Murders, terrorists, rapists, and bullies. All are examples of humans who we don’t really like to think of as having much humanity. They’re criminals, evil doers, oppressors, or more colloquially scum. They’re assholes, jerks, bastards. They’re also lovers, parents, and friends. Wait…does one of those lists not seem to fit?
Nonviolent Communication calls us to see the humanity in all people. From seeing the humanity in someone that we’re having a fight with to seeing even a murder as a fellow human. That is of course not meant to make light of the damage they’ve wrought upon others. But it is meant to free us up so that we can have a compassionate connection with these people, and not be frozen in judgment.
Let’s take the case of the suspected Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Many people’s initial reaction is to condemn not only the action but also whoever did it. You hear things like “whoever did this is a monster”, or “a really evil person did this”, or “whoever did this deserves death”. But to say such a thing implies that this person’s entire worth as a moral being is summed up within this one action. And of course as long as we are holding judgments such as those then if we were to meet face to face with the person we’d probably lash out at them, harm them in some way. And as long as we are treating people who commit violence with violence, then the world shall never know peace.
That’s not to say that we ought not to prevent such crimes. There is ample space to use protective use of force. But it is to say that after such violence we must try to avoid resorting to more violence, since if we do then we will never have true peace on Earth. And the problem isn’t the intensity of this person’s actions, the problem is in fact the entire paradigm of “good” and “bad”.
So how do we manage to see the humanity in this person? The first step is to separate the person from their actions. Try and see if you’re view of the potential human changes when you think these two thoughts “This man is a monster with an evil heart” and “This man committed a cruel and hugely devastating action”. While in both you may still feel sadness and anger that this event happened, but I’m curious as to whether the way you view this person changes at all. And if it doesn’t, is that because you’re still not separating the person from their actions?
Try on a less difficult example; your Mother forgets to call you on your birthday. See if your view of Mom changes when you think the thought “Distant and forgetful Mom again, always lets me down” and “Hmmm…I’m really sad and feel lonely since Mom forgot to call”.
And once we are able to separate the person from their action, we can find it easier to identify how the action left our needs unmet and thus resulted in negative emotions. And we are freed up to inquire into what needs this person was trying to meet in themselves when they did it. Since all actions are strategies to meet needs. And once we as a people come to the place where I can identify what needs are unmet in me, and I have compassion for what needs you’re trying to meet by doing the action, then we are finally at the place where we might find a solution that meets both of our needs.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.