November 17, 2013 ~ NVC as “True But Partial”

Sunday, November 17, 2013 ~
NVC as “True But Partial”

Via Wikipedia:  The concept known as the law of the instrument, Maslow’s hammer, Gavel or a golden hammer is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”[1]


I recall seeing an interview by Richard Stengel, then Time magazine editor and the author of the book: Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage, earlier along in the arc of studying NVCThe fifteen lessons are summarized here.

At about the five minute mark of this video clip:  Richard Stengel — Charlie Rose  Richard Stengel points to one of Nelson Mandela’s lessons, discussing how to have one overarching/core principle and view everything else as a tactic.

Image result for tactic

Richard Stengel:  He [Mandela] would say, and I’m going to say it in a plainer way than he would, ‘you have to have one core principle…everything else was a tactic.’  So even, for example, the ANC’s original embrace of nonviolence — from the Ghandi tradition — he would say, ‘that’s a tactic – that’s not a principle.’

Charlie Rose:  So you can violate that.

Richard Stengel:  Right.  And he did.  And when he became the leader of the ANC’s military wing, he violated that because he felt that to achieve his great goal, he needed to do that.  And that was just a tactic.   A lot us would say, ‘no, that’s a principle’; he would say ‘that’s a tactic.’

According to Stengel, for Mandela the operational guiding compass was his one principle of ‘democracy for South Africa (one man, one vote)’ while everything else — including nonviolence — he saw as merely tactical.  Stengel offers the example, with regard to the ANC’s original embrace of nonviolence, straight from the Gandhian tradition, that Mandela chose to adopt nonviolence as a tactic and then intentionally eschewed it when it no longer buttressed his superseding democratic principle.   Thus one could say that for Mandela, nonviolence was but a tool within the larger toolbox (in contrast to those like Gandhi or MLK for whom nonviolence was the toolbox).

While listening to this, a light bulb went off in my mind.  How much more gray are the lines of ‘violence’ and ‘nonviolence’ vis-a-vis our communication and, even moreso, our ever fluctuating consciousness.  While attuning to some in the NVC community, I get that the ‘principle’ of nonviolent consciousness (as embodied in NVC) is core and over-arching. For many practitioners, it is the toolbox, or the superseding principle, as many seem to view it as an extension of their own spiritual practice.

In contrast, while watching the interview above, I immediately recognized something resonant, in that while I, too, may apply myself to Nonviolent Communication, it would only be something more in the tactical realm.  One tool, in a larger toolbox.  For example, I enjoy sarcasm immensely.  I was reminded of this recently while perusing a collection in the book Arguably – Essays — By Christopher Hitchens.  Reading Hitchens, his irreverent and dry wit and provocative insights, was enormously pleasurable and also seemed utilitarian, a clarifying tool.  Perhaps one more keen at times, that can render a less incisive tool (such as  NVC, which adheres to a ‘universalizing’ standard rooted in the ‘needs consciousness’ (of, let’s say, Rumi’s field) seemingly less unique and idiosyncratic in it’s flavor — more dull somehow, in a variety of circumstances.  The full vitality of an uncensored tongue, as once was embodied by Hitchens, offers a different kind of ‘life-serving’ vibrancy and efficacy, which can render the NVC tool too blunt an object, better left in the toolbox according to the occasion.  Stylistically, one can choose just as one might draw selections from the closet, opting for something different on New Year’s Eve than when going to the gym, let’s say.

I know that the lenses through which I peer, include much dissecting (read, analyzing/interpretive) and ‘diagnosing’ (psychological discernment entailing labels/judgements) which are invaluable despite all the taboos which often enshroud their use in  more monochromatic NVC circles.  I know it as an ingrained part of how I make sense of the complexity of life.  And I know that my tongue, however incisive at times or more diplomatic at others, is too a part of the mix, of my alchemical makeup.  To work against this would be to work against the authentic grain of my nature.  So to conceive of trying to color inside the lines (or stay within the parameters of NVC) as an intention, seems a bit preposterous.  Hence the anti-establishment ethos of ‘street’ giraffe’s connotation…

streetifyWhat I hope to do is become more conscious of my communication with others.  To have choice as to when I wish to employ which tactic, and have that skill under my proverbial belt or at my disposal, rather than to lash out reactively/reflexively.  So the inquiry is when is this NVC tool most apropos  to pull from the toolbox, as the best, most relevant fit, for what kinds of circumstances?

Here’s one plausible view, as to NVC’s circumstantial efficacy, by way of Newt Bailey:

Connected Communication – An Introduction – YouTube

Newt Bailey — paraphrasing from video clip above — on communicating based on the work of Marshall Rosenberg’s (NVC) model and when this tool, in our toolbox, may come into (relevance)/play:

“…To a large extent what I’m suggesting to people is that when they are in a stressful conversation or a fight, an argument, anything where they are finding that their communication is not going in a way that they would want, a lot of the time what I’m basically saying to people is, ‘look you can talk however you like, most of the time, you know if it works for you to say whatever you’re saying, but if you’re really clear that if it’s not working for you, or not working for the other person, then shrink down your available options down to just three options.’  That’s essentially what I’m saying to people.  And the practice is in actually, it’s maybe more difficult to shrink down and turn away from all the normal things you ordinarily do,  blaming, persuading, criticizing people, making demands, telling stories, telling jokes, all of these other options, many options.   To shrink it down to just three options, and the three options are:  How am I doing right now (self-connection)?  How is the other person doing right now (call this empathy)?  And the third choice, just expressing honestly what you got in touch with when you checked in with ‘how am I doing’…  That creates a simplicity basically which  also, strangely enough, creates much more potential for connection between you and the other person which will then lead, more frequently, to some kind of a useful outcome that you both enjoy…”

Three [Dialogic] Choices:


Dialogue is a conversation … the outcome of which is unknown.”
~ Martin Buber

See also:  ZENVC’sCommunication Flow Chart (PDF format)

Caveat:  “The map is not the territory”


 We assume each approach is “true but partial”…

A phrase coined by Ken Wilber, as fleshed out in article beneath:

Who Is Ken Wilber? by Jack Crittenden

Adapted from the foreword to “The Eye of the Spirit” by Ken Wilber.

Tony Schwartz, former New York Times reporter and author of “What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America,” has called Ken Wilber “the most comprehensive philosophical thinker of our times.”  I think that is true. In fact, I thought that was true 20 years ago when I founded ReVision Journal in large measure to provide an outlet for the integral vision that Ken was already voicing. I had just finished reading his first book, “The Spectrum of Consciousness,” which he wrote when he was 23. He was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, washing dishes for a living, meditating, and writing a book a year. Main Currents in Modern Thought, which published his first essay, was just about to go out of business, and it was my desire to keep alive the integrative focus and spirit that that journal represented. This, combined with my desire to work with Ken in doing so, prompted me to drag him into the publishing business. We were both about 27 at the time, and within a year or two we had ReVision up and running, based very much on the integral vision that we both shared and that Ken was already articulating in a powerful way.

But it is exactly the comprehensive and integral nature of Wilber’s vision that is the key to the sometimes extreme reactions that his work elicits. Wilber’s approach does nothing less than offer a coherent integration of virtually every field of human knowledge, What is his actual method? In working with any field, Wilber simply backs up to a level of generalization at which the various conflicting approaches actually agree with one another. Take, for example, the world’s great religious traditions: Do they all agree that Jesus is God? No. So we must jettison that. Do they all agree that there is a God? That depends on the meaning of “God.” Do they all agree on God, if by “God” we mean a Spirit that is in many ways unqualifiable, from the Buddhists’ Emptiness to the Jewish mystery of the Divine to the Christian Cloud of Unknowing? Yes, that works as a generalization-what Wilber calls an “orienting generalization” or “sturdy conclusion.”

Wilber likewise approaches all the other fields of human knowledge: art to poetry, empiricism to hermeneutics, cognitive science to meditation, evolutionary theory to idealism. In every case he assembles a series of sturdy and reliable, not to say irrefutable, orienting generalizations. He is not worried, nor should his readers be, about whether other fields would accept the conclusions of any given field; in short, don’t worry, for example, if empiricist conclusions do not match religious conclusions. Instead, simply assemble all the orienting conclusions as if each field had incredibly important truths to tell us. In other words, assemble all of the truths that each field believes it has to offer humanity. For the moment, simply assume they are indeed true.

Wilber then arranges these truths into chains or networks of interlocking conclusions. At this point Wilber veers sharply from a method of mere eclecticism and into a systematic vision. For the second step in Wilber’s method is to take all of the truths or orienting generalizations assembled in the first step and then pose this question: What coherent system would in fact incorporate the greatest number of these truths?

The result is the “integral system” that Wilber has elaborated in his many books, a system that appears to incorporate the greatest number of orienting generalizations from the greatest number of fields of human inquiry. Thus, if it holds up, Wilber’s approach incorporates and honors, it integrates, more truth than any other system in history.

The general idea is straightforward. It is not which theorist is right and which is wrong. Wilber’s basic idea is that “Everybody is right”-that is, everybody has an important, if partial, truth-and Wilber wants to figure out how that can be so. “I don’t believe,” he says, “that any human mind is capable of 100 percent error.” Or, as he often jokes, “Nobody is smart enough to be wrong all the time.” So, Wilber concludes, “instead of asking which approach is right and which is wrong, we assume each approach is true but partial, and then try to figure out how to fit these partial truths together, how to integrate them-and not how to pick one and get rid of the others.”



See also:  The Coming Interspiritual Age: An Integral View | Integral Life

FYI ~ Brevity is the soul of wit… (Sir Wily):

150th Anniversary of Gettysburg Address

Text to Text | The Gettysburg Address and ‘Why the Civil War Still Matters’

Recitation of the Gettysburg Address

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