Sorry we haven’t updated this blog as frequently as we would have liked. We’re going through a rather difficult time emotionally, so it’s a bit difficult for everyone to gather together the spoons to write properly.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become fond of the Nonviolent Communication process. I can’t say that I always stick to it, but I do try and use it as a framework when talking to—or talking about—other people. I don’t think that it’s 100% foolproof, but in my case, it works for me, and helps me to rein in some of my tendencies to form misconceptions about other people’s behaviour.
Basically, Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a process that helps people to connect to each other by dealing with the underlying needs and emotions behind someone’s words or communication, regardless of how they’re addressing you, and empathising with those needs to promote mutual understanding. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of NVC, talks about it in detail in his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. NVC discourages evaluating, labelling and judging behaviour, and encourages focussing on the needs of the person who happens to be exhibiting that behaviour. It’s focussed on your own reactions and the ability to empathise with the other person, rather than labelling the other person’s actions. This doesn’t mean that it excuses actions that would be considered inappropriate or hurtful, but that it provides tools to understand why someone is behaving a certain way, and how to communicate with that person to achieve more balanced, healthier communication patterns that allow both parties to get their points and feelings across effectively. It’s not ‘social mind-reading’; it’s a combination of self-awareness and a willingness to try and understand the other person’s point of view. Josh Uebergang, of the blog ‘Tower of Power’, describes it in detail over here: the way in which he describes it is pretty detailed, and is a lot clearer than what I would come up with.
It’s helped me tremendously, not just in social interactions, but in communicating with myself. For instance, when dealing with people who have hurt me in the past, it allows me to note the effects of someone’s behaviour without engaging in unnecessary character judgements. In general, character judgements don’t accomplish much; they merely put people on the defensive and make it difficult to resolve a situation. In the past, I would have been more likely to make a character judgement and go ‘wow, this person is fucking terrible’, rather than ‘wow, this person is hurting and is saying things like this because there’s an unmet meed, and they’re expressing it in a way that may come across as something else’. It’s a lot more difficult for me to hold grudges if I’m thinking that way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll want everyone who’s affected me badly to be close to me, but that I’m aware that they’re people with feelings as well, and that regardless of my own experiences with them, I shouldn’t go out of my way to dehumanise them or point fingers, shouting, ‘This person sucks, and you should completely and utterly avoid them and treat them as though they’re Satan incarnate.’ Learning how to empathise and step back from pointing my finger and judging has been an instrumental part of my development as a person, and I want to share that.
It’s still a learning process for me; sometimes I still criticise certain behaviours, although I generally refrain from making character judgements about others, as it’s generally not my place. I’m still learning how to frame certain things as constructive criticism of someone else’s behaviour (ie, ‘they’re approaching this in a way that may be difficult for others to understand’) as opposed to value judgements (‘this is EVIL!’), but I think that I’m in a healthy enough place to know that I’m not going to be constantly judging others’ motives.