Applying Nonviolent Communication in contentious political matters
Many of us have been putting our attention recently on the confirmation process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
What does a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) approach to the situation look like?
First, we believe that it’s important to monitor where we assign rightness and wrongness as we witness situations like this. NVC helps us change the lens through which we look at the world from what’s wrong or right into what’s important and what we value personally and as a culture.
An NVC approach consists of transforming agreement and disagreements, blames and praises into human needs. The main questions are: what’s important for her? For him? For me? For us? The focus on needs can guide us towards connection, collaboration and life-serving actions, while the focus on “what’s right or wrong” often leads to disconnection, separation, divisiveness and ultimately violence.
Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of NVC said: “Enemy Images (how we hold others as our “enemies”) are the main reason conflicts don’t get resolved.”
A first step might be to look at places where you have enemy images, or blame, and aim at transforming them. Even if we blame blamers for blaming, we’re still blaming!
We believe that it’s tragic to waste our life energy and resources in blaming any actors in any situation, while these resources could be steered towards life-serving and connecting actions instead. It’s the equivalent of leaving someone in pain because we’re busy finding who inflicted the pain, instead of attending to the injured.
For example, if you believe that either Dr. Blasey-Ford or Judge Kavanaugh is lying:
Ask yourself: How am I feeling?
Answers could be:
Desperate, angry, furious, discouraged, afraid
Connect these feelings with needs:
Desperate because you need hope
Angry because you need trust that people are honest
Furious because you deeply need hope, shared reality and support to maintain people's dignity as they navigate sexual abuse allegations
Discouraged because you need respect and equality of access to resources for everyone
Afraid because you need safety for yourself and everyone
Although there’s more work that could be done, now that you know what’s important to you, and you chose to take action from that place, you are in a place of power as opposed to the disempowerment and helplessness that comes when our attention is on who is to blame.
We still want accountability and responsibility. We still want to work towards truth and justice. To do so from a place free from a focus on making someone else wrong, or attending to blame, gives us more energy and creativity to solve problems and find solutions.
One option is you could start to put energy towards having more hope by exploring groups or individuals who are acting in ways that you find hopeful. If what inspires you is supporting people to share and be heard about the sexual abuse they received, you can learn more about it and see how you could help, even just a little.
If what inspires you is to support people who are wrongly accused of deeds that you don’t believe they committed, you can do the same.
You could also do a similar exploration of people and groups who you find honest and trustworthy, or people promoting equality of resources and safety for everyone, and start supporting these groups or getting involved with them in some way.
I recently did a similar exploration after having been deeply shocked learning about how women are often treated in Congo after reading about the Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Denis Mukwege. I found a place where I could donate, I did the same for women in trafficking and now, I’m exploring how I can support these organizations and inspire others to do so.
Marshall has expressed that, “judgments are tragic expressions of unmet needs.” Before looking at others’ judgments, we can look at our judgments first and see if we can transform them, and then use our resources to support what we believe in and what’s important to us.
Social Justice (very very draft)
At Great Lakes Nonviolent Communication (GLNVC) we also believe that it’s important to look at the world through the lens of social justice, power, and privilege. We believe that without this dimension, we miss out on our ability to hold everyone’s need fully. The mechanics of power and privilege are often hard to notice, for those who aren’t looking, yet they profoundly impact the inner mechanics of our societies and incur deep cost for people having generally less of this power and privilege.
If we look at the question of the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh from that angle, we see the Judge being part of a group ( men) having historically and currently much more privilege than the Dr. Blasey Ford is part of ( women). Kavanaugh is also backed up by President Trump and the Republicans who have much more structural power than the Democrats who are (mostly) supporting Dr. Blasey-Ford. We also see that typically victims of sexual abuse have way less access to resources and credibility than people who typically commit these abuses (mostly men).
In our wish to see everyone’s need matter fully, it’s important to be aware of these facts, so we can put our attention on people who needs it the most.
At GLNVC, we want to hold care, support and empathy for everyone involved in these situations if we want to create a world in which people are no longer fulfilling their needs at the expense of others. However, we believe there is more urgency to attend first to the set of needs related to women victims of sexual assault, abuse and harassment. We believe that they need urgent support from the population so they can come forth with trust that they can be heard, respected, taken seriously and held with dignity. We also believe that it’s important that men be educated on these issues and learn to stand up as real and effective allies to women in general but even more to women victim of any form of sexual injury.
We see it equally important, but a bit less urgent, to engage with the authors of these acts, with whom we want to connect, understand their needs, help them understand the impact of their actions on others, and engage them to search for better ways of attending to their needs that are less costly and more fulfilling, not only for obviously the receivers of their acts, but also for them.
-Francois Beausoleil, Lisa Gottlieb & Jeff Brown