Five year old JJ is dancing to his favorite tune. His face is lit up. He is glued copying the steps of his hero on full volume TV.
His tired father is just back from office. He shouts disconnecting the TV,
“Mute this non sense. Look at the mess around here. You moron. Go to your room”
JJ’s shoulders dropped, his eyes gazed the floor and his head stooped down. He slowly crawled back in his room.
Communication can be violent. Not just verbal communication but also mental communication. Maybe JJ was telling himself that, “I am such a moron”
I hurt myself and others so many times in this way. Through the practice of Vipassana, I have direct experience that I can hurt others only after hurting myself. Thoughts of hurting others cause highest anguish in me! I am the first victim of my persecution. What a madness, na? Then why do I keep doing this? Am I the only one who does this? What is the way out?
If you are also wondering about these questions, Nonviolent Communication- A language of life is a book that gives you practical answers. NVC is also know as compassionate communication. Compassion may have become cliché and theory. However in practice and inculcating in life we all still have a long way to go. Just like me, this book could be your Bible, Quran, Gita, Sattipathan Sutta when it comes to translating compassion in day to day life. My spiritual practice of vipassana helps me live compassion at the spiritual and cognitive level. NVC helps me translate it in daily life with others.
The book starts with a perspective from evolutionary psychology and linguistics. It explains how the stories you tell yourselves are your strongest shackles. your identity is wrapped around these stories and values. Your stories also come from your cultural conditioning that was inherited. There is no way out of these stories. A pragmatic way to live is to be aware about your stories.
The book states that the language you have learned is equally responsible for your conditional behavior. This is a language that is myopically focused outside.
“He is such a jerk”
“That bitch ditched me”
“Politicians are irresponsible”
“It is your duty to respect elders”
“You should visit the shrine”
Just focusing on blaming, complaining, comparing, criticizing comes in front of you as a wall. This is a language that served survival and powerful authorities. However there is little use of this language right now. This language also takes you away from your compassion.
The entire book is about how you can reframe language to look inside and take ownership. How you can make a window for you to feel and enjoy your world. It shows ways that once you are well versed in NVC way of using language, you can easily overcome the cultural conditioning around marriage, gender, duty, authority, money etc. so many other things.
MRB is very candid in accepting that it is his belief that compassion is our core/natural strength. Beliefs have no truth in them. When you hold a belief you look at the situation through that lens. There are only empowering beliefs and disempowering beliefs. Empowering beliefs help you move towards solution and happiness. Disempowering beliefs let you stay victims. Compassion is the highest power is an empowering belief for me. You are encouraged to choose it too. There is growing scientific evidence around same. However having experienced it, I care little about scientific evidence! You will never be able to ‘understand’ compassion by reading or thinking about it. You have to experience it and live it.
NVC is a process language that gives you tools to experience compassion. It is a process of focusing on your locus of control. Focusing in this moment. Being in the here and now.
What am I observing, thinking, feeling and needing in here and now?
What are the requests I can make in here and now?
Living like this develops your natural state of compassion. A moment of oneness. It is likely that even without NVC knowledge you would have experienced compassion. Maybe while playing with your kid, nephew or that street dog. Maybe while taking that hike in nature, while listening to music or looking at sky. Or while taking care of your dying father or maybe while having an intimate talk with your partner. Even a brief state of compassion is a supreme moment of bliss, gratitude and good-will. NVC gives you tools to bring these moments in every relationship.
Truth/reality are also the cornerstone and starting place for everything in NVC. They are referred as Observations. NVC doesn’t need you to completely let go of interpretations (or your personal meaning making). It only encourages to separate your observations from your interpretations. Observations are things that happen on your senses – what you see, feel, hear, touch, smell or think. Interpretations/judgements/meaning making is something you make in your head based on past experience, biology, mood etc.
These observations produce feelings on your body. Feelings are a fact. A data point on your body. They are your biological reality in the moment. Feelings are also shared human qualities. Like all our shared biology. They come and go. When they accumulate, they are emotions. Emotion is defined as biological energy in motion. Unacknowledged emotions have dangerous ways of coming out. Thus it is very important to be aware of your emotions. You can choose to express them or just observe them.
Since all your senses are outside focused, it is the biggest illusion that external objects are the cause of your feelings. In reality, they are just a stimulus. To clearly differentiate between stimulus and cause, NVC introduces the concept of needs. An external observation starts the process of generating feelings. It just starts, after that your needs which are born from your biology, beliefs, rackets, past reactions etc. influence your feelings.
Needs are how you take responsibility for your feelings. They are the question, ‘I want to do this because____?’ This is what Elon Musk refers to as first principle thinking. Connecting with the most fundamental reason of doing things. When you are thinking in terms of your needs and why you want, you are more likely to get it. Otherwise you just keep blaming, comparing, judging others.
Maybe JJ’s father wants him to shut up because he is needing peace. Unfortunately, his entire focus is on making JJ shut up. If he focuses on his need of peace he would find more solutions.
Is this it? If you are responsible for your feelings, you might as well just sit and meditate!? How do you navigate in real world? Requests are ways you talk to people and not about them or at them. You engage with them. Requests move you to actions. They help you take concrete actions without getting too much attached by their outcomes. You learn to make three requests – for empathy, honesty and actions.
So, JJ’s father could ask JJ, “Would you be willing to play outside when I am back from office?” (Father requesting son?! Yes, NVC is radical !! When you use NVC you connect with fellow human beings at level of feelings and needs. Not in any role!)
OFNR – Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests. This is the framework. The really simple and yet super powerful structure on which the entire NVC is based. The bones and limbs. At the heart of this is Empathy. Empathy is emptying your mind and listening with your whole being. It’s key ingredient is presence to your self and others.
Feel with vigor,
Connect directly with your Needs and
Make concrete Requests
only with help of empathy. Without empathy, OFNR can as well be used for manipulation and deceit.
If I share my experience, I had heard and read a lot about empathy before NVC. I learned the way to experience empathy through NVC. This is the soul that requires no degree or other skill. Apart from practice! It is for empathy that MRB threw his PhD degree away! His sole focus was connecting with others from heart. Empathy gives total acceptance. From that state you are at a place where you can reperceive your world with multiple perspectives! Thus it is truly healing both for giver as well as receivers.
If empathy is the skill/behavior in NVC, compassion is the identity. Connecting compassionately with self is all about staying fully present to present needs – both met and unmet. If JJ’s father is able to connect with his need for peace (instead of focusing on JJ’s behavior) He can find million different ways to meet that need. The book teaches about mourning, self-forgiveness, converting ‘have to’ to ‘choose to’, operating out of play as some ways to cultivate compassion.
Is NVC too soft? Does it mollycoddle people? Is it too impractical for a world torn by disputes and hate? On the contrary, the full glory of NVC is realized when you understand how it deals with anger. It empowers you to fully own up your anger over the popular cultural conditioning of curbing it, controlling it. Anger is a result when you mix up stimulus and cause of your feelings. In anger you are judging and blaming others. NVC encourages to stay in touch with your anger closely. It is a wake up call to what you truly value in life. It teaches you to offer empathy to self first when caught in this loop.
What does NVC do when group of people are angry at each other? In NVC way of mediation, forging human connection is the most important part. This is done by providing empathy to each party. Validating their needs and feelings. You consciously move away from analysis, strategies, judging and blaming people
Do you never use force as NVC practitioner? Do you let others treat you the way they want while you are observing your feelings!? Absolutely not. The intent behind punitive use of force is to cause harm and punish others. There is Katuta – bitterness in action. Again the entire focus is on others. NVC encourages you to use protective use of force.
When using protective use of force you are focusing on your needs. Again without passing judgement on others. The belief behind
- Protective use of force is that others are acting in harmful ways due to some form of ignorance.
- Punitive use of force is that others are evil/bad and needs to be punished.
Both are beliefs. It is your choice to operate from one over the other.
JJ’s father believe that he is a moron and thus ends up shouting at him. NVC gives him another option.
Is NVC only about mourning and unmet needs and unhappiness? Absolutely not. Through NVC you will learn to truly celebrate. What gets celebrated gets multiplied. At every moment there are various needs that are fulfilled. Noticing them is vital.
If you give a benefit of doubt to JJ’s father. It is ok that he ended up shouting and shutting down TV. Once he is more resourced, he has an option to acknowledge that it is finally peaceful. He can celebrate this need being met! If he is courageous enough he could even reach out to JJ later and say, “Thank you for tolerating my impulse and going to your room”. This is also celebration.
NVC says that appreciation is the expression of gratitude and celebration of your needs met by other’s behavior. This state creates such a flow of giving energy. This also helps others understand how their behavior has impacted you. You both can receive and give appreciation like this!
You know what, I am in love with NVC. Similar to the way I love life, writing and meditation. All of these are processes. There is no final outcome or end goal. That is why the tagline of AneKant Labs is Always Evolving! Love of a process and not any goal. It has been very liberating for me. This book will remain my guiding light in my journey to bring NVC in my daily life. I wish the same for you.