Published on March 1st, 2018 | by Noah Chen0
Local Classes to Feature Healing Teachings of Marshall Rosenberg
by Noah Chen
There are those who see violence as the result of a failure to communicate. They think improving our powers of communication will lead to less violent societies.
One such man was Marshall Rosenberg. According to nonviolentcommunication.com, a website advocating his teachings, the violence Rosenberg experienced during his youth led him to earn a doctorate in psychology and to create the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process, which had early success in easing the tensions brought on by integrating schools in the 1960s. He went on to found the Center for Nonviolent Communications, in 1984, and gave lectures and trainings in more than 60 countries before his death in 2015.
Rosenberg gave workshops in Atlanta in October 2003 and September 2005. Clarice Belcher, in search of healing communication tools after conflict made an impact on her life, attended; she began teaching Rosenberg’s material in 2008.
“I was attending a church that found itself in enormous conflict, and in fact, the congregation was polarized,” Belcher said. “They brought in outside help, and this whole field of conflict resolution was new to me.”
The book used by the professionals was Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion, and after a glowing recommendation, Belcher read it.
“I loved what I read,” said Belcher. Belcher said she was so taken by what she learned at the workshops she soon started teaching Language of Compassion, the name of a group of lessons she presides over, based on his philosophy. The first tier of lessons comprises workshops covering Rosenberg’s book; practice groups are available. It’s all free.
To Belcher, unmet needs lie at the heart of every conflict, and she now has a better understanding of how to conquer unpleasant emotions.
“If I feel angry or frustrated or anxious, that’s useful information, because it tells me I have an unmet need,” she said.
Belcher explained a list of feelings Rosenberg uses along with a list of needs, and how “it was fascinating to take a look at the list and go down and discover what is it that I need. And once I land on that, oftentimes the anger I felt before, or the frustration or the anxiety, begins to lessen.”
If people identify these feelings and needs, Belcher argues, they would not resort to violence, because the emotions that lead to violent actions are quelled by meeting the needs that trigger the emotions.
From Theory to Practice
Nonviolentcommincation.com claims that roleplay with the audience set Rosenberg apart from other nonviolent communicators, and roleplay is an essential technique employed in Belcher’s workshops.
“In our practice groups we give ourselves permission to be messy, and in that messiness we work through how to tell our truths in ways that don’t wound others.”
“Nonviolent communication is an entire way of being; it’s a new way of living.” So says Ursula Lentine, a spiritual healer who was a member of Belcher’s group for more than two years. “That’s kind of hard to learn, and it took us a whole year, nearly, to fully integrate it into our lives.”
The practice group functions through a system of mutual sharing and emotionality. If, for example, a member anticipated a difficult conversation with their boss, someone would roleplay the boss, and they could practice having that conversation in a safe place. Good communication, according to Belcher, always focuses on communicating needs and being receptive to the needs of others.
Lentine said there was not a member of the class whose life wasn’t changed by what they learned; through their diligence, they were able to change their physical behavior along with satisfying a spiritual “need to know ourselves.”
By accessing underlying emotions, Lentine believes, people can break the cycle of predictable conflict: “In our subconscious, we run these programs of how we behave and respond. So if you and I got into some kind of confrontation, you would say predictable things and I would say predictable things.”
Now, Lentine says, she is “able to stop the typical behavior and say, ‘No I don’t want to say that.’ What am I feeling and coming from, and what is the other person feeling and coming from?”
“People trip up over the strategies,” Belcher says. “Marshall believed that if there’s conflict, it’s never at the level of needs. It’s always at the levels of strategies.”
These strategies are how people often communicate, and this is what leads to needs getting obscured. For example, Belcher describes a situation in which “I might say to someone, ‘I need you to go to the store,’” but in fact this phrasing communicates the strategy, not the need.
The alternative? Belcher says to be explicit: “I have a need for support. Would you be willing to go to the store to pick up a loaf of bread?’
“In addition to being human, it’s also very vulnerable,” she adds.
For those interested in Belcher’s workshop, she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her next practice group will be held 2 to 5 p.m. March 17.