June 7, 2015 ~ The Beatific Nature of Nonviolent Communication
“Christ’s The Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss even today. Its sweet verses have even today the power to quench my agony of soul.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
One of the most valuable skills that NVC — at least potentially — affords (IMHO), is that capacity to ‘track whose needs are on the table’, as it is often characterized.
To draw on an alternate communication modality, that of Transparent Communication (originated by the German mystic Thomas Huebl), a modality which could be summed up as ‘subtle energy competency’ or being able to read the unspoken, interpersonally. Huebl has said that if one shoves ones shoulder into a closed door, it’s going to hurt. Similarly, if one tries to ‘shove one’s point of view’ (down another’s throat), it will likely only generate a gag reflex. So sensing into the receptivity of another, their capacity to receive input or not, is critical to effective dialogue.
If NVC can be distilled into two questions, as Marshall Rosenberg has put it: 1) ‘what’s alive’ (in ourselves and others) & 2) ‘what would make life more wonderful’ — then part of what one tracks is the aliveness in another, while still being aware of the life within oneself, and then striking a balance between the two (to the best of our ability, on any given day). This balancing act is the key, gyroscopically-speaking.
A particularly dramatic example of how crucial this can sometimes be recently came to light while viewing the news. I saw a report in which parents of a little girl who had been sexually abused by a clergyman brought two photographs to another priest (who had confirmed her). First they showed the priest a picture of his presenting a confirmation certificate, to which he responded how ‘lovely’ (or something to that affect). You can imagine that, as a priest, he was reflecting on the rite of passage, an initiation with the holy spirit. Then the parents showed a second photograph, of their child’s slashed wrists, the result of her suicide attempt. The priest, apparently caught off guard, uttered, ‘she’s changed.’
One can guess that, from the vantage point of one steeped in discernment of the sinful, he was viewing this suicide attempt as an endangerment to the little girl’s soul, which was what was prominent from his vantage point (and that of his clerical indoctrination).
However, from the parents point-of-view, they’d entrusted their beloved daughter to the church, only to have that trust betrayed, and the consequent sexual transgression now had a violent ripple effect on the little girl’s psyche, what was once deemed the soul, that she no longer wished to even exist on this earth. Some time later, the girl would indeed commit suicide.
So what was ‘alive’ in them was a host of feelings & needs, in NVC parlance, that they were seeking some shared understanding for, perhaps some comfort, even guidance. And just as how one views a collision depends on the place from which one stands and looks out, in proximity to it, they were seeking something other than hellfire and brimstone as a response to their state of anguish, bewilderment and likely desperation.
This example, while both heart-wrenching and rather shocking, seemed the most poignant one I’d ever come across of the sometimes crucial value of being able to consciously track ‘whose needs are on the table.’ I’ve noticed a somewhat more elastic capacity and clear-sightedness, within myself, as I remain present to its implications, in noticing how tender another may be, at any given moment, and therefore how beneficial it could be — for us both — if I closely mirror their own experience (not intermingling my own until it seems more timely). It also has reminded me of why witnessing a skilled empathic practitioner, in whatever context, can be often so illustrative of the equanimity present when someone is truly in their beatific element.
It’s worth noting that there could be some parallels drawn between certain hierarchal entities (the church, the therapist’s couch), where some are designated as having expertise, and the origin that motivated NVC’s conception.
Why Marshall chose to (eventually) abandon his practice as a psychologist and pursue refining and sharing this NVC modality, came at least in part from his disillusionment with the training he’d received in psychological/diagnostic criterion (the DSM manuals which catalogue mental pathology, akin to the priest’s arsenal of what constitutes sinful behavior). Through Marshall’s apprenticeship with Carl Rogers, he began to explore empathy as a tool, how one might ’empower what’s alive in the other’ rather than merely sit back adopting a lens of knowing superiority. It was his intention that by discerning that which all human hold in common, initially what he referred to as a feelings and desires (later to replaced by the concept of ‘universal human needs’), one could descend past the turbulent surface of our ‘monkey mind’ thoughts and delve into something deeper, more humane. (Of course, there are many practitioners of both NVC and psychology who have chosen not to throw the baby-out-with-the-bathwater, by totally eschewing one for the other, but that tension, blend, or weave, would require a separate post.)
Part of what compelled this exploration into the ethos of nonviolence/ahimsa/empathy, for Marshall, was the climate of the times in which he lived. The lineage of nonviolence, that stemmed from the civil rights movement of that era, and the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. King, as Gandhi had before him, who instructed others on how to ‘table’ a knee jerk reactivity for a higher end (he once queried a congregation of nonviolent activist, held captive within a church while a riotous mob swelled outside, wanting only those who had the deepest, most immovable roots in their nonviolent convictions to attempt to walk through the mob with him).
The rest of the post will flesh out a bit further of this influence of the beatitudes, as I’ve similarly attempted to delineate in months past, i.e. this blog posted — In Honor of MLK Day 2015 ~ Seeds & Roots of NVC — to discover the trajectory of dots-to-be-connected between Marshall Rosenberg’s coining of NVC and the inspiration drawn from 20th century practitioners of nonviolence, such as Gandhi & MLK, who drew inspiration from the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount in kind.
In the course of ‘mediating one’s life’, or tracking the needs on the table, honing this capacity for let’s call it active passivity — staying present with ‘what’s alive’ for another until they have greater spaciousness — is quite a trial-and-error balancing act. The process of noticing one’s own assessments or reactions and then finding a way to keep these things at bay may appear passive from the outside looking in, but it can actually be quite an active and dynamic process.
“Christianity,” MLK said, “has always insisted that the cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.”
Another way of further familiarizing ourselves with the inspiration drawn from the beatitudes can come from its contrast, i.e. to juxtapose this inwardly dynamic, if outwardly/seemingly passive, intention — of embodying a beatific stance — to it’s antithesis, as in the piece beneath:
John Dear: Open your Bible to Matthew 5 and you will never be the same. Gandhi and King called those passages the grandest manifesto of non-violence ever written — beginning with the storied Beatitudes. Grand for a number of reasons — for their poignancy and conciseness, for their sheer poetics, for their morality and practicality. But grand, too, for a subtle reason — for the furtive critique that lay behind them. Namely, every culture of war, such as the one Jesus lived and died in, fuels itself by an antithetical set of maxims. One might name them the “anti-beatitudes.” (Continues here: The Beatitudes of Peace)
John Dear goes on — circa the link directly above — to invert some of the beatitudes, which I include as I find it illustrative:
- Blessed are those who make others mourn.
- Blessed are the violent and the invincible, the proud and the powerful, the domineering and oppressive.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for injustice.
- Blessed are those who show no mercy.
- Blessed are the impure of heart.
In an article called Cold Turkey, Kurt Vonnegut, the famous satirical American author, wrote:
“For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the beatitudes. But – often with tears in their eyes – they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the beatitudes, be posted anywhere.”
Since being ‘self-sacrificing’ — even if merely in a limited ‘dialogic’ sort of way (i.e. tabling one’s own needs for a period of time, while attuning to another’s) — can sometimes cause one to squirm, thought to include the clips beneath, for inspiration’s sake: