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?
Yes, Christopher, the talking stick works very well in a situation where all parties are willing to accept that format, and doesn't work where some people want to dominate others. For people to accept the proper use of a talking stick, they have to be able to accept others as equals and be willing to both talk and listen, rather than be intent on dominating. That's what makes it impossible to communicate with authoritarians and fascists, as they view respect, empathy, and compassion as weaknesses to be exploited, taken advantage of, and in many cases, violently eliminated. Speaking truth to power is laden with risk and danger. European predators came here seeking power, not communication, and where they did appear to engage in communication (treaties) it was merely a ploy to enable the predators to buy time and forestall resistance so that they could gain more power.
Many people, including me, would like to abolish power structures and establish a more egalitarian society. But we seem to always meet with violent repression. For NVC to be effective, both parties have to be willing to communicate, not just one. My understanding (again, I could be mistaken) is that Marshall Rosenberg's miracles were most effective in situations where violent repression had met with violent resistance to the point where both parties were so wearied of violence that they were willing to explore an alternative. If only one party is exercising the violence and there is no resistance, the violent party would have no motivation to explore an alternative to violence, since it would be, in their view, working for them effectively.
Hi Kerry. Thanks for jumping in. There's a difference between people having power us and us giving people power over us.
For example, a parent has power over a child and some parents abuse that power and abuse their children. The children didn't give their parents that power, they were born into an impossible situation where they should have been given love and support, but instead were treated disrespectfully and sometimes brutalized.
Perhaps the parents in such abusive situations really want respectful, empathic, compassionate communications with their children, but are themselves subjected to violence in a social hierarchy over which they have no control, and take it out on the only people over whom they have power, their children. That's how a hierarchical pecking order works. Those on the top pick on those lower in the hierarchy. Such hierarchies are established by society, not entered into voluntarily by anyone.
Would you advise a child with abusive parents to drop their defenses so that they could feel safe in the abusive relationship over which they have no control and in which they have no power? That doesn't make sense to me. While it is true that abused children seek a respectful, empathic, compassionate relationship with their abusive parents, whoever may have abused (in many cases their own parents) or being abusing (employers, etc.) the parents is probably not seeking or willing to enter into a respectful, empathic, compassionate relationship with their victims. In a hierarchical power structure, the violence starts at the top and travels down the pecking order, so it cannot be addressed by telling those at the bottom to drop their defenses and be more compassionate with their abusers.
In the United States, I, as most citizens, am subject to the power of authority and that power and authority can be abused by those who hold power and exercise authority. But I did not grant them that power and authority and I will not. I think it would be absurd for me to vote to delegate to others the power to bash my head in if I try to exercise my rights. I'd be happy to try to communicate with them as fellow humans if they were willing to accept me as a fellow human on equal terms, but those in power who exercise authority over others aren't usually willing to do that. Many people have hoped that perhaps the United Nations or the World Court could be accepted as a neutral party and intervene as a mediator, but the US government has exempted itself from international law and will not accept a third party as a neutral mediator because it prefers to exercise power unilaterally, with or without the consent of the governed.
I apologize for using this analogy, but I've found it to be effective. A person who is raped or seduced may not have the power to resist or escape their seducer or rapist. But if they try to seek redress in court, the question which will arise is if they did or did not consent. If they can prove (something that in practice is extremely difficult to do) that they did not consent, they might have a case,. But if they cannot prove that they did not consent, they're not likely to prevail. We may not always have the power to resist or escape, but we always have the power to refuse to consent. Whether we will be able to prove it or not is another question, but the power to grant or withhold our consent is ours, even in situations where we have no other power whatsoever.
I was talking about something quite different than physical power the way you describe it (which may actually more accurately be defined as force.) True power (as Gandhi showed) doesn't need force....doesn't need to win arguments, doesn't need another to behave in a particular way...doesn't even need the world to be a particular way.The more we can embody that aspect of our nature, the more effective we will be at actually creating lasting change. As Kathleen Hendricks teaches, "you can strive to be right, or to be in relationship....but you can't have both."
Thank you, Kerry. I can certainly testify to the wisdom of that Hendricks quote, based on many futile hours spent in my marriage prioritizing being right. And as my wife will tell you, I do love to argue, and I'm quite good at it!
I had a conversation earlier today with Tom Atlee, who pointed out that our world is absolutely chock full of advocacy. So many people convinced they have figured something out and trying to persuade others to agree with them. Meanwhile, the number of people tending to our relationships with one another, at least in the public sphere, is quite small by comparison.
Yes, we need to align around some basic truths and principles. But less energy spent on arguing about the details and more on trying things out together, seeing what works well, innovating and doing it all over again--that is the work that I want to focus my energies supporting. And I do think NVC is a way to help create a culture where that can happen--where we don't get stuck arguing about details and can stay in collective relationship and therefore collective motion.
Ben, I really enjoyed the early days of the Occupy encampment here in San Diego, when many of us, rather than arguing, really did spend our energy trying things out together, seeing what worked, innovating, and when needed, doing it all over again. That is important work. What happened to disrupt that work was a series of violent attacks by the police. The same thing happened all over the country. People who were making things happen didn't get stuck arguing about details, they got tasered, maced, beaten and arrested by the police. The collective relationships and collective motion weren't bogged down by ego conflicts, they were interrupted by violent attacks.
Marshall Rosenberg figured something out and he called it Nonviolent Communications (NVC). He used advocacy to promote NVC and he persuaded others to agree with him. He did this in the public sphere. He was able to resolve otherwise intractable violent conflicts. Many people were so impressed that they became advocates of NVC themselves. I don't think there's anything wrong with advocacy per se.
There's another topic I've just begun to take an interest in, started by Jitendra, which talks about new ways of thinking. NVC was a new way of thinking. Violent conflicts which couldn't have been resolved using old ways of thinking, were resolved using NVC.
Suppose I discover a way to increase the yield of organic vegetable crops by a thousand percent. Should I keep it to myself? Should I tell only my friends about it? There are many people in the world who don't have enough to eat. Wouldn't the right thing to do be for me to advocate the new way of doing things and spread it to as many people as possible? To tackle the big problems it can solve instead of using it only for minor problems?
Used properly, NVC can solve big problems in the world, including extremely violent problems. Used improperly, it can solve minor problems, but not bring about lasting change. Occupy the Farm is in court and their lawyer made even the judge laugh by saying that they were being prosecuted for, "Felonious farming, willful weeding, and malicious mulching." They were nonviolent. They had no problems communicating with each other and with the public. The conflict that prevented them from continuing their work was not internal, it was a conflict initiated by external forces. Using NVC to try to help the Occupy Farmers learn to communicate with each other is unnecessary. They already know that. Using it to train them to react nonviolently to police brutality is also unnecessary. They already know how to do that and practice it. In order for their work to continue, the real conflict between them and the police has to be resolved. There are two parties to the conflict, not one., Both must be addressed, not just one. Within the Occupy movement, NVC is preaching to the choir. Marshall Rosenberg didn't use it that way--he used it to bring about peaceful solutions between the choirs and those who were burning down and bombing the churches.
If we only look for easy answers to resolve small problems, we'll probably be successful to a small degree, at least temporarily. But if there are big problems, violent conflicts that will prevent us from bringing about lasting change, I think those have to be addressed and that NVC was designed to address and resolve big, violent problems.
If we want to stay in collective relationships and collective motion, the violent attacks by the police state must be resolved. And they cannot be resolved by using NVC only among Occupiers. Both sides of the conflict must be addressed.
Amen brother Ben, or as Meg Wheatley would say, "No matter what the problem, community is the answer."
Maybe we could start a campaign to create a Federal Bureau of Co-Intelligence? I'd vote for Tom as the first director. :)
That is true, Kerry. If we don't involve ourselves (have a relationship with) Occupy protests, marches, or other events, we can avoid having our heads bashed in by the police. The reality of Occupiers being brutalized by the police doesn't change, but our reality changes. Gandhi did not condemn violence, by the way. The successes that Marshall Rosenberg achieved with NVC, as cited by Suzanne, were "...between war lords, political enemies, and perpetrators and victims in war-torn countries..." These were extremely violent conflicts. In many cases these people did not enter voluntarily into relationships but were forced into them involuntarily. That is quite different from relationships which people enter into voluntarily and where there are ego conflicts. NVC may be useful in resolving ego conflicts within voluntary relationships, but Marshall Rosenberg used it when it was necessary to resolve violent conflicts.
If we ignore the big problems and focus only on small problems, we are probably going to have more success than if we tackle the big problems. At least until the big problems come home to roost and begin to hurt us directly. I'd like to talk about how to respond to the misuse of NVC, and one way in which I think it is being misused is in diverting attention from the big problems and focusing only on small problems that are more easily resolved. I think there are several topics on OC which deal with how NVC can resolve nonviolent conflicts within voluntary relationships, but if not, you can start one. I'd like to know why NVC cannot be, or at least isn't being used to try to resolve the extremely violent involuntary conflict between Occupy and law enforcement.
You write: "I'd like to know why NVC cannot be, or at least isn't being used to try to resolve the extremely violent involuntary conflict between Occupy and law enforcement." As I read through all that you have written, this basic question keeps coming up. I don't have an answer for you. Suzanne posted above that NVC has been offered to many Occupiers as a tool for dealing with the police and that she had personal dealings with at least one police officer herself.
Is there room for NVC to be used more fully and effectively in addressing this key challenge to the Occupy movement? I have no doubt that there is and that you are therefore identifying an important need and opportunity. What do you think it would take to make that happen?
Meanwhile, I hear something else in this discussion that connects to the idea of fostering a culture here in the Cafe that models the change we wish to see in the world. I feel judged (negatively) when I read statements like these from you above:
Within the Occupy movement, NVC is preaching to the choir. Marshall Rosenberg didn't use it that way--he used it to bring about peaceful solutions between the choirs and those who were burning down and bombing the churches...
I'd like to talk about how to respond to the misuse of NVC, and one way in which I think it is being misused is in diverting attention from the big problems and focusing only on small problems that are more easily resolved.
Actually, it's not at all true that Rosenberg only uses NVC for "big problems." Nor would he or, I expect, any other experienced NVC practitioner agree that using it for small things is in any way a "misuse." To me, that sounds like saying that it's a bad idea to make an effort to bring compassion and empathy to all our interactions.
I mentioned above that I have experience in my marriage of the price one pays for prioritizing being right over being in relationship. When my marriage is a source of contention rather than one of compassion and empathy, I am less effective in the world. Similarly, I think it's critical to the evolution of Occupy Cafe into a community that can actually address big problems effectively as a group that we become highly skilled at being empathic and compassionate with one another. I really do believe that we need to "be the change we wish to see in the world," and I want to explicitly identify that as a core principle guiding our interactions here in the Cafe. In fact, we have a new forum thread on that subject, and I'm going to go over there now and add that to it.
I stand corrected, Ben. A conflict can be resolved by dealing with only one party to the conflict, if that is the party solely responsible for the conflict. If you were the one responsible for the contention in your marriage, then you, not your marriage, were the source of contention. If there is a conflict where only one party is causing the problems, yes, the problem can be resolved by changing that party's attitudes. For example, if warlords are ordering their troops to rape women (actually, it is western governments who are arming, funding, and paying the warlords, so this is a bad example), you could stop the rapes by dealing only with the warlords. But you couldn't stop them by telling the victims to be more nonviolent when they're being raped, as they are already being nonviolent. Nor could you stop the rapes by teaching the victims to be more compassionate and respectful within their marriages. Are you saying that in the conflict between Occupy and the police, the source of the violence is Occupy?
Once again, you have hit upon the crux of the problem and expressed it much better than I had. You write, "...NVC has been offered to many Occupiers as a tool for dealing with the police..."
Marshall Rosernberg did not offer NVC to rape victims as a tool to deal with warlords, or offer it to one side in a war as a tool for dealing with the other side. He used NVC to establish communications between the parties in a conflict. Offering NVC to only one party in a conflict as a tool to deal with the other party can be effective only if that party is the source of the conflict. Occupy is not the source of the conflict with the police. If NVC is going to be used to teach one party how to deal with the other, it should be used to teach the police how to deal with Occupy, as the police are the source of the conflict.
If, by prioritizing being right, you were the source of the conflict in your marriage, then it was appropriate use of NVC for you to learn to stop prioritizing being right and thus eliminate the source of the conflict. It would have been a misuse if an NVC practitioner had gone to your wife and said to be more respectful, compassionate, and understanding of your need to prioritize being right, and to allow you to always be right.
Victims of violence can be helped, once the violence against them has stopped, by offering medical care for their physical injuries, therapy for their PTSD, and support to help them in regaining their self-respect and establishing new lives, particularly economically if the violence took away their sole source of income. But they can't be helped if the violence against them is allowed to continue because anything they try to do will be violently prevented from happening.
I agree that if individual Occupiers are the source of conflict in their personal relationships with other Occupiers, NVC can be used correctly to enable them to stop being the source of conflict within Occupy. But Occupiers are not the source of conflict between Occupiers and the police, so NVC is not an appropriate tool for dealing with the police. I believe that offering it as if it is, is a misuse of NVC. Suzanne did try to reach out to a police officer, but there was no response. The police are not independent actors and the source of their violence is not in their individual attitudes, but in the fact that they are paid agents of a hierarchical, authoritarian, extremely violent police state. The source of their violence is in the upper levels of the system itself, where their orders to be violent originate. When some officers refuse to be violent against Occupiers, and some actually have done so, the system brings in others who will.
Yes, occasionally there are people who join OC who do not know how to be empathic and compassionate with others, and, since they tend to be sources of conflict, teaching NVC would be effective. This is an online forum, so we are not vulnerable to physical violence. It is when Occupiers gather in real life groups in public, that they become vulnerable to physical violence by the police, and NVC is not an appropriate tool for dealing with the police. It can even facilitate and exacerbate police violence by making Occupiers think that it is a tool for dealing with the police when it is not. That's what I'm objecting to, Ben.
Ben, I apologize for not answering your question. You asked, "Is there room for NVC to be used more fully and effectively in addressing this key challenge [police violence] to the Occupy movement? I have no doubt that there is and that you are therefore identifying an important need and opportunity. What do you think it would take to make that happen?"
What would have to happen would be for Marshall Rosenberg or someone skilled in using NVC to resolve conflicts, to find a way to bring those issuing orders for police violence into negotiations. If those responsible for the use of violence against Occupiers could be brought into negotiations, they might be able to learn to be more empathic, respectful, and compassionate, and to change their attitudes.
My understanding, and as always I could be wrong, is that Marshall Rosenberg was most successful in resolving conflicts in situations where both sides were weary of the violence and willing to enter into negotiations. In the situation of police violence against Occupy, the police are not wearying of the violence (there has been almost no violence against police and they have always been successful in carrying out unilateral violence against Occupiers) and are not willing to enter into negotiations.
I'm reminded by this discussion of the famous saying from Lao Tsu, which we often read in our UU services:
That is truly beautiful, Ben. However, in situations where violent people are burning down churches, it doesn't matter how much peace is in the hearts of those within the churches, as there is not peace in the hearts of those burning down the churches. For there to be peace in the world, there must be peace in the hearts of the warmongers. There is already peace in the hearts of most of the victims of war, particularly the sleeping children who are being drone-bombed every day. To the best of my knowledge, there is peace in the hearts of most U/U church-goers, and no U/U church has ever started a war or been the source of violent conflict. The U/U churches often take a united stand against wars and violent conflicts, but have not been effective in stopping them.