–by Marshall Rosenberg (Feb 13, 2015)
Whenever Marshall Rosenberg speaks about deeply held beliefs—spirituality, concepts of God, views of love—two themes always emerge: 1) the greatest joy springs from connecting to life by contributing to our own and others’ well being, and 2) spirituality and love are more about what we do than what we feel.
Marshall Rosenberg [MR]: I think it is important that people see that spirituality is at the base of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), and that they learn the mechanics of the process with that in mind. It’s really a spiritual practice that I am trying to show as a way of life. Even though we don’t mention this, people get seduced by the practice. Even if they practice this as a mechanical technique, they start to experience things between themselves and other people they weren’t able to experience before. So eventually they come to the spirituality of the process. They begin to see that it’s more than a communication process and realize it’s really an attempt to manifest a certain spirituality. So I have tried to integrate the spirituality into the training in a way that meets my need not to destroy the beauty of it through abstract philosophizing.
The kind of world I’d like to live in will require some rather significant social changes, but the changes that I’d like to see happen probably won’t happen unless the people working toward them are coming out of a different spirituality than what has led to the predicaments we’re in now. So, our training is designed to help people make sure that the spirituality that’s guiding them is one of their own choosing and not one they’ve internalized by the culture. And that they proceed in creating social change out of that spirituality.
Q: How did you develop Nonviolent Communication?
[MR]: Nonviolent Communication evolved from my attempt to get conscious of what this Beloved Divine Energy is and how to connect with it. I was very dissatisfied with clinical psychology because it is pathology based and I didn’t like its language. It didn’t give me a view of the beauty of human beings. […]
Nonviolent Communication really came out of my attempt to understand this concept of love and how to manifest it, how to do it. I came to the conclusion that it was not just something you feel, but it is something we manifest, something we do, something we have. And what is this manifestation? It is giving of ourselves in a certain way.
Q: What do you mean, “giving of ourselves”?
[MR]: To me, giving of ourselves means an honest expression of what’s alive in us in this moment. It intrigues me why every culture asks upon greeting each other, “How are you?” It’s such an important question. What a gift it is to be able to know at any given moment what is alive in someone.
To give a gift of one’s self is a manifestation of love. It is when you reveal yourself nakedly and honestly, at any given moment, for no other purpose than as a gift of what’s alive in you. Not to blame, criticize, or punish. Just “Here I am, and here is what I would like.” This is my vulnerability at this moment. To me, that is a way of manifesting love.
And the other way we give of ourselves is through how we receive another person’s message. To receive it empathically, connecting with what’s alive in them, making no judgment. Just to hear what is alive in the other person and what they would like. So Nonviolent Communication is just a manifestation of what I understand love to be.
Q: Do you believe that the language of our culture prevents us from knowing our Divine Energy more intimately?
[MR]: 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.
Q: Is this the spiritual basis of Nonviolent Communication?
[MR]: The spiritual basis for me is that I’m trying to connect with the Divine Energy in others and connect them with the Divine in me, because I believe that when we are really connected with that Divinity within each other and ourselves, that people enjoy contributing to one another’s well being more than anything else. So for me, if we’re connected with the Divine in others and ourselves, we are going to enjoy what happens, and that’s the spiritual basis. In this place violence is impossible.
–Marshall Rosenberg in Practical Spirituality [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]