17
Dec
09

Nonviolent Communication

At our last Humanist Small Group, we had a presentation on nonviolent communication, a method of interaction pioneered by Marshall Rosenberg of the Center for Nonviolent Communication that seeks to “communicate in ways that inspire compassionate giving and receiving toward meeting the needs of all concerned.” It’s a way of getting a message across without escalating conflict. Among the books that discuss this technique are:

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg,

Being Genuine: Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real by Thomas d’Ansembourg

Peaceful Living: Daily Meditations for Living With Love, Healing, and Compassion by Mary Mackenzie

For an example of something that is the opposite of nonviolent communication, see this statement by Richard Dawkins:

I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt. Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt.

The challenge for those of us who prefer nonviolent communication is not to just communicate our disagreements on substance with religious people to them nonviolently, but also to communicate our differences over tone to those with whom we agree on substance, like Richard Dawkins.

For instance, here is a post by P.Z. Myers in which he said he felt attacked by someone on his own side:

That was before I got to chapters 8 and 9, however, which open with very direct and personal attacks on me and on Pharyngula, atheists in general, and anyone who fails to offer religion its proper modicum of respect.

This dustup lead to quite a bit of back and forth sniping. I think it’s quite an art to disagree without being disagreeable.

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6 Responses to “Nonviolent Communication”


  1. December 18, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Ah yes those paragons of non-violent communication Richard Dawkins and P. Z. Myers. I have the distinct privilege of being on the receiving end of some of P. Z. Myers’ “less than polite” communication and feel few qualms about responding in kind. . .

    Most ironically if one Googles –

    fundamentalist asshole

    P. Z. Myers is the subject of the Number One search result in Google. 🙂

    I am all for non-violent communication but when verbal push comes to verbal shove I can more than hold my own in any war of words. If you are really concerned about non-violent communication you might want to have a chat with the UUA and its very aptly named Ministerial *Fellowship* Committee who have condoned, and thus effectively endorsed. . . the “less than peaceful” communications of two intolerant and verbally abusive U*U ministers. Just Google Rev. Ray Drennan and Rev. Victoria Weinstein to enter into a free and responsible search for the truth and meaning of that assertion. You will discoover that their insulting and defamatory language which has demonized and marginalized me and other people has been approved by top level UUA administrators like Rev. Beth Miller and Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris.

  2. December 18, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Robin,

    With reference to the derogatory search term that picks up P.Z. Myers in first position, I see that it is your own blog post that shows up first. Thus, the result is not “ironic” but your intention.

    You write “I can more than hold my own in any war of words.” That, I think is a problem, in that the word “more” implies that you escalate conflict. I don’t think that nonviolent communication aims for us to “turn the other cheek” but rather to disagree in a way that that de-escalates and eventually resolves conflict.

    I hope I’ve expressed my disagreement with you in a way that is nonviolent.

  3. December 18, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    :With reference to the derogatory search term that picks up P.Z. Myers in first position, I see that it is your own blog post that shows up first. Thus, the result is not “ironic” but your intention.

    Actually it was not my intention that my TEA blog post should rank No. 1 in Google in a search for –

    fundamentalist asshole

    That fortuitous event *is* ironic because most people running such a Google search would likely be looking for religious fundamentalists as opposed to fundamentalist atheists like P. Z. Myers

    :You write “I can more than hold my own in any war of words.” That, I think is a problem, in that the word “more” implies that you escalate conflict.

    I suppose that implication is there Rick but if one is involved in any war, even a “war of words” one usually wants to win it. . . I did mean that I can give as good as I get, and then some, in any “war of words” but would I like to point out that doing so often brings a quick end to the “war of words” when one’s opponent decides they picked a fight with the wrong person and backs off or backs down. I like to say that anyone who decides to *engage* in a war of words with me had better be prepared to lose it.

    :I don’t think that nonviolent communication aims for us to “turn the other cheek” but rather to disagree in a way that that de-escalates and eventually resolves conflict.

    I agree with that in principle Rick, and usually try to go that route, but some people either refuse to do what is necessary to de-escalate a conflict or even obstinate refuse to do what is necessary to de-escalate a conflict. If the state of conflict persists then one may choose to raise the ante a bit aka escalate the conflict in order to bring about a subsequent de-escaltion. I think that such a strategy is known as a “surge” in your neck of the woods.

    :I hope I’ve expressed my disagreement with you in a way that is nonviolent.

    I think you have Rick and, while we may disagree on some finer points, I think that we actually are more generally in agreement about things.

  4. December 18, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    I meant to say –

    but some people either fail to do what is necessary to de-escalate a conflict, or even obstinately refuse to do what is necessary to de-escalate a conflict.

  5. 5 David Kimball
    December 22, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Nonviolent Communications, as I understand it, is based on empathy. Empathy, to me, is really understanding what and why a person thinks and feels the way(s) that they do. It is based on an understanding – not a feeling (like sympathy is feeling the same as another person). Empathy is also based on listening to the other person – active listening. It is based on my asking questions of the other person in order to really understand.

    I see too many people who are eager to debate and give us their presentation of things without really listening and without trying to enlarge their own understanding. (Or people who want to offer a spin in order to provoke a reaction rather than produce reflection.) After a true dialogue involving active listening and empathy-building, one walks away from the table with more than they came to the table. Their objectives are that they change – not the other person. That is nonviolent communication.

  6. December 22, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Yes, from what I learned at the session, nonviolent communication encourages “connection” before “expression.”

    That means, when you are confronted by someone who disagrees with you, instead of launching into your rant, which will make you feel good but probably won’t persuade them, you try to develop some kind of human bond, which includes understanding their argument from their point of view (without necessarily agreeing with it).

    Then, after you have established two-way communication, then you can try to persuade–thta is, if you’ve determined that they’re interested in listening.


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