We have recently been studying Non-Violent Communication (NVC) here on Kanekiki Farm. It’s been such an eye-opening experience for me. I’ve only just begun to have a cursory knowledge of the practice, and already I’m recognizing how pervasive violent language is within the world community, the farm community and within myself, especially.
This latter realization was a challenging one to have mirrored, as I spend so much time and energy trying to cultivate compassionate authentic communication. I am learning that, despite those laudable efforts, I have missed the mark entirely.
NVC uses animal mascots to describe violent communication and non-violent communication. Violent communication is represented by the jackal. Jackals are, after all, opportunistic omnivorous predators. They will pick at and feed off of anything. Giraffes have the largest hearts of any other denizen in the Animal Kingdom, so they are the chosen representative of non-violent communication. Using animals to represent speech patterns may seem elementary, but it provides a clear understanding of the dichotomy of language, which can feel a bit blurry otherwise … to me, at least.
So, as I was saying (writing?), I was surprised to find out that I am a total Jackal! How could this be? Well, the answer is that I live in a Jackal social structure, and was taught Jackal ways from infancy. So, of course I’m a Jackal. Jackals practice a moralistic judgment-based structure – one based on right vs. wrong, reward vs. punishment, good vs. bad. It’s a dualistic structure, which, in my opinion, is always flawed because it disregards the in-betweens, the gray areas.
Giraffes operate on a needs-based structure. This is what I’m understanding so far, anyway. (I’m still learning about NVC, so please bear with me if my description is rudimentary or even a bit left of the mark.) It’s about understanding that there are infinite ways of being and doing and all of them are valid. Giraffes understand that when we communicate with one another we are really only ever expressing our needs to others. Some of us might be more aware of our unmet needs and ask for them directly and respectfully. Others of us might be a little less clear, and our chosen form of expression might make it difficult for others to understand how to recognize and/or meet the need for us.
This is when we encounter what we might call ‘suicidal request’. We call it ‘suicidal’ because the request is presented in such a way that it is almost assuredly not going to get met. These requests are often so fueled by pain, resentment, or misunderstanding that they come out as accusations, complaints or even insults. Sound familiar? These kinds of aggressive communications rarely get us what we need.
NVC teaches us a way to utilize our language in such a way that we are more likely to not only get our own needs met easily and lovingly, but to also get everyone else’s needs met just as easily and just as lovingly. NVC is about creating communication that stimulates Natural Giving. It’s all about learning how to get clear about our needs, being open about how they are met, and finding the best way of communicating those needs to others to make it most likely that they will want to meet our needs joyfully.
It can sound a little froufrou in the telling here, but, in practice, it is kind of mind-blowingly effective. I’ll share more about it as I learn more, but if you are at all piqued by the idea of learning more effective, authentic, and compassionate communication, then I strongly encourage you to research NVC yourself. Marshall Rosenberg was the pioneer behind the practice and has written many books on the subject. You can also find some good videos on YouTube.
Do to have any experience with Non-Violent Communication? Care to share? I’d love to hear from you!