The Quandary of Nonviolence

I’ve been reading about the concepts and practices associated with nonviolent communication. Last year, at the Regional Leadership Forum, we studied Gandhi to learn and understand his practice of leadership. One of the discoveries in examining history was that many people today are upset with the outcome of his leadership. His approach, while effective, was indicatively not selfless. I certainly wouldn’t call this a hard fact; it is just a position after many discussions on this subject. If we assume he was not selfless, it is important to understand because while he may not have been selfless, he may have perceived himself as selfless and others may have believed this as well. From another view, it may also be that he was in fact selfless, but the acts of others and history didn’t play out as he may have envisioned.

Years ago, while working with warfighting communities, we studied some concepts about perspective in “truths.” @batdorfr and I read about “Four Truths”

In any situation, there can be as many descriptions of an event as there are people who experience it. The Four Truths, as a model, helps you understand such a phenomenon because it describes four ways people see their own truth in the world.

  • Objective Truth is what exists and can be proved in this physicality. (The sun moves across the sky each day.)
  • Normative Truth is what we, as a group, agree is true. (English speakers agreed to use the word day to name that time when the sky is lit by the sun.)
  • Subjective Truth is how the individual sees or experiences the world. (Today is a good day for me.)
  • Complex Truth recognizes the validity of all those truths and allows you to focus on the one that is most useful at any given time. (The sun is up; the day is bright. Today is a good day for MOM, so let’s take advantage of that and ask for ice cream for dinner. )

It is important to understand in our daily lives as we communicate with each other, we often deal with complex truths. This is why I am perplexed about nonviolent communication as I am learning more. It may help if you watch a short video introducing the concepts.

Why the confusion?

In the start of his book Nonviolent Communication, Marshall talks about his personal experience which drove him to ask two fundamental questions.

  1. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?
  2. What allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature under even the most trying circumstances?

I’ve also watched videos with Marshall describing his perspective. In 1943 when he started school not long after race riots in Detroit, he was attacked and beaten for being Jewish. This experience led him to ask the questions above and started a life long journey to help people communicate in more effective ways.

For the record, I’m not reviewing this as a “book report” as much as reflecting on his experience, his passion, and his perspective relative to my own on this subject.

I experienced the same beatings as Marshall throughout my life. I experienced hate for no reason other than the fact that I am genetically “something.” I must agree with the NVC approach regarding the focus on how an individual can choose to behave but communication fundamentals call for there to be some baseline which establishes AN ability to communicate.

For communication to exist, there must be a sender and receiver. The person receiving will react in some manner, but they also may not be able to do anything about their reaction. If I go back to the initial story, thinking back to my own experience, when I was jumped the first time, beaten and kicked for slavery, I was on the receiving end. No words or feelings mattered. I could have retaliated in some way; I could have allowed it to bring me to hate a group of people, but I chose to look at people as individuals. The focus of who a person chooses to be as opposed to what they are born into.

Additionally, there are intractable communication challenges. Some people will choose to remain in their position regardless of what is said. It doesn’t matter. This leads me to the assertion Marshall makes concerning our “compassionate” nature. I don’t believe this to be true for all people.

Some people are compassionate, and some people are not compassionate. It is not a matter of being in some natural state. The reason behind this is because some people have a need to hurt, destroy and control others. Human history has proven for the whole and entirety of our existence that some people NEED to rule over others. If the assertion is that we are compassionate by some law of nature, history would prove that we are also controlling by nature.

There it is.

I can always choose to act in a nonviolent communicative manner but since others may not operate in this same manner and they may not have any desire to do so, the result may be the same as a beatdown or worse.

I think today about what Putin is doing in Russia and all the millions of people suffering through the actions of one single human being. He can be overtaken by his people in a second, but yet, he still stands in power no matter the destruction to his people, the people of Ukraine and now his threat to the entirety of the world.

Where is the nonviolent appeal to his compassionate nature?

I am conflicted even from the level of intrapersonal communication at the level in which we interact with each other. Some people really don’t care about how others feel. Some people are just so into themselves that it is always all about them. Even if you seek to help them or speak to them on a level which addresses their needs, it doesn’t help.

NVC is important where it can be applied. Some people will not respond to it. If it worked across the board, this approach would have much more visibility. I go back to Machiavelli, Sun-Tzu, Kublai Khan, Hitler, Nero and others. While some people respond to love, all people respond to fear. As we realize the sins of our past in the creation of “world ending” technologies, emerging criminal social media, and constructs, advanced analytical AI driven politics and a shifting climate, I wonder how we can find or create a compassionate nature for us all to draw from in order to begin healing.

While it is a challenging and bleak situation, I do believe we can as individuals do our best from where we are to choose love over hate and seek to heal. For this, I give Marshall great credit. It is not about the story of me but the story of us. I wonder where it will go!

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