by Miki Kashtan
Although Nonviolent Communication (NVC) has the word “communication” as part of its title, I agree with Kit Miller, friend and fellow on the path, who says that “NVC is an awareness discipline masquerading as a communication process.” On the path of transformation, both personal and societal, that I envision, I see a two-way street between our words and our consciousness. In one direction, it’s clear to me that we cannot truly change how we communicate unless we think differently. In the other direction, making a conscious choice about which words I do or don’t use, when and how, has had the astonishing effect of restructuring my thinking. In that way, language has become a primary spiritual path for me, continually bringing into greater and greater alignment my values and my way of being in the world.
The direction of change is always the same for me: moving towards a needs-based approach to inner process, interpersonal relationships, organizational structures, and social institutions. The practice itself has often seemed almost nit-picky. For example, I have been almost entirely successful in eliminating the phrase “I have to” from my speech, replacing it, instead, with explicit clarity about what needs I am focusing on attempting to meet by choosing to do what I might otherwise tell myself I have to do. This has been a liberating practice, in that I literally feel freer as a result, more aware of being an agent and owner of my life instead of driven by circumstances, obligations, and others’ expectations. I have similarly attended to “I don’t have time,” “I can’t,” “This makes me feel…” and the proliferation of terms that make something external to me the standard for evaluation (even something as innocuous as saying “She is generous,” which implies a standard of generosity external to me), with extraordinary results – more aliveness in me, more capacity to maintain calm and presence in difficult situations, more capacity to reach across differences and divides. I am confident I will come back to these examples and practices in some future piece.