This is the first post in a series of articles on ‘NVC’ – the ‘Nonviolent Communication’ model of Marshall Rosenberg.
One of my greatest inspirations has been the work of the late Marshall Rosenberg (October 6, 1934 – February 7, 2015), who wrote Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. Rosenberg, and the world-wide community of students who have worked with him, have created an inspiring communication skills and self-awareness model that is deeper and more challenging than anything comparable. Marshall trained as a clinical psychologist, but worked outside the medical and academic mainstream. In using the term Nonviolent Communication (NVC for short), he was consciously identifying himself with the intellectual tradition and with the struggles for social justice through nonviolent direct action, of Dr Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.
Another Spontaneous Expression of the Universal Mandala-Wisdom
From my point of view, as a student of Consciousness and archetypal psychology, what makes NVC so interesting, is its obvious similarity with the mandala-wisdom that we find in Tibetan Buddhism, in Carl Jung’s archetypal psychology, in the Native North American ‘medicine wheel’ traditions, in the four ‘elements’ of Western Astrology, and in numerous other places. It is of the nature of the mandala archetype, that the same wisdom appears in many different cultural forms that have evolved entirely independently of each other. It seems that wherever, and whenever, individuals are seeking spiritual truth, we frequently see the emergence of this mandala-form wisdom, and in my view Marshall Rosenberg and the NVC tradition have made a profound and very practical contribution to that body of wisdom-knowledge.
A Psychology to support Ethical and Relational Consciousness
It is because NVC expresses universal truths that it is, I believe, a contribution that has the potential to become a powerful force for cultural evolution. By bringing consciousness to bear so effectively on our thoughts, words and deeds, it shows us the quality of our relationships, and the power dynamics that get in the way of those relationships. More clearly than anything else that I have found, it shows us the psychological basis of ethics. The truths contained in this model show us very clearly, and in a very concrete practical way, what it is to think, speak and act ethically. They hold the potential to show us what love is – actually, in practice.
A Distillation of the Best of Humanistic Psychology
Although I hope to show, in the following series of blog posts, that the NVC model is much more than this, it is usually initially described as a combination, distillation, and development, of the powerful and well-researched understandings in the Humanistic Psychology of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow – those giants of the academic discipline of Psychology in the 1950s and 1960s. The NVC communication model evolved out of the psychotherapeutic principles and practices that Rogers and Maslow established, but it has grown to a point where it can no longer be identified with, or restrained by, the assumptions of that tradition.
In the later posts in this ‘Communication and Relationships’ series, I hope to present a personal perspective on the model, which will aim to both highlight the ultimately spiritual nature of the empowerment that is inherent in NVC, and highlight the value of NVC for any serious spiritual practitioner from any spiritual tradition. I cannot help feeling that one of the ways we can promote Marshal Rosenberg’s NVC to a wider audience is by highlighting its universality – its beautiful alignment with the mandala archetype and the whole body of mandala-wisdom. It is a tragedy that NVC is not better known and understood.
A Mandala of Communication Skills
Although there are a great number of enriching spiritual connections that I would like to make in connection with NVC, I need to start by setting out some of the basic principles, and probably the best place to start is with the four components of NVC. As NVC emerged into the distinct body of knowledge that Marshal Rosenberg presented in his book, it became clear that there were four key components that we need to bring awareness to, if we are endeavouring to communicate in a way that could be characterised as nonviolent, or compassionate, or conscious, or as having completeness and integrity. These four components are termed Observations, Feelings, Needs and Requests, and I hope to be writing blog posts to address each of these in the near future.NVC_Mandala2
Marshall pointed out however, that there are two overarching requirements, without which attempts to use the four components of NVC is either less effective, ineffective, or actually negative in their effects. These are quite subtle and often overlooked. These two requirements are usually described as (1) having our awareness in the present; and (2) having the intention to connect. An understanding of these two needs is fundamental to the practice of the model, and I will be writing posts about them as soon as possible.
Let it suffice to say at this stage that NVC is a very profound personal development tool. Its engagement with the details of our language habits makes it very practical. It is also very deep. It gives great importance to the idea of self-empathy – our relationship with ourselves – so it takes us very quickly into the same territory of spiritual self-inquiry that I have been addressing in my ‘Meditation Guidance’ series of posts, and also in the ‘Book Sections’ series.