Compassionate Nonviolent Communication

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Lessons in Honesty, Empathy, and Self-Care
Offered by Marion Little, MA Dispute Resolution, Canon Pastor, Diocese of British Columbia
Sponsored by AWE (Anglican Women's Empowerment)and the Anglican Consultative Council
An NGO parallel event offered Tuesday, Feb, 22, 2011 at the 55th UNCSW



The workshop invited the participants into a reflection on how to implement non-violent communication practices, with the self and others, when facing conflict. Using the Wizard of Oz movie as a "modern myth" Marion Little, the workshop leader, described the “compassionate nonviolent communication” process by which we can understand and articulate our “internal story” of navigating through times of conflict. Compassionate nonviolent communication addresses the inner turmoil by providing tools to recognize our deep needs; honoring both ourselves and others. Honoring the internal story is crucial for self-awareness and other-awareness in resolving conflict. To paraphrase Marion Little, “It’s hard for us to be the change we want to see in the world when are burned out and hard on ourselves.” The characters and events in the Wizard of Oz provide the foundation for the “story” and represent aspects of the inner struggle and our journey toward wholeness and peace.

The myth begins with Dorothy and her dog Toto. The dog represents the inner self, the vulnerable self that yearns to be loved and cared for. When the neighbor lady threatens to take the dog away Dorothy struggles to find others who will hear her and help her protect her dog (inner self). She pleads with her aunt, her uncle, and workers on the farm. However her family and friends are are busy and unable to listen to her and meet her needs. Feeling abandoned, and fearful for the safety of her dog/inner self, Dorothy runs away. Eventually she realizes that she needs to be home and returns. On her way home a tornado blows in. The tornado represents the inner struggle and rage at being unheard. Dorothy, having returned to the farm as the tornado is about to strike, is unable to get into the storm shelter with her family. This represents the struggle to be heard when we express ourselves out of rage. Subsequently she is hit on the head with a window frame as the tornado hits the house. She then enters into a time of disorientation where she “sees” people flying by her window, the neighbor woman as a witch, her aunt in rocking chair, and so one. A state of disorientation is part of the rage process wherein we fail to see things as they are. In this disoriented state Dorothy’s house is “flying through the air.” Eventually the house lands and Dorothy finds herself in a beautiful but mysterious place called Oz. Here she begins a journey of experiencing her inner needs and struggles, as represented by following the yellow brick road. She wears the ruby slippers – which will give her access to her inner sense of self-determination – but not until she is able to recognize that power within her. Along the yellow brick road she meets characters of her inner-self: the scarecrow, the tin man, lion, the wizard, and the witch.

The scarecrow, who claims to need a “brain”, represents our need to move through the initial fear and rage of unmet needs, to move from our limbic reptilian brains, to our frontal brains, from flight and fight to higher reasoning. The tin-man represents our need to access the deep yearnings of our heart and have them recognized. And the lion represents our need for wisdom and courage in the midst of struggle and conflict. The yellow brick road is the journey to self-awareness and other-awareness. The ruby slippers represent our inner abilities, which we always have but may not be aware of. The wizard is our critical inner voice and the witch is our anger and fear, both of which strive to inhibit our ability to navigate conflict with compassion toward the self and others.

“Nonviolent Communication is a conflict resolution and empathy development process espoused by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (Rosenberg 2000). Rosenberg, a student and colleague of Carl Rogers, developed this process while successfully facilitating racial integration in Southern US schools during the 1970s. The heart of Nonviolent Communication focuses on the needs/values that activate feelings and impact behaviour.” (p. 6, Marion Little handout: A Capacity-Building Model)

The Nonviolent Communication model (Rosenberg, 2000) engages two components; assertive honest self-expression and empathic connection:
1. HONESTY: Observations distinct from evaluation; Feelings distinct from thoughts;
Needs distinct from strategies; and Requests distinct from demands
“When I see/hear _____, I feel _____, because I need _____. Would you _____?”
2. EMPATHY: for the Feelings and Needs of others, and for oneself.
“Are you feeling _____ because you need _____?”
“Am I feeling _____ because I need _____?”

This interplay between honesty and empathy supports:
- Resolving conflict, diffusing tension, and preventing violence, with more ease;
- Taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts, feelings, needs, & actions;
- Expressing appreciation & regret in ways that build mutual-respect. (ibid, p. 7)

Seeking to employ the practices of compassionate nonviolent communication will enable us to listen more deeply to the real needs of brokenness and access compassion for self and others. For people of faith compassionate non-violent communication is too to enable the healing love of God to flow through us as we create relationships of hope that address the real needs of our selves and others without engaging judgment.

Marion Little is a dynamic presenter and offered a thought provoking workshop. The material I discuss in this review is from her dissertation and practice in compassionate nonviolent communication and belongs to her and those she studied with.

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