May 3, 2015 ~ Silent Empathy

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Sunday, May 3, 2015 ~ Silent Empathy

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This Sunday’s topic will be on silent empathy:

“The Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu stated that true empathy requires listening with the whole being: ‘The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing. The hearing of the understanding is another. But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind. Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties. And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens. There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind.’”  ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Marshall Rosenberg once made a point of offering someone silent empathy, for the better part of an hour — the empathizee eventually dissolved into tears at the experience of being listened to so deeply and spaciously — to demonstrate to the audience of fellow attendees/NVC-practitioners that empathy is a quality of presence (rather than an ‘OFNR’ formula).  Miki Kashtan once wrote a novel (that she had no intention of publishing), from the vantage point of a murderer, simply to challenge her own deeply rooted nonviolent convictions by attempting to enter into an alternative mindset (and silent empathic space); she also intentionally meandered the grounds, with several fellow Israelis, of a notorious concentration camp in Poland, striving towards some form of empathic apprehension of the underlying humanity that may have been in play with the Nazi guards who had once worked there.  She has recommended the wisdom of one relatively green (brand new) practitioner of nonviolent communication who opted to dwell in silent empathy as a practice for the duration of his first year (rather than get stuck in the quicksand of awkward and self-conscious attempts to language empathy, at least initially).  NVC mediator Ike Lasater has spoken of listening to radio pundits, with contrasting political views to his own, as a practice in developing his capacity for  [silent] empathy.  Lastly, Francois Beausoleil has spoken of his initial NVC practice of taking daily walks while running through a Dissolving Enemy Images practice, often with reference to those nearest and dearest to himself, towards achieving what he calls ‘blame-free states’.  These are several examples of NVC certified trainers and their use of silent empathy as a metabolizing tool towards greater equanimity and, eventually, effectiveness.

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The Power of Silent Empathy – Nonviolent Communication

The Power of Silent Empathy

How to Break Down Barriers to Connection When Words Don’t Work

By Rita Herzog

When I first learned about the concept of silent empathy during a workshop with Marshall Rosenberg many years ago, I didn’t know how soon I’d have the opportunity to try it out. I was visiting my daughter for four days and even though it seemed to be going well, I must have been acting in my old mother role, making comments about her life, analyzing her behavior, giving her my view on everything – and all unasked for!

On the third morning we went for a long walk and stopped at a cafe. After we ordered breakfast, she looked at me and said (with much intensity), “So when are you going to stop criticizing me?” I was always taught that if I am asked a question I’m obligated to answer it. But no matter what I would have said, I knew it would quickly escalate into a prolonged argument. There was no way to win.

Just in time, I remembered what I had learned. There was another alternative — silent empathy! So I reached out silently to my daughter, and tuned in. I guessed that she was feeling frustrated and despairing, yearning for an ease of connection with me. She wanted us to be together in a new way, a different kind of mother-daughter relationship.

She took a breath, waiting for me to answer her, waiting for the start of the familiar argument. She looked puzzled for a second. Then she slowly let her breath out . . . and it was over. We started talking about something else, and had a pleasant day.

I wanted to shout, “Hey, it works!” For the first time, I was able to shift the dynamic of our relationship at that moment of impasse.

I realized that one way my daughter would reach out to me when she felt disconnected was to be provocative, to be sure she would get a response. I had been skeptical that silent empathy could work, that the energy could flow as easily as spoken words. It was difficult for me to imagine how to communicate in silence, or to trust in that energy that can be offered by one person and received by another. I imagined that just sitting in silence in witness to someone’s pain might be enough. But silent empathy is not a passive endeavor; it asks as much of me as when I am offering empathic words to another.

Since NVC is mostly about the spoken word, and practicing what to say to each other, I have not found silent empathy to be discussed or explored very often. But silent empathy is one of the many treasures that NVC has brought to my life.

Rita Hertzog has been studying and teaching Nonviolent Communication for over 20 years. As an early pioneer, she coordinated the work of CNVC from her dining room table, and has had the privilege of seeing NVC enhance people’s lives in ever widening circles to five continents and 40 countries. Rita has a master’s degree in teaching, and has worked as the teacher/ coordinator of an independent school, a day care director, a college instructor, and as visiting faculty of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. She has offered NVC training in Japan, Brazil, Mexico, and many parts of Europe, as well in the U.S. Rita continues to facilitate the work of the CNVC trainer certification team of registration coordinators and assessors.

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Empathy – Beyond the Right Words

Marshall Rosenberg:  “As with the other modes of NVC, there is a learnable process to follow in giving empathy, based on the classic four step model. And then there is the magic of throwing the rule book away. Silent empathy is the goal; or, rather, when you have each said what you need to say in order to know where the other person is really at, you can be silently present, and that is the moment of true empathy.

Some rare people have the knack or skill or offering total presence right from the first moment of an encounter. For the rest of us, there can be a journey towards connection and silence which still involves quite a few words, and that is OK too. That’s who these guidelines are intended for…” (continues)

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See also:  Three Layers of Empathy

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