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“Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life,” by Marshall Rosenberg

book cover Available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Wisely and kindly, Marshall Rosenberg introduces us to the principles of effective communication, showing how we can resolve conflicts by letting go of value judgments, skillfully expressing our feelings, communicating our needs, and practicing empathy.

Rosenberg is a remarkable man. I think of him as a Bodhisattva, although he’s not a practicing Buddhist. Actually he would probably not say he wasn’t a Buddhist nor say he was a Buddhist because he abhors labels. But labels aside, he travels the world continually, helping gangs to resolve their differences, helping Israelis and Arabs to find common ground, and helping native peoples to skillfully confront the developers who desire their land.

This book really is a revelation, and has transformed lives. There are so many times while reading this book that I realized, “Of course! That’s why that discussion degenerated into a fight.” And I don’t mean that this is one of these self-help books where you are able to see where others have made mistakes, but that this book hits you right between the eyes, showing you how much of what you thought was your insightful observation was actually life-denying judgment.

One of the more profound aspects of this book is the notion — one I happen to share — that all of our most destructive actions are in fact “the tragic expressions of unmet needs.” In other words, in the deepest core of our being is a — for want of a better word — trans-moral desire for wellbeing, life, connection, and wholeness. Its the misguided and non-empathetic way that we express those needs that’s the problem.

Rosenberg’s style will not appeal to everyone. In personal appearances (I was fortunate enough to be on a weekend seminar with him) he sings songs and illustrates points with glove puppets. And this was to an adult audience. Some of you will squirm. But I suggest you compassionately and empathetically experience your discomfort and get over it so that you can get the benefits that Rosenberg’s approach offers.

Another caveat — although NVC is not in essence a method, Rosenberg has a methodical way of introducing his key practices. The results, in terms of the examples of the use of NVC, can sound impossibly stilted and unappealing. However, these examples should be understood to have the same relation to Nonviolent communication in practice as a recipe does to a gourmet meal. The recipe on the page hardly has the appeal of the actual dish.

We think everyone could benefit from reading this book.

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