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Learning and reflections from Non-Violent Communication training

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On Wednesday 2nd October members of our ASEED team and the Cityplot collective participated in a Non-Violent Communication workshop in the beautiful venue of Stadsborderij Osdorp. The last month has been intense with multiple direct actions of civil disobedience and high-pressure situations in which violent confrontations emerged. The training was welcomed as a remedial intervention to contribute to our commitment to safe spaces for open collaboration and horizontal decision-making.  This article tries to share the general experience and elaborate on some reflection points for further practice and engagement.

The workshop began with practicing a ‘heroic silence’ of four minutes after asking a partner: “how are you?” We discovered even when just listening, it is almost impossible not to communicate. Some members felt more uncomfortable listening for such a long time without responding, especially in the pauses without speech, whereas others felt more uncomfortable speaking for so long. We were reminded of the importance of listening and to not fill potentially awkward silences so that different people have more time to express themselves. This is can be a real challenge for us considering the urgency of social and ecological crises we perceive and the limited resources and time we have to respond.

According to Non Violent Communication each of us has an internal jackal which is the cause of 99% of violence in communication. Essentially the jackal can be understood as a thinking pattern, belief, and/or an illusion that we know what is right-wrong or good-bad. This means the jackal is that self-righteous part of us which judges, compares and commands what one and others should, must or need to do. This felt like something for us to be particularly aware of because our group ASEED has strong beliefs which could be interpreted as a violent communication that our approaches to food system change are right whereas yours are wrong and you must follow our good way.

After much discussion on whether judging is good or bad, we seemed to reach a consensus that judging is an inevitable part of the human condition. As an alternative to judging ourselves as bad for judging (“hello new age jackal”) we can focus our energies towards compassionately responding to our internal judgements transforming them into more profound non-violent communications.

To compassionately respond to our internal judgements we were invited to bring more awareness to our judgements. This can be achieved by connecting the judgement to a description of the actual event from which the judgement arose and how you felt. By engaging the feeling body it becomes easier to trace the source of the judgement to an unmet human need. From this realisation, one can make a request. For example:

Instead of saying: “You never care about anything or anyone!”

Observation: I called you a while ago and I realized that you did not call me back.

Feeling: This made me feel very sad.

Need: I need your support as a brother in our family.

Request: I would appreciate if you could call every now and then.

In addition to compassionately reformulating judgements, we also received a useful trick to be more accountable in our communications by starting with an “I-judgement” rather than a “You-judgement”, e.g. “you (general) get anxious in social situations and then you tend to drink and consume for comfort” becomes “when I’m anxious in social situations I sometimes…”

After we practiced celebrating our jackals or judgements (allowing them to be felt and acknowledged as part of us, neither good nor bad), then caressing them (realising that they are a tragic expression of an unmet elemental human need) we had some time to reflect on the training.

There seemed to be an informal consensus that the training was most relevant and effective for personal, familiar relations between family, friends and colleagues. It seemed to be more problematic when applying the methodology to intense communications with people representing violent and racist institutions, particularly the civil disobedience/riot police. Furthermore, members of ASEED were not opposed to receiving recommendations or suggestions in the form of ‘you should/must/need to rest right now’ from people they trusted and knew well.

Finally, it felt like the NVC approach required more honest communication of one’s emotional experience which people in the group acknowledged as being difficult for particular people to share and also to respond to. Questions were raised about the gendered experience of communication and the effectiveness of NVC towards people who particularly embody macho or patriarchal values and practices. We look forward to our upcoming gender justice training and putting into practice the techniques and reframing method for NVC.