In a video on YouTube, called Nonviolent Communication and Corporations, Dr Marshall Rosenberg talks specifically about how the old domination structure affects how businesses function. As he passed away, this is the closest I can get to sharing his teaching; I have transcribed his words to share how he thought about this topic – radically different to our usual way of thinking and very inspiring.
Paula: Not the case… in conclusion, she goes that attachment to un-investigated thought is innocence. So, she talks about the importance of looking at the thoughts, that we have and saying that hate is nothing than pure innocence. And I’d like to know if you can relate this to how you view anger…. which is an intense emotion that makes so many of us unhappy.
Marshall: Our approach to it, I think, has some parallels to what you’ve described; we say that anger is a result of thinking. Certain kind of thinking- thinking that implies wrongness. So, we get angry, because we pass judgment on the other person.
So, if I’m driving and somebody’s driving in a way I don’t like.. and I think, ‘what’s wrong with that idiot?’ Don’t they know any better than that,’ it’s not that person’s driving that makes me angry… it’s that I’m judging them as wrong, an idiot… I’m thinking ‘they don’t have any right to drive that way… they should be punished… they deserve to suffer’… it’s that kind of thinking, that implies wrongness and deserving of suffering and the word ‘should’- all of those combined together is what creates anger.
So, we show people that if you are angry, first of all, the worst thing I can think of, is thinking that there’s something wrong with you for being angry. Let’s not think; there’s anything wrong with anger. Next, we say, what I just did to you; we help people to see that their anger is created by their thinking. Thinking that implies wrongness, that the person deserves to be punished for what they’re doing. Next, we teach people- don’t judge yourself for thinking that way; don’t think there’s something wrong for thinking it and it’ll keep the process going. The next step you teach people…
Paula: Excuse me, that’s why you say, you don’t have to be a saint to do this process… that it’s okay if you’re angry, just give yourself some empathy and…
Marshall: It’s okay to be angry. How could you help but be angry, if you’ve been educated in the United States, you’re going to spend a good deal of your life being angry – either at others or at yourself which takes the form of depression, guilt and shame. But it’s the same thinking that causes depression, guilt and shame that causes anger. It’s just where it’s directed. If it’s directed outward, we’re angry; if we direct it toward ourselves, we feel depressed, guilt and shame.
Paula: Because we’re punishing ourselves?
Marshall: Because we think that what we did was wrong. We think ‘it was stupid; I shouldn’t have done it’ – if you think that way about yourself, you’ll feel depressed, guilt and shame. But in a domination culture, you won’t be educated to think that you feel that way because you’ve been educated, you think that you’re mentally ill… so we have this destructive metaphor of mental illness, you see. Well, mental illness is not it, you just taught people to think in a way that makes them miserable.
So, back to your question of anger, we teach people how to be conscious of the thinking that makes you angry. Just to see it… just to see, it’s not what the other person did. If people follow me and my work, they’d see that it’s never what other people do that make you angry. I was working in with some people in Rwanda, and one of the Rwandan women had her whole family killed. I know this woman very well, she’s never been angry. She has strong feelings but not anger. Other people in her tribe are furious with her because she’s not angry at the other side. So, it’s not what others do that make you angry; it’s your thinking. She doesn’t think in the way that makes her angry; her thinking leads her to use enormous energy now, to try to prevent this ever happening to somebody else. If we’re angry, the thinking that leads to it leads us to want vengeance and to hurt the other side.
So, the next step we teach people after they’ve identified the thinking that creates their anger… we teach them, to look at the need that is being expressed through the judgmental thinking… see, we show people that all judgmental thinking is a tragic expression of a need. So, we say to people when you’re angry, be conscious of the thinking that makes you that way. Next, connect with the need that’s being lost through all of this judgmental thinking. As soon as they get in touch with that need, they find, that they’re no longer angry.
Paula: So, judgmental thinking blocks us from feeling our needs or feeling anything except the anger?
Marshall: It blocks us from being conscious of what need of ours isn’t getting met. Our thinking is enemy image. We’re thinking of the wrongness of the other person; we’re not thinking of what need of ours is not getting met. When we’re not in touch with our needs, we’re much less likely to get our needs met. At the moment we get in touch with our needs, we cannot be angry. We’ll feel scared, powerless, hurt, frustrated, sad… but those are feelings that nature put in us to mobilize us to get our needs met, not to punish others.
Paula: We were talking about Byron Katie’s work – saying that we would all stop hating if we knew how. And it seems, you’ve just described to me this process of anger – do you have any final things to say about her comment that hate is nothing more than pure innocence and that innocence can be painful?
Marshall: I guess I’m not clear enough about what she means by that, to respond to.
Paula: The way the way I see it, is that when someone is angry as you described, and they’re out of touch with their feelings and their needs aren’t being met… they haven’t really investigated into themselves. However, I know from Byron Katie’s work – she has something very simple in mind, that if you’re hating someone… really, it’s occupying your attention so much… so you’re not self-realized, you’re that-person realized, and you can shift it by taking a look at that discomfort. It’s a very simple shift that she talks about and I can see and appreciate. But I personally had an experience in a workshop of yours, and you didn’t conduct it, but it was somebody that you trained. Well, I was expressing my feelings to my intimate partner, and there was a moment where I felt heard and something happened in the whole room, and I was wondering if you have any comments to make about this, do we have a human need to be heard by others?
Marshall: We call this need by many things…the need to be heard. But technically I would say, it’s a need for empathy – empathic connection; which means being heard in a special way, not intellectually understood… but you feel a presence… you feel the presence of somebody else, to what’s alive in you.
You don’t feel that they’re evaluating it, analyzing it, they are just there with you, in that feeling. And yes that happened today in the training we did here where I’m at. At the moment, we probably had 15 people that had that transformative experience more than one time during the day – when they got in touch with things very powerful than them and one or more sometimes a whole group was just fully present… it’s a very precious experience. The Christians say, when two or more are gathered in my name, there I am. Also, you see, it’s a very spiritual experience to have this quality of where we don’t allow any analysis to get in there, just presence being there.
The Israeli philosopher and psychotherapist Martin Buber says that this is the most precious gift one human being can give to another; that presence, that just being with. Not intellectually understanding, not judging, analyzing, classifying, not trying to help, but just being there – the most precious gift one human being can give to another.
Paula: In my case, it was it was an intimacy…a profound intimacy… and yet, there was a group.. and you would usually think in a group, you can’t feel that intimate. And so I guess, that’s what I want to explore a little more deeply with you, because what is it about a society or a group that can accomplish something that even two loving partners can’t?
Marshall: Well I think it is a very powerful experience when however many people can really be fully present at the same time to something that somebody’s experiencing, and it’s a very powerful, very beautiful experience.
Paula: I feel almost like if I need these people in the future… you know, we’ll always have shared something. There’s some kind of a bond… now, on the other hand, nobody is responsible for your happiness so, in theory, I should be able to go up into the mountains and be a yogi in the cave and accomplish that.
Marshall: Well, I think you can accomplish other things, that meet other needs, by being alone. You can learn to give this quality of empathy to yourself. We teach people how to do it because when you don’t have the wonderful resource of others who know how to listen in this way, how to give it to yourself.
Paula: So, Nonviolent Communication teaches how to listen to ourselves.
Marshall: Especially when we need it the most. For example, when we have just messed something up. And we’re really blasting ourselves using the old style thinking, thinking ‘how could I have been so dumb?’. That’s when we really need this quality of empathy, for what’s going on in us, so we teach people at that point… how to give this empathy to themselves – if they’re not fortunate enough to have others around them who can assist them.
Paula: Do you think Nonviolent Communication is like meditation for the masses, for the society?
Marshall: Well, I’ve never thought of it that way. I have said that it does involve meditation at certain points. For example, when people are angry, and we say to people, you got to stop and see this thinking that’s making you angry. Well, that’s essentially a part of some people’s approach to meditation, is just to become highly conscious of what you’re thinking at any given moment. So we incorporate that, in our training- but I’ve never thought of our training as meditation for the masses. I would say it’s a way of being conscious and how you choose to relate to other human beings and not only to be conscious of that but having skills from manifesting it, even when other people do not have the skills and even when you’re within structures that are not facilitating human encounters… that are doing quite the opposite – they are facilitating competition, domination, violence.
Paula: I guess I’m just eager to see that the world is living more harmoniously and that consumerism is better understood as not being successful; I mean, we’re a society of rich and oftentimes, very unhappy people.
Marshall: Yes, consumerism is not a need as we’ve said a couple of times already. And to be thinking that that’s where our happiness is, as to what we can buy and consume- it’s tragic for everybody.. the environment, for the other cultures that we’re ripping off while we play that consumer game. Yes, we need to show people what is a fun game. Not say that consumerism is bad, we need to show them something that’s more wonderful and less costly and that’s not hard to do.
Paula: Can you talk briefly about the stages of emotional liberation.
Marshall: I’m not too sure what you mean by…
Paula: Oh, you were speaking in your book about… well, I was sort of sensitive to the stage of the obnoxious part – where you say, you’re not responsible for someone else’s happiness.
Marshall: Yes. As I’ve mentioned to you already, we use human feelings to induce guilt. So, it’s really a form of violence to say to somebody, ‘it hurts me when you say that.’ If they believe it, and then they feel guilty and do whatever I want – now, it’s a form of violence.
So, we get a lot of people in our training, we’ve been educated that way. All they have to do is see somebody feeling hurt or upset with them and right away, ‘oh I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’ll change’. Now, when people start to wake up, and they see how much they’ve been terrorized by (unclear) until we can show them the approach that we advocate, they often go through a phase that I call obnoxious. So now, when somebody says, ‘ it hurts my feelings’, now they say, ‘ that’s your problem, I’m not responsible for your feelings, don’t play your guilt games with me,’ you see.
Well, we try to show people a third level. We hopefully can get them past that. We try to show them that rebellion is just as much being dominated as submission. So, to have to rebel against the feeling… say, ‘ I’m not responsible’ you’re still giving the other person power-over. Submission and rebellion are the same game so…
Paula: When you say, ‘I’m not responsible for your feelings’, that person has power over you.
Marshall: Yes, that means you’re denying it – that takes energy to have to protect ourselves against it. So whether we agree with it or oppose it, we’re still caught up in that energy. So our approach says, show an empathic connection with the pain this poor person is experiencing. Say, ‘so, you’re feeling hurt because your need for so-and-so isn’t getting met,’ we don’t say, ‘you’re feeling hurt, because of what I did.’ We show a respectful understanding for the feelings and the needs that are not getting met.
Paula: Definitely the development of virtue
Marshall: This is submission and rebellion. In my book, I give an example of my oldest son. The first day he came back from a public school, he was 12 years old at the time, he had gone to another school for six years that I had trained- the teachers have quite a different way of relating to the students than in the public school that he went to. So, he came back the first day, and I said how was the new school, Rick? He said, ‘it was okay, dad. But boy, some of those teachers.’ I said, ‘what happened?’ He said, dad, I wasn’t halfway in the school… really halfway in the front door and some man teacher comes running over to me and says,’my, my look at the little girl!’
What the teacher was reacting to, is that my son had very long hair, you see. Well in a domination school of course, right away the teachers want the students to know there’s a right way and a wrong way. And the teachers are here to show you what’s right and to use methods such as punishment, reward, guilt, shame and so forth. So I thought to myself, that is a wonderful way to welcome a child to a school…he’s halfway through the door. So I said to my son, ‘what did you do?’
He said, I remember what you said, dad, that in that kind of structure – never give them the power to make me submit or rebel. See, very important not to play the game. I said, ‘Hey, man- you remembered that? That thrills me. What did you do then?’ Well, he said, ‘I tried to do what you said dad – even when a person was treating you that way, try to hear what they’re feeling and needing.’ I said, ‘you remembered to do that? So, what did you hear?’ He said, ‘This was pretty obvious, dad – he seemed irritated, wanted me to cut my hair’. I said, ‘Listen, how’d that leave you feeling?.’ He said, ‘dad, I felt sad for the man- he was bald and seemed to have a problem about hair.’
Paula: So, you saw your son had developed empathy?
Marshall: Yes. And awareness that even when you’re in a domination structure, don’t play the game. See, don’t submit or rebel. When you’re really in touch with your own values, you play by your own story – even when you’re surrounded by a domination culture.
Paula: That is so encouraging.
Man in the Background: (Unclear)
Marshall: Here in this case, even with an authority, who is brutalizing… in the case of trying to induce shame and so forth… my son is still living by the story, that this is a human being that has feelings and needs. He’s not seeing this person as an authority – a teacher; he’s seeing him as a human being. He’s doing what Etty Hillesum did in her in her diary, that she wrote from a concentration camp, talking about how this Nazi guard was brutalizing her and others. But, within the midst of that, she tried to understand what kind of pain this man must have been going through when he did that to her. So, even though the structure is one where the guard is brutalizing people with weapons, she’s living in a different world… she’s living in the world that Rumi talks about… ‘there is a place beyond rightness and wrongness, I’ll meet you there’. So you can live in that world, no matter what structure you’re in.
Paula: I remember in your book, she also said she was never afraid because she had that ability…
Marshall: Yes, Victor Frankl in his writings… he spent four years in a concentration camp… in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning he says, the people who survived, were those who could get their need for meaning met – even in that structure. So Etty HIllesum is a good example of somebody who had meaning, could find meaning… because she had her own spirituality clearly defined and even within that structure, she lived in harmony with it.
Paula: You know I’m really honoured to know you and the work that you do because I feel that you are allowing those experiences… those people who’ve been able to achieve this kind of compassion… you’re breaking it down, so it can be better understood and practised by others. I can’t thank you enough.
Marshall: I love that gratitude. If I can do that, then I’m very satisfied, to take the wisdom these people had and pass it on… if I can do that, I’m very pleased.
Paula: Well, I definitely feel you’re doing it, and I thank you so much for joining us today.
Man in the Background: Can I just ask you, since you said you’ve worked with the Palestinians and the Israelis, so why is there still trouble over there?
Marshall: Well, of course, the work, I’m doing there I started in 1988. I found a team of Palestinians and the team of Israelis that I felt we share the same perspectives and I brought that both teams to Switzerland so we could intensively work together. So we’ve been working together for about 12 years. No, we haven’t solved the problem in the middle east… the violence… but we do have a thousand schools in Israel now functioning in harmony with our principles, so if we look 30 years into the future, I think our work, I would hope that it would make a big contribution.
In addition to that, I’ve worked with the police. We’ve worked with the doctors in refugee camps and Palestine so no, we haven’t solved all of the violence there yet but we’re making contributions to the society. And just today, in fact, this lunch I had with a woman who has access to Shimon Peres and he’s got a copy of my book on his desk and she has access to him and now we’re going to be talking about concretely what we can do now at a political level to get them to start thinking and communicating differently, so you never know.
Man in the Background: But don’t both sides have the same need? Don’t they both want the same piece of land? I mean, how do you resolve these issues?
Marshall: Define needs. They both have the same needs; there’s no question about it. But the same piece of land is not a need, that’s a strategy, you see. If you think, how can that be solved?- It can’t be.
But, if you do what I do when I do mediation… I don’t even talk about how to divide the land until there’s a connection – a connection at the need level – to get both sides to see that they have the same need. Now, they’ll start wanting now, to justify why they have the right to the land. And in my mediations, I would say, ‘but what are our needs… let’s look at the needs.’
You know, that’s been argued for how many centuries? We are not going to solve…you know, who has the right on that basis?
But if we can get both of you clear… what your needs are, we can meet everybody’s needs. But, when you look at what we call these communications that they have… I’ve been to one of those organized by the Swedish government… that the Swedish service.. they got some top people from Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and they asked me to help in this. But they did it like most of these communications are done. You could see ahead of time; nobody’s going to change anything, they are for the press, they’re not really human interactions. In fact, they are usually not even looking at each other, when the other person’s talking- they’re off with their own people… what they’re going to say back. They’re not even listening, so it’s not a kind of communication… like the Norwegian guy that grabbed the Israeli and the Palestinian and brought them into this house for a weekend got further than with all the years of these kinds of negotiations.
So what I would do is help to connect at the need level to see each other as human beings get rid of all this rivalry
Paula: But what would you do then…because there’s a certain diplomatic protocol and I know you, you would escape it
Marshall: I’m saying, they can do that if they want. But if they really want my help, I would say let’s just get to a room and let me do what I did with me these Chiefs in Nigeria. See one-quarter of the population killed in one year – a Christian tribe and a Muslim tribe. I start with; I’d like to hear from either side – whose needs are not being met in this country?
The Christian chief screams across the table, ‘ you people are murderers!’ They’d scream back, ‘you’ve been dominating us for 80 years. We’re not going to tolerate it.’ You see, I asked for needs – they’re giving me enemy images. My job is to translate these judgments into needs. So I said to the chief, who screams murderer, ‘ Chief, are you saying that your need for safety isn’t met, at the moment and you want some agreement… that no matter what the conflict, no violence would be used.’ He thought for a minute, ‘that’s exactly what I’m saying.’ Well, yeah, that’s exactly what he wanted to say, but he didn’t have need language. He could only call them names.
So I said, what the chief on this side, please say back what his needs are? Chief on the other side screams, ‘then why did you kill my son?.’ I said, ‘ Chief, we’ll get to that in a moment… but would you please, just first tell me what his needs are.’ He couldn’t. I had to repeat the needs. I had to repeat them three times. Finally, he hears it. Then I translate his judgments into a need. I get this side to hear it, just to get that far took about an hour because they kept screaming at each other.
But after one hour of my just translating judgments into needs, one of the Chiefs that hadn’t spoken jumped up and looked at me and said (babbling) because they spoke Hausa, a language I don’t speak… so I had to wait for my translator. I thought I had stepped on a cultural mores or something, but when I heard the message I loved it. The translator said, the chief says, ‘we can’t learn this in one day… to communicate this way, if we know how to communicate this way, we don’t have to kill each other.’ You see, so it took people in a totally different culture about an hour to see that if you can just say what your needs are, get rid of these enemy images, we can resolve the conflicts.