I first heard about 'Nonviolent Communication' (NVC) years ago from someone who had found it to be a truly profound tool for connecting with people around environmental issues. Sometime after that, I attended an introductory workshop on NVC and eventually sought out more short courses. Nonviolent Communication is a tool that was developed in the 1960s and 1970s by Marshall Rosenberg, a clinical psychologist. Many individuals, eco villages and intentional communities around the world have found it to be a powerful tool for navigating personal and group issues.
Learning the framework and philosophy of Nonviolent Communication was like seeing the world in a whole new way. Instead of constantly finding people irritating and infuriating when obstacles came my way, 'difficult' people in my life became people who were just trying to meet their needs, just as I am. In the NVC framework, all humans are trying to meet needs that are universal. These can include things like connection, food, shelter, belonging, participation, contribution, to be heard - the list is long. Because these needs are common to all, we can empathise with others. The person who interrupts meetings with enthusiastic ideas, for example, is possibly meeting a need for inclusion...or maybe participation, contribution or a need to be heard.
I realised that when my needs were met, I experienced feelings of joy, gratitude, contentment and a whole list of wonderful feelings. And when my needs weren't met, I experienced shame, emotional pain, emptiness, fear, agitation and other unsettling feelings. Feelings are a very normal human thing but sadly, we have been taught to suppress them for fear of showing weakness, instability or even insanity. It was empowering for me to discover that feelings can be a doorway into layers of personal growth and deepening compassion for myself and others.
It was a total revelation to me that no one could 'make' me feel anything. My feelings were mine alone. Rather than finding others to blame, I was owning my feelings and finding ways to meet my own needs. At first this was confronting, but over time it became empowering. I was no longer the victim and I also released the burden of feeling responsible for the difficult feelings experienced by people around me. Just as my feelings were my own, their feeling were a gift for them too - an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of themselves.
At the Maleny Eco Village, Nonviolent Communication has been a very useful tool for hearing and understanding others at times of disagreement and tension. Communities can be a place where diverse ideas, skills, ages and experiences are celebrated. Diversity can lead to innovation, learning and creativity. But having different approaches can make things difficult too. That's why learning to really hear others is vital in community. This type of communication isn't always easy, but it's possible to practice and get better at it. Our experience at Maleny Eco Village has shown us that a shared framework for talking about these issues can be very helpful and we have supported (and challenged) each other to improve our ability to own our feelings, voice our needs and make clear, do-able requests.
It can be difficult to be a human. There are times when we don't know what to say or do. There are times when we don't even know what we feel. Thankfully there are tools available, such as the framework of Non-Violent Communication, that allow us to navigate the complicated world of emotions.
If this article is the first time you've heard about Nonviolent Communication, I hope you will be curious to learn more. May this article be the seed for an adventure of inner growth and healing.