Tip #312: Nonviolent Communication #3: Blocked Compassion

“Most of us grew up speaking a language that encourages us to label, compare, demand, and pronounce judgments rather than to be aware of what we are feeling and needing.” Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg in Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, many of us have learned to use “life-alienating communication” that leads us to speak and behave in ways that injure others and ourselves. It is “life-alienating” because it distracts, distances and deflects both parties from their true feelings and needs. Please note that all quoted material in the paragraphs that follow is taken from Dr. Rosenberg’s book.

Moralistic Judgments. “You’ll never be good enough.”

Judging statements include blame, insults, put-downs, labels, criticism, comparisons, and diagnoses. When we cast judgments, “we think and communicate in terms of what is wrong with others for behaving in certain ways or, occasionally, what is wrong with ourselves for not understanding or responding as we would like.”

Moralistic judgments are life-alienating because “our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and are not getting.”

For example, “If my colleague is more concerned about details than I am, he is ‘picky and compulsive.’ On the other hand, if I am more concerned about details than he is, he is ‘sloppy and disorganized.’ ”

When we express our values and needs in terms of judgments, one of two things happens. Either the other person becomes defensive and resistant, or that person gives in because they feel afraid, guilty or ashamed.

“Had we been raised speaking a language that facilitated the expression of compassion, we would have learned to articulate our needs and values directly, rather than to insinuate wrongness when they have not been met. For example, instead of ‘Violence is bad,’ we might say instead, ‘I am fearful of the use of violence to resolve conflicts; I value the resolution of human conflicts through other means.’ ”

Making Comparisons. “No one can ever be too rich or too thin.”

This type of thinking blocks compassion both for ourselves and for others, because someone always falls short in a comparison.

Denial of Responsibility. “The Devil made me do it!”

We deny responsibility for our actions whenever we attribute our actions to external factors, such as:

* Vague, impersonal forces: “I went to work because I had to.”
* Our condition, diagnosis, or personal or psychological history. “I abuse drugs because of my bad childhood.”
* The actions of others: “You made me do that.”
* The dictates of authority: ” I tabled the motion because the major asked me.”
* Group pressure: “I started drinking because all of my friends were doing it.”
* Institutional policies, rules and regulations: “I have to suspend your membership because that’s our policy.”
* Gender roles, social roles, or age roles: “I hate staying up until my teenager comes home, but I do it because I’m a caring parent.”
* Uncontrollable impulses: “I couldn’t help myself.”

When we deny the fact that we have a choice about how we behave, think and feel, we become a danger to ourselves and to others.

Demands. “You better do what I tell you to do.”

A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply.

Just Desserts. “You made your bed, now lie in it.”

The concept that certain actions deserve to be rewarded and others deserve to be punished is also associated with life-alienating communication.

When we use life-alienating communication, we evaluate others and ourselves in a critical and damaging fashion.

The first component of Nonviolent Communication requires that we learn how to observe behavior without evaluating it. That will be the focus of next week’s Tip.

May your learning be sweet.

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