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Transforming Conflict: Nonviolent Communication’s Role in Building a Peaceful World

In a world where violence is chosen over peace constantly, the principles of Nonviolent Communication, developed by Marshall Rosenberg, offer a guiding approach to promoting understanding, empathy, and peace. Rooted in compassion and active listening, NVC can be a powerful tool if integrated into various societies, families, and communities.

Rosenberg states, “Nonviolence, as Gandhi used it—refers to our natural state of compassion when violence has subsided from the heart.” By following the path of activists and peace leaders,  NVC emphasizes the importance of expression and empathetic listening, steering away from judgment and instead focusing on observation, feelings, needs, and requests. With observation, one will notice what they appreciate about the other person, while with emotion, one will state how they feel about what they understand about the person. With need, one will say which needs are met by what they appreciate and request that the person continue this behavior. This creates a positive and constructive exchange of ideas: something needed during times of conflict and war.

So, what causes war? Greed, lust for power, and political diversion are all causes of war; however, an armed conflict may also result from poor facilitation- someone needing more skills to bring parties together to negotiate constructively. Even though it is challenging to implement NVC strategies during a conflict; when individuals can separate universal human needs from the ways they satisfy them, also known as strategies, they find that there are usually multiple ways to fulfill requirements. The same is true for groups and nation-states. However, the possibility of meeting needs without violence is decreased when there is a lack of willingness to communicate, to understand each others’ needs, and to find alternate strategies for meeting the most needs possible. Though the goal is not to be able to eliminate violence completely, incorporating NVC into our society will significantly aid in creating a less-conflicted world.

Ruth Bebermeyer’s poetic verse in Words are Windows, “If I seemed to put you down, If you felt I didn’t care, try to listen through my words, to the feelings that we share,” beautifully emphasizes that listening through words promotes an environment where feelings are acknowledged and valued, similar to the principles of NVC.

When skeptics of the NVC approach asked Rosenberg, “When you see how prevalent violence and war are, historically and currently, isn’t it a logical conclusion that violence is simply natural for humans?” In his response, Rosenberg reminded them of the words of Gandhi, “Let us not confuse what is natural with what is habitual,” to highlight that because violent thinking and acting have become habitual, this does not equal human nature. Even with this ideology, Rosenberg says that an ideal nonviolent society would not be one without a political force or military. The difference, he says, is that these forces would be dedicated to protecting life rather than acting punitive or retributive. 

Rosenberg’s own experiences, such as the encounter at the Deheisa Refugee camp in Bethlehem, exemplify the impact of NVC on resolving conflicts. As an American Jew, Rosenberg was presenting the topic of nonviolent communication to 170 Palestinian Muslim men but was met with hostility and name-calling due to his background. Even after being called names like “child-killer” and “assassin,” Rosenberg was able to engage in an empathetic dialogue with the men. By addressing the feelings and struggles of the individuals, he was able to turn a chaotic situation into an opportunity for understanding and empathy. The invitation to Ramadan dinner by the same man who initially labeled Rosenberg a murderer stands as proof of the power of NVC in bridging the gap between people of different backgrounds. Rosenberg also touches upon the idea of life-alienating communication, which is the use of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness or badness on the part of people who don’t act in part with our values. This type of communication traps us in a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness—a world of judgments, which contributes to a world of division and conflict.

Research by Professor O.J. Harvey at the University of Colorado highlights the correlation between the use of judgmental language and incidents of violence. In society today, people are quick to judge and ready to fight. NVC, however, challenges this by advocating for a departure from language that classifies and judges people, instead encouraging a shift towards acknowledging individual choices and expressing vulnerability to resolve conflicts. Rosenberg also mentions that “75 percent of the television programs shown during hours when American children are most likely to be watching, the hero either kills people or beats them up. This violence typically constitutes the “climax” of the show. Viewers, having been taught that “bad guys” deserve to be punished, take pleasure in watching this violence.” This explains the reason why many are quick to use violence today: they have been shown that it is the right thing to do.

Along with these reasons, comparisons and denial of responsibility also lead to violence, being normalized more as each day goes by. When wanting to steer away from this violence goes into question, NVC diplomacy goes into play. NVC diplomacy, which seeks to bring to the surface and clarify each party’s needs and values and facilitate the co-creation of strategies that support as many needs as possible, can help solve the conflicts we struggle with today. Though this type of diplomacy is uncommon, its results far exceed our presented alternatives.

The former United Nations secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjold, once said, “The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is happening outside.”

If we become skilled in giving ourselves empathy, we often experience in just a few seconds a natural release of energy that then enables us to be present with the other person.

By using this approach on global issues, leaders worldwide can communicate by listening, immerse in dialogue, and can eventually steer away from violence. 

Sources:

Nonviolent Communication: A way of life by Marshall B. Rosenberg

https://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/learn-nonviolent-communication/nvc-war/?doing_wp_cron=1698538963.0498039722442626953125  https://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/learn-nonviolent-communication/nvc-restorative-justice/

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