ongoing reminder to keep our attention focused on a place where we are more likely to get what we are seeking.”

p5 “NVC does not require ... they will join us in the process and eventually we will be able to respond compassionately to one another.”

p5 “The given benefits from the enhanced self-esteem that results when we see our efforts contributing to someone's well-being.”

I found it hard to read statements like this in the book. I kept thinking about how this is the kind of agenda that I think destroys the ability to have real conversations.

Naïve and arrogant. New age, self help books after such serious materials. Doesn't recognize that there are people that might not be moved by his own compassion, there's a limit to those that will be moved to compassion just because he exhibits it. This is expecting the other to conform, instead of internalize.

There's a big danger here in becoming self-righteous about the tools and methods and ignoring the other person's needs. If one is always looking for the “real” need behind another person's statement, it might end up that we're only satisfied when they've appeased us by conforming to what we feel their need ought to be, when they've reflected back to us what we already think about them.

This goes back to the quote I've been keeping in my head for a while that I can only paraphrase: “If you've come to help me, don't bother. However, if you've come to join with my experience and grow with me then we've got a chance.” What this says to me is that there's often a kind of arrogance to helping other people where might think I know what's best for someone else without ever asking them or having shared experiences. This was something that came out of the grant writing class I took this summer also: people sometimes write grants to do things without ever talking to the people they are supposed to be helping. This is potentially very disconnecting instead of connecting to the people involved.