James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” (NIV)
Nonviolent Communication is not written from a biblical perspective, but it does offer some keen insights into how listening, speaking, and anger can be intertwined.
Rosenberg explains why it is important for each person to take responsibility for their own feelings. He contends that “what others say and do may be the stimulus, but never the cause of our feelings.” (p.49) “Violence comes from the belief that other people cause our pain and therefore deserve punishment.” (p.147)
In order to be emotionally free, we must “take responsibility for our own intentions and actions” on the one hand while “we respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt, or shame.” (p.60)
Nonviolent communication “guides us in reframing how we express ourselves and hear others. Instead of being habitual, automatic reactions, our words become conscious responses based firmly on an awareness of what we are perceiving, feeling, and wanting. We are led to express ourselves with honesty and clarity, while simultaneously paying others a respectful and empathic attention. In any exchange, we come to hear our own deeper needs and those of others. . . .” (p.3)
The nonviolent communication process involves expressing 4 pieces of information and also receiving the same 4 pieces of information from others:
1. The concrete actions we are observing that are affecting our well-being
2. How we feel in relation to what we are observing
3. The needs, values, desires, etc., that are creating our feelings
4. The concrete actions we request in order to enrich our lives
As a woman, I relate to what Rosenberg says about expressing the needs behind my feelings :
“For centuries, the image of the loving woman has been associated with sacrifice and the denial of her own needs to take care of others. Because women are socialized to view the care taking of others as their highest duty, they have often learned to ignore their own needs.
At one workshop, we discussed what happens to women who internalize such beliefs. These women, if they ask for what they want, will often do so in a way that both reflects and reinforces the beliefs that they have no genuine right to their needs, and that their needs are unimportant. For example, because she is fearful of asking for what she needs, a woman may fail to simply say that she’s had a busy day, is feeling tired and wants some time in the evening to herself; instead, her words come out sounding like a legal case: “You know I haven’t had a moment to myself all day, I ironed all the shirts, did the whole week’s laundry, took the dog to the vet, made dinner, packed the lunches, and called all the neighbors about the block meeting so [imploringly] . . . .so how about if you . . . ? “No!” comes the swift response. Her plaintive request elicits resistance rather than compassion from her listeners. They have difficulty hearing and valuing the needs behind her pleas, and furthermore react negatively to her weak attempt to argue from a position of what she “should” or “deserves” to get from them. In the end the speaker is again persuaded that her needs don’t matter, not realizing they they were expressed in a way unlikely to draw a positive response.”
Rosenberg warns that “if we don’t value our needs, others may not either.”(p.56)
The author teaches how to listen to someone with empathy rather than trying to fix a problem or make that person feel better.
Christians may not agree with everything in this book (such as the effects of corporal punishment), but Rosenberg does provide the reader with a helpful tool chest of communication skills for building healthier relationships and a happier life.