Page 2 of 3
You can take a course in NVC and get a sense of the tools—which might include a list of needs for reference, and sometimes a partially scripted dialogue to follow. But what really brings the practice to life is experiencing and exercising it on a daily basis. Like Wall, Reeves joined a practice group that met regularly, and she put NVC to work in her family. "If the kids were playing too loudly, instead of saying, 'Stop, don't do that,' I could go into the room and say, 'I have a need for peace and harmony. How can you help me out?'" Involving kids in decisionmaking is an NVC strategy that tends to work well with families. Reeves gives another example: Your toddler wants to stay on the playground, but it's time to go pick up Grandma. First you have to see what's alive in the child—his need for fun, for sunshine. Then the parent has to state the feelings and needs behind the request: I'm feeling nervous and scared that Grandma might be alone and waiting for us. Finally, the parent offers a choice: Do you want to leave in one minute, or two minutes? "Kids love choices," says Reeves. And if it doesn't work? "You can revisit it. It's not always perfect. At the very least, you're giving kids honesty and an emotional vocabulary."
A Path Toward Self-Acceptance
Longtime practitioners discover another layer to NVC: You can turn it inward and use it with yourself to heal your own original wounds. Wall describes this as the work of a new generation of Nonviolent Communicators: "We start with a trigger, something that happened, and trace it back through our bodily reactions to our emotional feelings, and then to the needs behind them—the earliest times when those needs weren't met, and also when they were met." Integrating those memories with the experiences we have as grownups can be eye-opening, says Wall. "It's helped me in my own life make some real breakthroughs with old pains that keep getting triggered—this old sense of not belonging, of not being seen. It really creates a deep healing."
In a similar way, Tess Fisher's initial foray into NVC started as a conversation with herself. "I'm my own worst critic, and I think a lot of people have that," says Fisher, of Hyde Park. After about eight years using Rosenberg's principles, "I've gotten a lot better with my self-talk, which leans into how I communicate with others." For Fisher and her husband, NVC was the yarn that knit them together: They'd been dating on and off long-distance when Fisher invited him to join her at a three-day workshop. "He connected deeply with the work, which made it possible for us to reconnect," says Fisher. Using the skills of NVC, they were able to express feelings and needs, and then come up with strategies after those had been expressed. "Before, I would jump right to a strategy, and so would he—that's the male way, to fix things! Stepping back to the feelings and needs really helps with that." Together, they attended Reeves' practice group for about a year, and in 2011 they got married. Fisher credits NVC for their harmonious relationship ("It made our communication more communicable"); she also applies its skills professionally within her company, Tutoring Up-Grades. "It's fun to implement and very satisfying," she says. "I share it with anybody who's looking for resources to help them have more meaningful relationships with themselves and others."
Learning to "Do" Love
In the Mideast today, peace seems as elusive as ever—but that only encourages Wall to keep up her work there. Over the past five years, she has co-led three nine-day trainings and six long-weekend trainings; hundreds have attended so far. Some of the trainings are just for women, which makes it easier for religious Muslim and Jewish women to attend. A next step is to offer separate trainings for Israelis and Palestinians so that each culture can bring NVC into its own families and communities. "This is so important, because right now there are huge divides within the Palestinian community and the Israeli Jewish community," says Wall. Another priority is to train more Palestinians; one, a man from Dura, recently arrived in Seattle at an NVC family camp, where he's learning how to set up and run a similar Palestinian family camp planned for the Mideast.