living in community – NVC

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NVC stand for Non-Violent Communication. It is a communication process developed by Marshall Rosenberg and labeled by him “A Language of Life”.  I see it as a new way of perceiving and thinking.

This is the Essence of NVC as it presents itself to me today, after my first seven weeks of living in the Lost Valley Community in Oregon near Eugene:

How can we live together peacefully and orderly while we strive to get our needs met and support others to get their needs met?

When we exhibit behavior that is motivated by our needs it can happen that this behavior makes it difficult for another to get his/her needs met. Thus we are in a continual dance to calibrate our behavior so that our own needs are met without obstructing the needs of another. This constitutes non-violent behavior according to the well-known principle: First Do No Harm.

Non-Violent Communication is a way to sort things out between us when needs on either side are not being met, or when our values are infringed upon. NVC starts with observation, that is to say, our perception of conditions and behavior in our environment that impact the fulfilment of our needs. For the most part we are interested here in such that appear to obstruct the fulfilment of needs and that go hand-in-hand with feelings of discomfort or dissatisfaction that arise in us.

The habit energy of our conditioned behavior suggests to us that someone or something ‘out there’ is the cause of our pain or suffering. NVC is a tool that can counter this habit energy and help us create a new perception based on the understanding that nothing outside of us is responsible for our suffering. This understanding says that we have the capacity within ourselves to awaken empathy for ourself and for the other(s) involved and to then, with compassion and understanding, find ways to have our needs met and our values upheld.

On this basis we recognize from our observation what feelings are pertinent to this inquiry. These feelings help us identify which needs are calling to be recognized and met. Once we see clearly our or the other’s needs, we identify the requests to be focused on in order to follow-through with the intended purpose: to make our life richer and more wonderful.

For me it is important to acknowledge that each of us is, in a certain sense, a conglomerate of various behaviors depending on the conditions we are in. We are not actually a monolithic individual entity as the word ‘person’ suggests. I, for example, often find myself engaged in cleaning up and tidying up the spaces I am in. From this behavior some might attach the label to me that I am a clean and orderly person. However, simultaneously while tidying up a place, say – the guest kitchen – another activity and behavior may be occurring ‘under the surface’ in me. My thoughts and the resulting feelings might be caught up in old, conditioned habit energy that notices a certain pot is missing. It is the only medium-sized pot with a handle. It showed up in the kitchen a while ago and I, in agreement with the Kitchen Manager, brought over a fitting lid. It is ideally suited for me to heat up my morning café-latte.

Noticing that it is missing triggers further thoughts, such as: “An inventory list of the pot and pans, utensils and plates etc. would be one way to keep things in the kitchen and have us bring things back once we are finished using them” and my mind runs with this. These thoughts might be accompanied by a turbulent emotion, such as “Why can’t people bring things back when they have used them? Have they no sense of responsibility?”

So, while engaged in tidying up, my mind is actually in a mess; my emotions are in a mess. At that moment my behavior on that level is not at all that of a “peaceful, clean and orderly person.” Then, observing this ‘other side of me’, I look more deeply in order to come to the crux of the matter. I recognize the conditions that we are involved in and that 60 of us at Lost Valley (at our best) are continually choosing to behave in ways that meet our own needs without infringing on the needs of others.

I see that this intention doesn’t result in an immediate state free of friction between us, but that it is a ‘work in progress’. In my perception we are coming closer to that state of minimal friction than any community I have experienced up to now.

I recognize the power of empathy to ‘oil the gears’ of our interactions: as soon as I focus on what I have observed of a certain person’s life situation, my dissatisfaction with his behavior – that appears to be obstructing my needs being met – withers away. In its place arises my desire to refrain from putting anything more on his plate (such as the request to return things to the guest kitchen). I empathize with his situation of an already more than full plate and as a result the need to support him arises in me. I then recognize various other ways in which I can successfully heat up my coffee.

In other words, I was attached to a certain condition and was able to release that attachment and that view of how things should be and the ‘problem’ was solved. Additionally my community spirit was stimulated; my empathy for myself and for another member of the community was boosted.

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2 thoughts on “living in community – NVC

  1. I love the part where you talk about your mind and emotions being a “mess” while you are tidying up and cleaning the kitchen. NVC has increased my awareness of these dichotomies and supported me to release the mental tirade, give myself some self-empathy and look deeper within myself to discover what need/value in ME is not being met. This has turned communication upside-down and inside-out for me in a few short weeks. Thank you for partnering with me in this study of compassionate communication Dear Heart, Alia

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