Sunday, August 28, 2011

Making the World a Better Place

One of my favorite people is Marshall Rosenberg. He is an advocate of Non-Violent Communication. His motto is, "Don't do anything that isn't play!" He says nobody can get their own needs met at the expense of anybody else's, because there will always be consequences to pay, therefore it is in everyone's best interest to be concerned about other people's needs, too. And he has developed a system of interaction that he calls Non-Violent Communication, that is designed to teach people how to collaborate and strategize to insure everyone's needs are met. Before this can happen, it is important to understand how we got into the mess we are in.

Our current habitual style of interacting evolved from a time when there were kingdoms and serfs. In order to make sure serfs worked hard, the kings needed to make them feel guilty, so they shamed them and told them they deserved their place in life. The serfs turned around and did the same thing to their children. So now everyone is vacillating back and forth from judging others and blaming them, to feeling guilty and ashamed about who they are and what they've done. Until we learn a new way of communicating, everyone who isn't getting their needs met, will be looking to blame somebody, be it the elite or the jews or the gentiles or the moslems or the congress or (whoever) for the worlds problems, instead of solving the problems. It is much easier to cast blame than to solve problems.

Students and Masters of Non-Violent Communication trust in the fundamental belief that all sentient beings want to be happy and feel comfortable. And if everyone can learn how to communicate in a way that will enable us to strategize and get all our needs met, the world will be a much more happy and peaceful place to live. But most people are so habituated to blaming and judging others, and/or themselves, that they've never been fully aware of their own feelings and needs. Some people even think it is a sign of weakness to acknowledge most of their feelings, except happiness and anger.

Marshall encourages people to pay attention to their feelings because they are your guiding light. Negative feelings are an indication that your needs are not getting met. Positive feelings are an indication that your needs are getting met. Paying attention to feelings and needs requires feelings and needs literacy. It helps to have a list of feelings and needs when you first start learning how to do this. I will briefly explain feelings and needs.

A feeling is an emotion. Many people confuse thoughts and judgements with feelings. For example, if you ask, "How are you feeling?" and someone says, "I am feeling abandoned," that is not an expression of a feeling. Abandonment is an action that somebody else took, and there is a judgement attached. A feeling is an emotion. There are negative connotations associated with the concept of abandonment that imply guilt and shame. When someone abandons you, you feel may feel afraid, alone, and angry, if you think the abandonment was unjustified. If you were mean to them, and that is why they left, you may feel guilty and ashamed. If you think about what they did to deserve the meanness you dished out, you may feel angry again. But you can't feel "abandoned" because leaving is something somebody chooses to do, not an emotion.

Needs literacy is also important. Needs are universal things. Everyone has them. Needs are things like food, shelter, water, clothing, love, communication, respect, equality, understanding, connection, community, rest, relaxation, leisure, touch, appreciation, and the ability/opportunity to make a contribution that matters. This latter is what everyone is upset about these days. There is a tremendous need to contribute to the world in a way that is appreciated, and leads to a sense of satisfaction. There is social unrest because that need is going unmet for so many people.

We live in a democratic world. It is a free society. In order to actualize our freedom, everyone must stop blaming and judging others for the state of the union, and change the system we have been allowing to govern us. And before we can do that peacefully, we have to learn how to strategize with others in ways that insure everyone's needs are going to be met. And unless we change the system peacefully from within, we will simply substitute one dictatorship for another. The quality of the next regime will be determined by the method used to replace the old one. Violence, bloodshed and retaliation lead to more of the same. Do we really want the whole world to go blind?

Marshall Rosenberg says the way to turn things is to begin by getting into the habit of observing feelings, both our own, and other people's, with an awareness that feelings are emotions, not judgements. If the feeling you are observing is negative, ask what need is not getting met. If the feeling is positive, pay attention to what need is getting met. Many people are so out of touch with their feelings and needs, due to many generations of judging, blaming, guilting, and shaming, they may have to look at a list to identify what they are feeling and needing. Marshall provides feelings and needs lists in his books.

If a feeling is positive, it is important to show appreciation for the need that is being met, to insure those involved in meeting the need, will feel appreciated and continue to meet the need. If the feeling is negative, it is important to identify what need is going unmet, and formulate a positive, doable, specific request, that will inspire others to meet the need joyfully, and/or strategize with you to get the need met.

Paying attention to feelings and needs works beautifully when you are dealing with someone who is upset. Remembering that negative emotions are an indication that needs are going unmet, it is much easier to refrain from reacting to someone who is angry or sad. Instead of telling the person to cheer up, or getting into a fight, or trying to convince them they deserve exactly what they've got, Marshall Rosenberg says it is important to express empathy for the emotions they are feeling, as this will help them get clear about what need of theirs is not getting met. It is also important to encourage and assist them in making a positive, doable, specific request that will increase the likelihood of their needs getting met.

It is rather amazing how people will soften and listen and become helpful, instead of contentious, when they have hope and support in getting their own needs met. All that being said and done, it takes years and years of practice to overcome the inertia of the blaming/judging/guilting/shaming style of communication we have been accustomed to using for ten thousand years, or however long the current communication crisis has been going on. We are probably still many generations away from living in a collaborative needs-based strategizing society that knows how to take responsibility for getting it's own needs met. Until then people will call for the government to provide jobs, and government will continue to grow.

In my humble opinion, having experienced a few small miracles that can occur when everyone is on the same page with regard to making sure everyone's needs are met, any movement in that direction, is well worth the effort. And it does require effort. It requires the same kind of effort as becoming fluent in a second language, maybe even more. But if we make the effort, and master the process, we can shrink the government, instead of growing it.

Center for Non-Violent Communication

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