NVC in Support of Social Change
Most often I almost forget that NVC is an acronym that contains the word “communication.” Instead I tend to think of NVC as a set of principles and practices to integrate the consciousness of nonviolence into all levels of living:
- Personally, practicing NVC offers one way of accepting Gandhi’s invitation to bring nonviolence to one’s thought, word, and action.
- Interpersonally, NVC conflict resolution and dialogue tools can contribute to the conversations, negotiations, coalition building, and other organizing efforts which are indispensable for any attempt of working with other people towards structural or systemic goals.
- On the group level, using NVC for facilitation and decision making can contribute to effective functioning for groups and organizations working for social change.
- On an organizational level, NVC provides a framework and offers concrete steps for transforming use of power in ways that attend to everyone’s needs.
- Finally, on the systemic level, an NVC perspective allows for envisioning and creating structures, policies, procedures, and hopefully some day even laws that make for a world that works for all.
The Inner Work of Nonviolence
Embodying nonviolence in a world that for several millennia has been structured around separation, scarcity, and mistrust requires considerable commitment, courage, and love. As it applies to being part of groups and organizations of human beings attempting to create change, accepting the call to principled nonviolence entails at least the following aspects of consciousness transformation:
- Working towards vision rather than against “what’s wrong.” Even when the actions themselves are obstructive in nature, such as acts of civil disobedience, Gandhi’s and Milk’s examples suggest a focus on civil disobedience that models the world being created rather than being entirely an act of protest.
- Seeing the humanity of everyone, including people engaging in behaviors that appear harmful. Jesus was talking about loving one’s enemies, and Gandhi was talking about finding love for those who hate us. In either case, the fundamental principle is of sufficiency inclusivity that even working to stop people from inflicting harm is done with love and respect for the person.
- Engaging in the ongoing and demanding work of opening fully to despair, dread, and other emotional responses that arise in response to what is happening in the world. In the absence of doing this work, many people, including those working for social change, tend to numb out or suppress the depth of their feelings and find it hard to operate based on passion rather than anger and urgency.
Interpersonal Practices for Change Agents
Every attempt to create structural change entails being in relationship and dialogue with other people. Working with others to create change means learning to collaborate across different understandings of how to create change; across differences of working styles and personalities; and across differences such as class and race. Beyond the immediate group of people working together, becoming visible and effective when working for change also involves building alliances with other groups and organizations, as well as connecting with people who may be skeptical about or not already in alignment with the goals or strategies of the group. Lastly, creating change ultimately necessitates supporting people, especially those with power, in shifting their views and making different choices than the ones they are used to. Once again, NVC practice supports connection in these various different situations. Here are some of the principles and practices that can support conflict resolution and even prevention:
- Willingness to listen to people deeply and with empathic presence even when in significant disagreement. This focus can immediately contribute to connection, trust, and mutual respect. The experience of being heard often results in emotional settling, inner peace, and curiosity about the other person.
- Speaking authentically based on what is wanted rather than based on what is “right” or “fair” or “just.” Speaking from the heart of personal experience and need tends to de-polarize difficult situations and opens up a process of shared exploration of strategies rather than argument about what should be done.
- Expressing care for everyone’s needs, perspectives, and opinions regardless of disagreement. Actively focusing on transcending separation, scarcity, and mistrust and seeking solutions, strategies, policies, and processes that work for both parties to a dialogue.
In my next post I address the remaining three levels (or it may take more than one more post). For now, I want to extend an invitation to anyone who is particularly attracted to work systematically towards embodying nonviolence more and more fully. A few months ago I launched the Consciousness Transformation Community which is dedicated to learning about, living, and sharing the consciousness of nonviolence in daily life and in social change work. Once a quarter we hold an open teleconference call for anyone who is interested in exploring the community, and the next one is this coming Sunday, August 15th, 5 – 6:30pm Pacific time. Click here for more information about the community and about the call.
by Miki Kashtan