“The goal of this life isn’t to be perfect but to be progressively less stupid.”
I feel sad to hear people say at NVC events that they wish they had met Marshall. It also reminds me of the grace and privilege I had of knowing Marshall and working with him. He was a great inspiration for me not only from what he taught but specially through his way of carrying this gift with him. He was passionate about NVC and was willing to go anywhere where there was need and invitation.
I talked to him about the war in Sri Lanka and how much I would like him to come there to start NVC communities. I asked him at the first IIT I was following in Denmark in 1997. His response was immediate and enthusiastic. He didn’t worry about the war or its dangers. He was delighted. He shared his intention of going to Sri Lanka at the “Giraffs around the world” event at that IIT. Grace followed grace. One of the participants at the IIT wrote a check for $ 8,000/- right there at the event. Marshall was ready to come to Sri Lanka. He was supposed to travel to Sri Lanka on the 25thJanuary 1998 and I had come to Colombo to receive him when the most sacred temple of the Buddhists that held the tooth relic of the Buddha was bombed. Everything came to a stand still. I had to call Marshall and cancel his travel. He came after a month or so when things returned to normal in Sri Lanka and the war took on an ugly face. He showed me that nothing could be on the way of NVC. The process has its own energy to move and spread.
I could see his surprise on his face when he saw the elephant was standing next to him on a busy street on his way to Kandy from Colombo. They were carrying the elephant in a lorry. He did a few workshops where all ethnic groups were represented. There was genuine yearning on his face to bring peace to my country. He was ready to take NVC to places torn by war. He came again in 2002 for the first IIT in Asia, in Sri Lanka.
Thank you Marshall for the gift. We carry you and your gift to all over asia where there is so much suffering and war.
Don’t live life beforehand
When I attended my first training in the U.S. with Marshall Rosenberg, the man behind Nonviolent Communication, somebody asked me to sing in Swedishin front of the group. I had begun to explore universal human needs in depth and wanted to be sure to make a choice that would meet my needs. I was quite confused on how to do this and I did not know if I would say yes to singing or not. So I asked Marshall how I could determine what would best meet my needs. He laughed and said:
”You can never know if something is going to meet your needs or not beforehand. You simply do what you want to do, or what you feel happy at the thought of doing, and then afterwards you evaluate if it met your needs or not. NVC is not about being perfect, it is about being progressively less stupid.”
It was invaluable advice that helped me connect with the freedom of accepting how we feel. I’ve enjoyed it many times since. It has taught me to accept the fact that I can never figure out what life will be like in the future, or whether my needs will be met. But I can learn to connect with what I want and then let the mystery of life teach me new things every day.
“Life’s not about waiting
for the storms to pass…
It’s about learning to
dance in the rain.”
from The Power of Gratitude by Liv Larsson
When I was very first becoming exposed to NVC, I was scheduled to attend my first IIT. I was working part time for a tiny NVC organization and waffling about whether to continue working with them and whether NVC was for me. Someone suggested I ask Marshall for a private meeting at the IIT, which I did. (These were the days when you could get private meetings with Marshall!)
At the time, I was grappling with the notion of being completely honest with a person. It felt scary to me, unnecessary and even counterproductive, so I gave Marshall my well thought out argument against it and it went something like this, “Marshall, it would be like asking someone out for the first time and telling them that you were looking for a lifetime partner and wanted to have a few kids and live on the west coast!!” I was certain he would see it my way. To my great surprise, Marshall said with heartfelt sincerity overflowing, “Oh, Mary, I would love to be asked out that way. I would just love to be asked out that way.” My initial reaction was to cry from despair because I thought I had possibly come to the wrong place to be understood about how vulnerable it would be for me to ask someone out in such a way and how certain I was that any rational person would run for safety if approached in that manner. Fortunately, my gut instinct was to stay and listen.
I don’t remember anything else that was said in that meeting. Not a word. What I remember is a lot of crying on my part and me leaving the room completely and totally committed to NVC. I wish I could remember the words because I’d like to be able to repeat them to support others. And yet, the words don’t seem to matter that much to me anymore because I can easily connect with how I felt in that moment. Somehow, Marshall managed to crack through a hard protective core that I had carried around my entire life to reveal a soft, powerful heart. A heart that was just beginning to understand the healing power and freedom of connecting vulnerably with others. And, that soft, powerful heart in me will always, always be grateful. Thank you, Marshall. Happy Birthday.
About a decade ago, Jori and I contributed to something called the Leadership Team with Marshall, Valentina and a few others folks. One day, we were meeting together to discuss some issues at CNVC.
During a break in the meeting, everyone else left the room except Marshall and me. I summoned the courage to ask Marshall for some feedback.
I said something like, “Marshall, we’ve been hanging out more lately at these Leadership Team meetings, and I feel curious to know if you have noticed anything that might be helpful to me in terms of my NVC practice. I’d enjoy receiving your feedback if you have anything to offer.”
He seemed to think for a moment, bowing his head slightly, furrowing his brow. After a few moments of consideration, he said something like, “Jim, not really. I can’t think of anything right now. How about if I notice something, I let you know?” I eagerly said yes to his offer.
A few minutes later, in the middle of our conversation, he cried, “That’s it! When you do that, I feel scared!”
A little surprised and befuddled, yet also grateful to get some feedback, I nodded my head and took it in. I had no idea what he was talking about. “Marshall, something scared you. I’m not clear about what you are responding to. Would you be willing to say?”
He replied, “Yes”, and continued, “what I notice is that you asked me a question without revealing to me why you were asking it. It would help me to feel safer if you would say what you are feeling when you ask me a question and link it to your need.”
The feedback when into me like a thunderbolt of insight. I realized how well I have been trained to interview people. I’ve received a lot of education about the importance of asking questions. I’m a trained journalist with a minor in psychology, and also consider myself a life-long learner. I’m full of questions!
I realized that a question was a form of request. I’d been teaching others to reveal their feelings and needs when making a request in my training. I’d also been doing my best to do that. And yet, this was like a new realization. Hearing that Marshall got scared when I asked him a question awakened empathy in me for what it is like to be on the receiving end of questioning. It awakened self-empathy as well, as memories arose when others have quizzed me. I tasted my own fear and need to protect myself.
I have taken that precious feedback to heart, and endeavor to live the honesty Marshall coached me to have. Of course, I notice that I’m not perfect in revealing my feelings and needs before asking a question now, even ten years later. But, integrating his feedback has given me more awareness and choice.
“When we are in touch with our unmet need we never feel shame, guilt, self-anger, or the depression that we feel when we think that what we did was wrong. We feel sadness, deep sadness, sometimes frustration, but never depression, guilt, anger, or shame. Those four feelings tell us we are making moralistic judgments at the moment we are feeling those feelings. Anger, depression, guilt, and shame are the product of the thinking that is at the base of violence on our planet.”