An open space for global conversation
We have a NVC practitioner and teacher here, so I'm starting this thread to ask about something that has been troubling me for a long time.
I am a member of an immigrant solidarity mailing list and have been for years. A couple of years ago, one of the list members posted a comment made by Hillary Clinton that was not favorable towards immigrants. I agreed with the post that Clinton's statement was not helpful to immigrants.
On many lists and forums for the past twenty-five years, I've had to deal with tag-teams of Democratic Party political operatives who attack anyone who criticizes a Democratic government official in any way. Usually they'd make ad hominem attacks like saying I was obviously an angry, bitter person, or that I was obviously clinically insane, etc. I never responded in kind, but would just point out that they were off-topic, making personal attacks on me, and that it was inappropriate. I'd also use the opportunity to reiterate and clarify whatever comments I'd made.
When I made the comment about Hillary, some new guy on the list started saying the same things, but in a different way. Instead of calling me angry or bitter, he'd say, "I'm hearing that you are an angry, bitter person, is that correct?" Instead of calling me crazy, he'd say, "I'm hearing that you have mental problems and are seeking help. Is that correct? I'd like to help you."
I responded the same way I always did to personal attacks by telling him that I was not the subject of the discussion, that he was off-topic, that his remarks were inappropriate, and, of course, I used the opportunity to further explain why Hillary's statement was not helpful to immigrants.
He didn't stop. He kept it up for what the list administrator later counted up to be 32 full pages. Finally the admin asked him to stop attacking me. He then started attacking the list admin and kept that up for about a week before the admin banned him from the list. He explained to the list that he wasn't making personal attacks, that he had studied NVC and he was using his newly learned techniques to experiment with NVC.
People have told me that he didn't really understand NVC and was misusing it.
I don't know how I could have responded other than the way that I did. The list was for the purpose of discussing immigrant rights, not for analyzing or discussing me. By diverting attention from what Clinton had said about immigrants, to me personally, he was disrupting the discussion. I believe, since the circumstances were similar and the words he used, although differently phrased, were the same words typically used by political operatives, that he was a Democratic Party political operative, but I have no evidence for that, it is just what I think based on past experiences. When they don't have a way to refute valid criticism, political operatives will attack the person making the criticism and try to smear and isolate them. It's an old psy-ops technique straight out of the KUBARK manual.
Do you know of other situations in which political party operatives have misused NVC as a weapon? Is there a proper way to respond to them?
I am glad to hear of your appreciation for my willingness to engage with you for the time I felt able and willing. I appreciate that you were willing to consider my needs as much as you were willing and able.
I would like to respond briefly to some of our comments. I want to be sure to let you know before I leave that I share your concern that occupiers not be subjected to police brutality. I heard some stories from occupiers who interacted with police from an NVC consciousness and had good results, but I (and no one I have worked with since last October) presented NVC to occupiers as a conflict resolution tool. I regret hearing that some people may have presented it in that light. I don't see NVC as a panacea for all the world's problems, but I do place a high value on it because I've seen it consistently work to help people connect in more situations than anything I've ever seen. I'm glad to read that you also see some value in it, generally speaking.
I am moved by your concern for my well being and want to let you know that I'm not leaving believing I have been harmed by our conversations. Since I'm reading that you don't have any issue with my disengaging, I will go ahead and do that and put my attention elsewhere from here on out.
Good luck with your work,
I don't doubt that some Occupiers may have interacted with some police officers from an NVC consciousness with good results. There are times when the police are not under orders to act violently, and at such times, some of them may be willing to interact pleasantly. When I speak of police brutality, I'm referring to phalanxes of officers in riot gear, acting under orders not to allow anyone to remain in their path unharmed. In other words, by police brutality against Occupiers, I do not mean one or a few cowboy cops, I mean organized riot squads with crowd control weapons acting under orders from Homeland Security to clear an area of Occupiers and to use force to instill fear whenever possible.
As for helping people connect, I'm sure that NVC is much better than the average dating website. I'm glad that neither Suzanne nor anyone Suzanne has worked with has presented NVC to Occupy as a tool for resolving the conflict with the police, but neither, apparently, has anyone come out and stated clearly that it is not such a tool, so widespread misunderstandings have been allowed to occur and have gone, at least to my knowledge up to this point, unchallenged.
I do place a high value on NVC in situations where it is appropriate and I'm very glad to hear that Suzanne doesn't feel harmed by this discussion.
Thanks for starting this thread, Mark. I appreciate your willingness to explore NVC as a process despite your experience of someone using it as a fig leaf for a series of disruptive attacks. The main question I am getting from what you write is around how to deal with someone whose intention is to sabotage a conversation.
It seems totally reasonable to question whether empathy and an honest expression of feelings and needs will get us anywhere with someone who has no intention of showing up authentically themselves. Internet "trolls," of whom we have had blessedly few to date here at OC.org, would be a prime example. I am interested in some policies and guidelines that would help us deal with such disruptive practices in a manner that would be seen as fair and legitimate by others, and would not be too burdensome for those implementing it (and who should those people be?).
On the other hand, if the person we are dealing with is not a saboteur or "operative" per se, but simply someone who is violently in disagreement with our aims and looking for a fight as a result, the NVC model does make sense to me. Your point about Rosenberg being a "neutral party" suggests to me that we might find ways to bring in someone who has not been a participant in a contentious conversation to play that third party role here in the Cafe.
I DO think that some of the most valuable work we might do here is to learn better ways to engage with people who honestly disagree with us. I would like this to be a safe place for dissent, and to not have any sort of political litmus test for participation. If we can become skilled at connecting with people who disagree with us, I believe that is a step towards finding ways we might expand the ranks of those who share at least some of our concerns and are willing to work with us to address them.
Ben, the key to Marshall Rosenbergs success was that the two parties he was bringing together were both willing to accept his mediation. If only one party is willing and the other is not, there can be no mediation.
I recall when some people came here to OC with the stated intent of attacking me. I notified you of their intent at the time, but you felt that I should be able to handle it myself. Had you, as an OC steward, chosen to attempt NVC, they might have accepted you as a neutral mediator or they might not have. Only if they had agreed to accept you as a neutral mediator, would there have been any possibility of NVC. As it happened, I was able to communicate with one of them, who did stop attacking me and began to engage in productive discussion, but another one persisted in nothing but attacks, disrupting the discussion to the point where you intervened and sidelined the discussion by removing it from hosted status.
My feeling from my personal understanding of what Marshall Rosenberg did, which may be incorrect, is that the appropriate situation for NVC is when two parties who are engaged in violence agree to come to the table with a third party accepted by both as a neutral mediator. In the case of Occupy, the two primary parties would be Occupiers and the police, or more accurately, Occupiers and their political representatives, the people who order the police to brutalize Occupiers. Most Occupiers would be willing to accept a neutral mediator and engage in NVC, but the politicians who give orders to the police to engage in violence, would not. They do not engage with their constituents as equals with whom they wish to establish respectful, empathic, compassionate communications. At best, they might allow their constituents to make brief statements, but they are not required to respond and they are not usually willing to accept neutral third party mediators. They are accustomed to wielding power over their constituents, and they may or may not allow their constituents to be supplicants and to seek redress of grievances, but they will not abdicate their power and deal with their constituents are equals, equally entitled to respect, empathy, and compassion.
Marshall Rosenberg's real accomplishment was not in his use of NVC, but in his ability to persuade two parties in violent conflict to come to the table and accept his mediation. Without that ability, NVC could not have been implemented.
Connecting with people who disagree with us is only possible if they are willing to communicate honestly and can accept somebody as a neutral mediator. If they are just doing a job and following orders to attack us because they are being paid to do so, as is often the case with violent law enforcement officers and political party operatives, they're not likely to accept anyone as being neutral or allow anyone to mediate. There's a big difference between people who share at least some of our concerns and are willing to work with us to address them, and people who are being paid to attack us. In the former case NVC is appropriate and can be successful, but in the latter case it probably isn't and won't be.
Mark: I hear that you wish the "OC Stewards" had intervened more effectively in that earlier conversation here on OC.org. It does seem that we missed an opportunity to grapple with some of these challenges around NVC and distinguishing between people who are here to contribute authentically and others who may be provacateurs. At the same time, it sounds like one of the people you labeled as an "operative" went away, while the other one came around to having a productive conversation, which it pleases me greatly to hear.
I'm curious what some who are more experienced with NVC might say about your characterizing it primarily as a tool for mediation between consenting parties. My sense is that, while that is a good use of the process, it is much more than that. Indeed, a culture that embraces NVC principles in its communications is likely to need far less mediation and intervention by its "stewards." That is certainly my wish for OC.
Yes,Ben. When forums and other online communications structures have missions or topics, I consider that one of the jobs of administrators and moderators is to keep things on topic. Many forums have miscellaneous spaces where anyone can talk about anything, and that's fine. I had another problem in that OC discussion that was, I believe, not caused by someone who came here specifically to disrupt and attack. That person wanted to talk about something else and simply redefined the topic. They also redefined anything that I said. It was after I had spent a long time trying unsuccessfully to cope with that problem, that you decided I was an incompetent host.
Part of the job of a host, as I see it, is the same responsibility that stewards, administrators, and moderators have, to try to keep things on topic. You did that very efficiently when I tried to talk about not voting in other, unrelated topics, by suggesting that I start a discussion on that topic, which I did. But the person who insisted on redefining my topic, refused to start their own discussion.
In a culture where people have the same goals, communications are likely to be nonviolent and respectful even without NVC training. It is sufficient to set out the goals or mission statement clearly, and people who agree with it will join while people who do not, will not. For example, the immigrant rights mailing list clearly states that it exists to promote the rights of immigrants and to provide a forum for immigrants and those who support immigrant rights. The person who misused NVC to attack me had no interest in immigrant rights, so after much disruption, he had to be banned in order to allow the group to discuss immigrant rights.
Where people share a common purpose, NVC may not be necessary. If people already respect each other and empathize with each other in a compassionate way, there is no need for intervention of any kind. It is when people who do not respect and empathize with others become disruptive or even violent, and attempt to stop discussions rather than engaging in discussions, that some sort of intervention becomes necessary.
In cases like that, in my opinion, and as always I could be wrong, I don't think NVC can be effective unless both parties can be brought to the table in a situation where they both respect and accept mediation. You can't do marriage counselling if one of the spouses refuses to attend. You can't get peace treaties signed if one of the warring parties refuses to attend peace talks. And you can't use NVC in situations where one party refuses to recognize the humanity of the other party, continues to be violent, and will not allow intervention or mediation. In other words, I'm saying that when it is most necessary, NVC may not be possible.
When it is unnecessary, NVC may enhance a forum, just as a good meal may be enhanced by dessert. It can make something that is already good, even better.
My question is how NVC can be useful in situations where there are two antagonistic parties, but only one agrees to NVC. I don't really think that it can. Sometimes people who are violent can be shamed or forced by numerical superiority into agreeing to NVC, but that isn't always the case. Sometimes the violent party is acting from a position of power and authority and will not agree to anything that might diminish their power and authority. In the case of military troops, law enforcement officers, and political party operatives, they may not be able to agree to NVC because their survival and the survival of the families they are supporting, depends on their willingness to unquestioningly obey orders to act in physically or verbally violent ways against anyone their employers designate as an enemy or a threat. They are not independent actors and they are paid to defend a power structure upon which they believe that their survival depends, so they will objectify anyone who tries to treat them as an individual rather than as an extension of a power structure. Disrespect of the power structure is seen as disrespect of its officers and agents.
Occupy has to cope with police brutality. For the most part, Occupiers have committed to nonviolence and reject even attempts at self-defense. They believe that in order to grow the movement, they must be seen as law-abiding citizens who respect the system that is oppressing them. Many in the US are oblivious to the fact the the US government has killed millions of innocent people in pursuit of global hegemony, or think that they are, for some mysterious reason, exempt. Blacks, Native Americans, immigrants, and others who are subjected to random, senseless, frequent. and totally unnecessary murders by the US government, often know better. The rest of us should have learned that lesson from Kent State, but somehow it failed to penetrate.
Marshall Rosenberg did not reach out to only one side of a dispute and try to persuade that one side to be nonviolent in the face of continuing violence from the other side. That's not how NVC works nor how it was intended to work.
I very much agree with all that you say here. I think we accidently got off track early on in this discussion by talking about NVC in only conflict resolution terms. NVC was not created as a conflict resolution tool. We’re talking about whether it can resolve conflict if both parties are not invited to the table, but it is not actually the goal of NVC to resolve conflict. The goal is to connect with others, and, equally as important, to connect with yourself (self-empathy). If everyone gets in touch with what they are needing and expresses those needs compassionately, and listens empathically to what the other person or persons need, everyone’s needs are more likely to get met and less likely to get met at the expense of others.
Conflict is usually about – my/our needs are more important, moral, or imperative than yours, or why aren’t you helping me get my needs met, or why are you standing in the way of me getting my needs met, and why have you done what you’ve done to get your needs met at my/our expense, and now I/we are going to punish you for what you've done, and if you punish us, then you can be sure we'll punish you. So, because NVC so thoroughly addresses this issue of needs, it helps resolve conflicts.
But NVC is first a consciousness about a desire for all of us to get our needs met – to thrive as well as just survive. Next, it is a way of interacting and a way of using language that makes it more likely that we will be able to stay in dialogue with one another long enough to hear one another’s needs and come up with some mutually satisfactory strategies for getting our needs met.
This is why I say NVC cannot be misused. A person may purposefully try to suck someone in by suggesting that they are going to use NVC and then not use it. But you can’t misuse it, you can only not use it.
Okay, I was supposed to be asleep by now. I've got three gigs over the next two days. But, I got home, went to close out my computer and found this post right on the page ( and glad I saw it) so I answered it. But, I am going to go away from the computer now for a couple of days.
If NVC was not created as a conflict resolution tool, then it should not have been offered to Occupy as a conflict resolution tool.
If the purpose of NVC is to connect with others and with yourself, provided that others, or at least you yourself, are willing to learn NVC, then that it what it should be used for.
I disagree that conflicts are usually about my/our needs are more important that yours. Most conflicts I'm aware of are usually about I wish to take what is yours and to subjugate or kill you to demonstrate how powerful I am.
I'm glad that NVC will help people who are willing to participate use languages so as to hear one another's needs, but it will not help people who are not willing to participate.
Misrepresenting something is misusing it. Where NVC is presented as a tool for conflict resolution and it is not, that is misrepresentation and misuse. I hope that NVC practitioners will be honest and open and help meet the needs of Occupiers by explaining that NVC is not a conflict resolution tool, was not intended to be a conflict resolution tool, and is not a tool to resolve the conflict between Occupiers and violent law enforcement officers.
I don't want you to feel that you need to respond quickly, within any given time frame, or at all, Suzanne, but I feel that you are not hearing the needs of Occupiers. Occupiers have a real need to be able to to participate in the Occupy movement without being subjected to police brutality. Since NVC was not designed to meet such a need and cannot do so, I hope that you and other NVC practitioners will be open and honest enough to state clearly and explicitly that NVC cannot meet that particular need and was never intended to do so.
Ben and I are not the only people who mistakenly believed that NVC was a tool for conflict resolution and was being offered and taught to Occupy as a tool to resolve conflicts between Occupiers and the police. Nonviolent Communications cannot be practiced without communications. It is essential to communicate what it is and is not, and what it can and cannot do. Refusing to communicate, or withholding information and allowing people to make incorrect assumptions, is not effective communication of any kind, violent or nonviolent. In fact, if withholding information lets people believe that NVC can resolve conflicts when it cannot, it can lead to increased harm as people try to use it in ways in which it was never intended to be used.
"What we've got here is (a) failure to communicate." --Cool Hand Luke
I see that I didn't respond fully to one of Suzanne's paragraphs.
Suzanne wrote, "Conflict is usually about – my/our needs are more important, moral, or imperative than yours, or why aren’t you helping me get my needs met, or why are you standing in the way of me getting my needs met, and why have you done what you’ve done to get your needs met at my/our expense, and now I/we are going to punish you for what you've done, and if you punish us, then you can be sure we'll punish you. So, because NVC so thoroughly addresses this issue of needs, it helps resolve conflicts."
Do you believe that the police who brutalize Occupiers have needs that Occupiers aren't meeting? When asked, police have often informed Occupiers that they were just doing their jobs and obeying orders. Some have even said that they didn't know why they were there, they were just ordered to be there. That is not a situation in which their needs are not being met. Institutionalized violence is not based on individual or personal needs.
The idea that police are punishing us as Occupiers for getting our needs met at their expense, and that they can be sure that if they punish us, we'll punish them, is complete and utter nonsense. That may be what other conflicts are usually about, but it isn't what this specific conflict is about.
You can't have it both ways. Either NVC can be used as a tool to resolve the violent conflict between Occupy and the police, or it cannot. If it can, it is important to explain how to use it for that purpose. If it cannot, it is vital to explain that it cannot be used for that purpose and that attempting to use it for a purpose for which it was not designed is likely to increase the violence by allowing the police to be sure that no matter how much they punish Occupiers, Occupiers will never punish them in return.
If the situation was one in which the police were being violent because their needs were not being met, Occupiers could resolve the conflict by meeting the needs of the police. That has been tried many times and it doesn't work because the police are not acting violently out of any perception that their needs are not being met, they are just doing their jobs. An example would be the police telling a group of Occupiers, "We need you to clear this sidewalk." The Occupiers obediently clear the sidewalk, but the police kettle them anyway, pepper spray them, beat some of them, and arrest many of them. The police have also been known to tell Occupiers, "We need you to leave this area," but not allow anyone to leave the area. If they had a need for people to leave the area, they would allow people to leave.
I apologize for the length of this comment, but this is something that needs to be clarified, not glossed over with confusing and contradictory statements. I personally know many Occupiers who still believe that NVC is being taught to them as a tool with which they can resolve the conflict between Occupiers and the police. I'd thought that we'd determined that NVC was not being offered as such a tool, but the paragraph I'm responding to here seems to say that it is.
I need to be absolutely clear on this, Suzanne. Are you saying that you are teaching NVC to Occupiers as a tool we can use to resolve the conflict between Occupy and the police, or are you saying that NVC was not intended to be used that way and isn't being offered for that purpose?
It seems to me, despite your saying "I won't give people power over me", you already have (as have most of us.) If we hadn't already given another power over us, we'd have no need to create the many defenses and conditions that we do in order to feel safe in relationship. Compassion to all is actually our deeper nature....covered up only by all these positions and beliefs. Practicing NVC or any other method of just truly being with someone, in my experience is a lot less painful than the protective stance we all habitually create....(but way more scary to ego.) Easily said I know, but it can take a life time of practice to finally let go of the defenses that keep us separate from the very connections we long for.
The native people living here solved this problem long before our European invasion and conquest. They used a talking stick. Of course, they grew up with the cultural knowledge about how to use, not abuse, a talking stick. On the other hand, we grow up in a culture that places high value on "intelligent" verbal expression and low value on listening. The emphasis is shifted from talking to listening when the talking stick is used, something very annoying to those of us who want to keep talking until the other party accepts our opinion as the "truth". Use of a talking stick also implies that we have a weakness - inability to communicate effectively with each other without using a crutch (talking stick). My ego accepts no assumption of weakness. Too scary. Let's just keep shouting back and forth at each other. Maybe someday the back-and-forth shouting and word-throwing will end peacefully without escalating to bullet-throwing. Yeah, right.