Speaking of Compassion...
by Loretta Iris
I want to catch your attention and support the health and well-being intentions of the magazine you are reading. But on the other hand, I am in conflict. I want to tell you through this article about my experience with a communication process called Nonviolent Communication (NVC). At the same time, I feel torn about moving forward with this when I imagine this article being published. Flashback experiences of having been misunderstood, of hearing judgments about my professional writing, and of memories of grade four spelling test anxiety come up in my mind! I sure could use some security, reassurance, and connection!
Now, I notice I feel a sense of relaxation, just by identifying what is present in me, by vulnerably expressing as I have in the above paragraph. This small process-description brings me to the heart of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) or Compassionate Communication—the work of Marshall Rosenberg—work I have been studying for over a decade.
Throughout this time of year that includes Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Spring, ideas of companionship, and of the meaning of life invariably are marketed and professed—ideas implying that we focus our lives around vulnerable connection. The question then arises: How do we communicate in mutually satisfying ways? Marshall Rosenberg writes of the problem underlying such communication when he asserts that, “[W]e have been educated to disconnect from the very core of compassion that is actually naturally connective.”
NVC may offer a solution through a four-component approach called “OFNR” that helps us to: (1) express ourselves authentically and (2) hear each other compassionately. We are thus enabled to support connection with an ability to respond to and create a natural space for empathic presence.
Marshall Rosenberg explains the four components in the OFNR process as (1) Observing (neutrally), (2) identifying Feelings, (3) identifying universal Needs, and (4) potentially making a Request.
I’ll admit that at first, this “two-four components” approach felt awkward to me. In the NVC practice groups in which I have participated, at some point a judgment will come up about communicating in this OFNR way. I am asked, “How are we supposed to talk in this way?” Heck, I have asked myself this question!
The metaphor that I have come to understand is that we’re really learning both a new and old language of compassion. Learning any new language—French, English, Klingon—there would be a period of integration and adjustment. Adjustments can range based on our intent of use of language. If we intend to be fluent, we may want to learn the origins of the words for that particular language. If we were intending to speak and hear a new language as brief tourists, we may learn briefly—say, for a current cultural exchange. If we were intending to speak and learn a new language for social purposes, we might join a conversational language group. All of these previous examples apply to the adjustment to learning Nonviolent Communication. Formal NVC, “Street” NVC, and combinations in between are all forms that can serve to enhance our lives and by extent the lives of those with whom we relate.
Let’s take my opening paragraph for example. It might sound to you as if I was just spilling my heart to catch your attention. But, while to some extent that may ring true, you can also find the “two-four components” elements in the paragraph.
I could have used more formal NVC wording, e.g., “I intend to convey a message to you. I intend to trust that you will read it, consider the content, and accept my words. I am observing some inner turmoil from thoughts mixing experiences in high-school English class, with people telling me they don’t understand what I’m talking about, with imagining people throwing out this magazine partway into my article. I identify associated needs for trust, acceptance... Would I be willing to . . . etc. etc.” To all that, your response might well be, “Blah, blah, what?”
By allowing my writing to be guided through Street NVC translation, I can think to myself, “Calmly breathe . . . I want readers to get NVC. I feel freaked out writing here . . . breathe . . . I need acceptance . . . breathe . . . ask myself to get editing help for this article.” This process is not easy though, because we’re not used to, or trained to, or educated to understand a sense of slowing down, of holding presence, and empathizing with our own needs—let alone another’s needs.
Marshall Rosenberg explains that, “[A]ll forms of violence are tragic expressions of unmet needs.” We may think we’re not violent in our words or our thoughts, yet when we slow down compassionately, we can see underpinnings of disconnection. NVC helps us discover and include that we all have universal needs, that life connection can be served and enjoyed—even pain can become sweet.
I am excited thinking about a world for all of us filled with conscious inner and outer connection based on shared intent of everyone’s needs being met. I would enjoy knowing, at every time of year, everyone could have access to a heart of compassion through a connecting language.
Would you be willing to consider connecting with me and expanding Saskatchewan’s Compassionate Communication community by emailing or calling me with your interest?
Metta, Loretta Iris
Loretta Iris is a Communication Educator, Artist, Yoga Instructor and mother of three who finds meaning in her experience of and sharing NVC—the work of Marshall Rosenberg. She currently resides in Saskatoon and enjoys offering her health and creativity-based services locally, provincially, and internationally. You can find more information about NVC at cnvc.org and by contacting Loretta Iris at 306-652-2627 or visiting lorettairis.com.