Marshall B. Rosenberg’s bestselling book Nonviolent Communication highlights four simple but often overlooked communication patterns that prevents us from demonstrating genuine compassion in our actions towards others than rather feeling induced or coerced
1: Moralistic Judgements
One kind of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgements that imply wrongness or badness on the part of the people who don’t in harmony with our values. Such judgement are reflected in the language.
“ The problem is that you’re too selfish”
“ She is lazy”
“They are prejudiced””
Blame, insult, put-downs, labels, criticisms, comparations and diagnoses are all forms of judgement.
Life-alienating communication, however, traps us in a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness-a world of judgments. It is a language rich with words that classify and dichotomize people and their actions. We speak the language, we judge others and their behavior while preoccupying ourselves with who’s good, bad, normal, abnormal, responsible, irresponsible, smart, ignorant, etc.
“” In the world of judgements, our concerns on “who is what”
Analyses of others are actually expressions of our own needs and values.
This is tragic because when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us. Or, if people do agree to act in harmony with our values, they will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness.
We all pay dearly when people respond to our values and needs not out of a desire to give from the heart, but out of fear, guilt, or shame. Sooner or later, we will experience the consequences of diminished goodwill on the part of those who comply with our values out of a send of either external or internal coercion.
They, too, pay emotionally, for they are likely to feel resentment and decreased self-esteem when they respond us out of fear, guilt, or shame. Furthermore, each time others associate us in their minds with any of those feelings, the likelihood of their responding compassionately to our needs and values in the future decreases.
One thing is not to confuse between value judgements and moralistic judgments. All of us make value judgements as to the qualities we value in life. For example, we might value honesty, freedom, or peace. Value judgements reflect our beliefs how life can best be served. We make moralistic judgements of people and behaviors that fail to support our value our value judgements.
2: Making Comparisons
In his book How to Make Yourself Miserable, Dan Greenburg demonstrates through humor the insidious power that comparative thinking can exert over us. He suggests that if readers have a sincere desire to make life miserable for themselves, they might learn to compare themselves to other people.
Comparisons are a form of judgement. We start to feel miserable as we engage in these comparisons.
3: Denial of Responsibility
Another kind of life-alienating communication is the denial of responsibility. Communication is life-alienating when it clouds our awareness that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feeling and actions. The use of the common expression have to.. as in “ There are somethings you have to do, whether you like it or not”. Illustrates how personal responsibility for our actions can be obscured in speech. The phrase makes me feel, as in “You make me feel guilty” is another example of how language facilitates denial of personal responsibility for our own feelings and thoughts.
Our language obscures awareness of personal responsibility. Thinks like “I had to”, “Superior orders, “company policy”, “ it was the law”
We deny responsibility for our own actions when we attribute their cause to factors outside of ourselves.
- Vague, impersonal forces-“ I cleaned my room because I had to.”
- Our conditions, diagnose, or personal psychological history-“ I drink because I am an alcholic”
- The actions of others-“I hit my child because he ran into the street.”
- The dictates of authority-“I lied to the client because the client told me to.”
- Institutional policies, rules, and regulations-“ I have to suspend you from this infraction because it’s the school policy”-
- Gender roles, social roles, or age roles- “I hate going to work, but I do it because I am a husband and a father.”
- Uncontrolled impulses-“ I was overcome by my urge to eat the candy bar.”
We can replace language that implies lack of choice with language that acknowledges choice.
We are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think and feel.
4: Other Forms of Life-Alienating Communication
Communicating our desires as demands.
Communicating our desires as demands is yet another form of language that blocks compassion. A demand explicitly or implicitly threatens listeners with blame or punishment if they fail to comply. It is a common form of communication in our culture, especially among those who hold positions of authority.
We can never make people do anything.
Certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment.
The concept that certain actions merit reward while others merit punishment is also associated with life-alienating communication. This thinking is expressed by the word deserves as in “ He deserves to be punished for what he did”. It assumes “badness” on the part of the people who behave in a certain ways, and it calls for punishment to make them repent and change their behavior. I believe it is in everyone’s interest that people change, not in order to avoid punishment, but because they the change as benefiting themselves.
Thinking based on “who deserves what” blocks compassionate communication.
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. I believe life-alienating communication is rooted in views of human nature that have exerted their influence for several centuries. These views stress humans’ innate evil and deficiency, and a need for education to control our inherently undesirable nature. Such education often leaves us questioning whether there is something wrong with whatever feelings and needs we may be experiencing. We learn early to cut ourselves off from what’s going on within ourselves.
Life-alienating communication has deep philosophical and political roots.
Life-alienating communication both stems from and supports hierarchical or domination societies, where large populations are controlled by a small number of individuals to those individuals, own benefit. It would be in the interest of kings, czars, nobles, and so forth that the masses be educated in a way that renders them slave like in mentality. The language of wrongness, should, and have to is perfectly suited for this purpose: the more people are trained to think in terms of moralistic judgments that imply wrongness and badness, the more they are being trained to look outside themselves—to outside authorities—for the definition of what constitutes right, wrong, good, and bad. When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we humans no longer make good slaves and underlings.