Madwoman Out of the Attic

a feminist trudging forward in a patriarchal world

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nonviolent Communication: When to use it?

At the exponent retreat, one session focused on nonviolent communication. Not only did I enjoy every second of Victoria’s dynamic stage presence, but I also was very attracted to these new ideas of how to interact nonviolently with others, particularly those in positions of power.

The basic rules (what I gleaned at least) for nonviolent communication are these:
-Don’t use judgmental language (e.g. stay away from words like ‘offensive’ ‘unkind’ ‘ridiculous’ etc.)
-Figure out what needs are not being met. Both your own needs, and the needs of the person you are talking to. (e.g. “It’s very important for me to be involved in my baby’s blessing. This is my need. But I understand that you as bishop need to feel like there’s order in the ward. Is there a way that we can meet both of our needs?)
-Validate the other person’s need, and truly try to connect and sympathize with the other person.
-Make a request, not a demand.
-If the person does not meet your need, don’t punish them with anger or passive aggressive action. Don’t punish in any way.

Victoria also mentioned that despair work was an important part of this equation. Interacting non-violently with those who disagree with us is one thing, but we also need a community of sympathetic like-minded people with whom to vent our pain and share our stories openly and unreservedly.

I loved this presentation. As I reflected on my own interactions with people (most notably my husband) I realized how violent my language could be. How I often used judgmental language and punished when disagreed with. Hearing this presentation made me resolve to be less violent in my speech.

But…. I was left with a burning question after the presentation. When do you use nonviolent communication, and when do you lay it on the table and tell it like it is? Because it just doesn’t seem feasible to never use the strong, evaluative (ok, judgmental) language when in disagreement. It seems to me like there could be a place – a good, true, righteous place - for truly speaking your mind, no holds barred. Quakers sometimes refer to this type of speech – particularly when it’s directed at political leaders - as “Speaking truth to power.” I love that phrase.

As a feminist Mormon woman, trying to carve out a personal space in the church where I can act authentically, I know that there will be many times in my life when I will interact with Church leaders. When I will have needs that lie outside the General Handbook. Should I always use this nonviolent communication? When should I not and instead “speak truth to power”? And should I be worried that nonviolent communication may ultimately be promoting passivity in some way?

7 Comments:

Blogger amelia said...

is "speaking truth to power" really a form of violent or even judgmental speech? i ask out of honest curiosity; perhaps one of your quaker readers could respond to clarify. it seems to me that even speaking truth to power could take the form of non-judgmental and non-violent communication, while still powerfully asserting truth. but maybe i just don't understand the term and its history.

9/26/2007 10:23 AM  
Blogger Caroline said...

I think nonviolent communicators would consider "speaking truth to power" violent. I don't know much about it either, but my guess is that it would contain words like 'immoral' 'unethical' etc.

I like your idea that a person could speak truth to power without using violent language, but I'm not sure how to go about doing that...

9/27/2007 11:26 AM  
Blogger john.white said...

> I think nonviolent communicators would consider "speaking truth to power" violent.

Er, no. It's about being truthful.

From the soc.religion.quaker FAQ:
Subject: (7.4) Speaking Truth to Power
Refers to the general concept of the child asking the Emperor "why aren't you wearing any clothes?" that is, that the truth often helps those in power stop deluding themselves.

9/27/2007 8:17 PM  
Blogger sealily said...

Maybe nonviolent communication is a good idea for day-to-day interactions, and heart felt communication with husband (or wife), friends, church "leaders," etc). But, I don't like the idea of not being able to "speak truth powerfully," or that somehow it is "immoral" or "unethical" to speak passionately and powerfully about injustice, for example. Admittedly, I am not exactly clear about what would be considered violent communication (or non-violent for that matter). But,when I think of speaking truth powerfully, I imagine Jesus in some situations, Martin Luther King Jr (and women :)speaking powerfully so that there message is unmistakable. I think when something is ethically "wrong," strong, powerful speech is warranted, even if it is upsetting to some people (or, especially if it is).

9/27/2007 8:31 PM  
Blogger sealily said...

After re-reading your entry, I realized I missed the "speaking truth TO power" part. Uh, basically I didn't really address the issue in my comment. But, whatever it's worth :)

9/27/2007 8:42 PM  
Blogger Caroline said...

John, thanks for the clarification. But I can't help but wonder what a modern day "Why aren't you wearing any clothes?" declaration would look like.

Would it look like, "Why are you not understanding that a preemptive strike philosphy is unethical and dangerous?" And that question has those violent words in it. So I'm not sure how to escape them when speaking truth to power...

sealily, I agree with you. It seems to me also that there are times and places where one would need to speak powerfully and use those strong words. So I guess it's just a matter of figuring out what those situations look like. I think you're right that nonviolent speech is the way to go for day to day interactions.

9/29/2007 12:01 AM  
Blogger Behind the Infamous Veil said...

I guess I don't have a lot of faith that "nonviolent communication" really works, especially in the context of female speaking to male in the Church. In the example you used of being involved in a baby blessing, do you think there is any way the bishop will listen to this type of communication? And I can imagine the reception this peaceful approach would receive in councils in the Church. I think it would be dismissed and/or ignored.

Just my experience...

10/02/2007 1:08 PM  

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