Thank You, Marshall.

Non-violent Communication,” a theory/technique/philosophy of communication (and of life) created by Marshall Rosenberg, has changed my life in really positive ways in the past year. It’s given me ways of looking at myself and others and my relationships that I don’t know if I’d ever have discovered on my own. It’s helped me as a parent. It’s shown me a way out of the pain of constant anger over the nation’s political system.

And now it’s time for me to say goodbye.

Well, not really. I don’t think I’ll ever leave behind the lessons I’ve learned trying to practice NVC. I don’t want to stop learning more about this way of relating to people. It’s done good things for me and I’m sure it’s got more to teach me.

But it’s hurting my effort at living mindfully.

Yep, this is another post about mindfulness — see my first and second. It more relates to the second — the “map is not the territory” phenomenon.

You see, for all it bills itself as a technique of communication, NVC is also a worldview, a way of understanding human life. It’s a picture of the world. And I’m a sucker, as I’ve said, for worldviews, theories, that claim to be “the real truth,” the little-known inside scoop on reality which if you know it makes everything easier. And accepting a particular model of reality, a particular way of understanding the world, as *the* way of understanding the world, is a mindfulness-killer.

Here’s the tip-off: you’re following instructions and you don’t get the results they promised. You don’t question the value of these instructions for you, you question your own value, ability, competence, worthiness. That’s a dead giveaway.

So I’m gonna back off. I’m going to stop making a conscious effort to use NVC in my parenting and other parts of my life, at least for a while. I’m going to open my mind to other ways of thinking about things. I’ve got it there as a way of looking at things but I’m not going to make it *the* way of looking at things.

I think even Marshall would approve. After all, he called his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, not Nonviolent Communication, The Language Of Life.

5 thoughts on “Thank You, Marshall.”

  1. It is a compelling post, this. It’s the challenge of the world view that I enjoy, the sense of moving up one awareness level, rather than down.

    I don’t get it, though. Why and how? Maybe the mystery is part of the enjoyment, maybe not. At any rate, good luck!



  2. What struck me about “non-violent communication” when I read the book was how rooted it is in liberal capitalist ideology. Like liberalism, “non-violent communication” is an atomistic theory of the individual. As in classical Western liberalism, “non-violent communication” provides some magic formulas for making the pursuit of self-interest turn into something other than what it is. I can’t buy either the notion that the Self is an atom rather than a node in a social network, or the idea that the pursuit of self-interest, mutual or not, will lead to anything other than the pursuit of self-interest.

    It’s interesting to note that the values of public morality in Nazi Germany were not that far from the middle-class bohemian values of Rosenberg’s programme: solidarity, simplicity, honesty, etc. Of course, these same values existed alongside their negation: the pursuit of self-interest. It’s much the same within Rosenberg’s target consumers and in Rosenberg’s facile book.

  3. Lev, I had noted the point of commonality with, say, Ayn Rand: the NVC bunch do have an interest in “enlightened selfishness.” (Much more apparent in Kelly Bryson’s book tha in NVC:ALOL.)

    But as Marshall would say, “I’m not in agreement” with most of the rest of your assessment.

  4. Heh! Nice! I didn’t know “Lev Bronstein” was Leon Trotsky’s real name.

  5. Your post reminds me of part of an “interview” of Marshall, I’ve posted below.

    “Then you believe that the language of our culture prevents us from knowing our Divine Energy more intimately?

    Oh yes, definitely. I think our language makes it really hard, especially the language given to us by the cultural training most of us seem to have gone through, and the associations “God” brings up for people. Judgmental, or right/wrong thinking is one of the hardest things I’ve found to overcome in teaching Nonviolent Communication over the years. The people that I work with have all gone to schools and churches and it’s very easy for them, if they like Nonviolent Communication, to say it’s the “right way” to communicate. It’s very easy to think that Nonviolent Communication is the goal.

    I’ve altered a Buddhist parable that relates to this question. Imagine a beautiful, whole, and sacred place. And imagine that you could really know God when you are in that place. But let’s say that there is a river between you and that place and you’d like to get to that place but you’ve got to get over this river to do it. So you get a raft, and this raft is a real handy tool to get you over the river. Once you’re across the river you can walk the rest of the several miles to this beautiful place. But the Buddhist parable ends by saying that, “One is a fool who continues on to the sacred place carrying the raft on their back.”

    Nonviolent Communication is a tool to get me over my cultural training so I can get to the place. It’s not the place. If we get addicted to the raft, attached to the raft, it makes it harder to get to the place. People just learning the process of Nonviolent Communication can forget all about the place. If they get too locked into the raft, the process becomes mechanical.

    Nonviolent Communication is one of the most powerful tools that I’ve found for connecting with people in a way that helps me get to the place where we are connected to the Divine, where what we do toward one another comes out of Divine Energy. That’s the place I want to get to.”

Comments are closed.