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Peace Talks

By Margo Pierce · March 8th, 2006 · All The News That Fits
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Physical violence is something people understand -- hitting that results in a black eye or a broken bone. But "violent communication" results in more than a few quizzical looks, according to Jeff Brown, a trainer of nonviolent communication.

Last month Brown presented a two-day workshop at the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, teaching community activists and others how to effect social change utilizing nonviolent communication.

"We don't teach people to compromise," he says. "The reason is because compromise is when two sides agree to share the resentment 50-50. We never give up or give in on our needs. The goal is not try to put your needs on top of someone else's so yours gets met at the expense of theirs. That's a guaranteed recipe for conflict.

"What we do is identify our needs, and we trust in the creative potential of human beings to come up with some strategy that addresses all the needs. What is important is that we not be attached, going into a situation, to our particular pet strategy. Once we can get clear about what all the needs are, we can come up with a strategy that meets everybody's needs. In my experience, the only way out of conflict is to figure out a way to identify and to meet everybody's needs."

Brown says the most difficult thing he had to learn in his training with the international Center for Nonviolent Communication (www.cnvc.org) is what his class participants struggle with -- the "domination paradigm," categorizing people and their needs into categories of right and wrong, good and bad that leads to power struggles.

"We've been raised and educated in a domination structure, where we would do things like compromise -- or worse yet, stomp on people to get our needs met," Brown says. "It's a self-defeating and suicidal approach because it threatens one of the most fundamental needs there is, which is the freedom of autonomy. When we approach people with the single-mindedness of purpose to change them, to get them to stop doing what they're doing, most people will resist and rebel against us."

That eliminates the possibility of both people or groups having their needs met. What works better, according to Brown, is having a conversation in which both sides present the things that are most important to them as a way to start the process of accomplishing what both sides need.

He bases his teaching on a four-step process that begins with transforming "enemy images" of "the bad guy" into needs and values. An evil corporate executive polluting waterways is a person who wants the security of regular income to support his family and provide for his employees.

Then he asks people to recognize the "pain of living in a world that isn't meeting everybody's needs" in order to come to terms with what that means. That makes it possible to develop a positive image of what could be.

Finally, being grateful for and appreciating the things of this world creates a starting point for talking to others about what they value and appreciate.

"Where we come from in doing our social-change work is essential," Brown says. "Are we coming from a place of lack, scarcity, anger and the miserable suffering of humanity? Or, are we coming from a place of, 'I've got this beautiful vision that can be so much better than what we have now,' and invite people to join us in it?' If we stay focused on the ongoing, universal needs, then we can understand what's involved in a particular issue."



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