Nonviolent Communication and Social Change – 2

This is the second post in my ponderings on Nonviolent Communication and Social Change. Last time, I talked about some of the dangers of social change work. I believe it is NVC consciousness that makes the difference. When we come from a place that everyone’s needs matter, change will inevitably happen. When our enemies’ needs are as important as our own, peace will follow. When we accept how beautiful the world is, we will care for it.  This is very different from using NVC to fight for social change. 

In contrast to the ‘power-over’ mentality, a sense of ‘we know best’, NVC instead brings care to check with everyone. What are all the needs? What strategies will meet them? AND we may need to keep doing this work! There’s an intention to put all the needs on the table and to stay in dialogue. There is something at the heart of NVC about letting go of the outcome. We are not seeking to impose a particular kind of change, or wanting to shape the world to match our vision of it.

I was reflecting with Marshall Rosenberg about domination systems (schools, churches, governments). How it landed with me is that when the system dominates us, we lose capacity to make our own choices. This mentality creeps in when whenever we hold on to doing things the way we have always done them, for instance. NVC calls us to stay alert so we’re not just following orders. Keep checking – is this still serving me/us/humanity? 

Stay true to you!

I once saw Marshall decline to join in a circle that stood to hold hands. When asked about this, he said it was always good to practise not conforming. I invite us all to become more aware of power-over mentality, and to practise not conforming.

What to do

So, the questions to ask yourself might be:

  • Am I coming from a needs-based place? Am I willing to put all the needs on the table, with them all mattering equally?
  • Am I willing to include everyone’s needs, even those of people I judge to be enemies and/or on the other side of a debate?
  • Am I intending to work with others, ensuring everyone’s voices are heard?
  • Am I open to keep checking with others that their needs are being met?
  • Am I open to other views of how the world could be?
  • Am I open to different ways that we could get there? 
  • Do I have a sense of choice about my involvement in the work?

Feeling Numb?

an orange

Sometimes it’s hard to know what we are feeling. Have you noticed feeling numb? Even when emotions may be high or others talk about their feelings? I’ve talked many times about how I started exploring the inner world of my own feelings with “I feel numb”. A kind of emotional numbness? I had sense something was going on… but what…? When I checked I had no clue, like a connection wasn’t there.

I actually believe it’s impossible to feel nothing and we can all start somewhere. For me “I feel numb” was the start.

When I connected to the numb- which the simple act of turning my attention to the numbness was all it took. Something shifted. (Sidenote: In my years of working with others I find that most people tend to try to make this inner connection work overcomplicated. If this seems simple, that’s because it is, I’m wary of anything in psychology that is overly complex).

As I got curious my numbness had an edge, a colour even. It was grey and square and it sat in my body like a square.

With this came something more to engage with – in fact something more to form a relationship with. I chose to have this relationship be a compassionate one. Welcoming, warm and accepting. I was feeling something- even though my rational brain was sceptical and trying to tell me this was weird. Ah- these thoughts prompted some feelings…. wariness, disbelief… my attention enjoyed exploring these feelings. Again with compassion.

Rumi quote about The Dark Thought

I stuck with it, checking in and asking myself how do I feel? A new awareness arose over time. The consequence… the depression I had lived with for months started to lift… turns out numbness was what I needed to tune into into to offer compassion to myself. to really listen to myself.

A turning point – no longer feeling ONLY numb!

One day I found myself peeling an orange and I tuned into my feelings. The day had so far been dampened down by grey fog and yet there were moments of sunshine, sensations in my body I would call gratitude and delight as I peeled the orange at my kitchen counter. It was enough for me to notice I was no longer living as a depressed person in those moments, I was living moment to moment with my feelings as they moved.

Let’s end with a poem- a gem!

Wendy Cope poem 'The Orange'

If you are feeling numb…I suggest starting with “I feel numb”, feel it, get curious and see where that takes you. It;s so easy to dismiss it and look for ‘real feelings!


I really enjoy Daniel Siegel’s work and in particular his very readable book Mindsight, each chapter explores cases he has worked with and how people have worked with their inner world.