Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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Workshop on Non-Violent Communication

On Saturday afternoon, Nov. 25, 2006, sisters and CSJ Associates gathered at Morrow Park for a workshop conducted by Henry Wai who, for the past seven years, has been helping people change the way they communicate with others. Henry is pictured above with Sisters Jean Leahy, left, Gwen Smith, Anne Lemire, and Janet Fraser. Henry was inspired by the example of people like the Berrigan brothers, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who were both powerful and compassionate in their work for peace. What follow are Sr. Grace Sauvé’s thoughts on this talk as she participated in the workshop…

Non-violent communication is a way of relating to others with compassion based on understanding needs – our own and those of others. It is a way of “belonging, forgetting, remembering.” Belonging is a core human need — the need for connecting with one another. But we have forgotten that. Henry quoted Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

Identifying needs

Language and action, Henry said, is just the tip of the iceberg. They lead us to focus on something about that person that comes out of our belief system. It is this focus that leads to the disconnect between us; and this, in turn, leads to words or actions that humiliate, disrespect and degrade the other. It is important in a conflict situation to identify your own need. Feelings are clues to needs, and awareness of your needs can shift your focus to what the other person may be feeling. This is the basis for resolving conflict.

When we see an unhappy person, we are looking at someone whose needs are not being met. We have within us the resources for responding to unmet needs: recognition, affirmation, appreciation, acceptance, support and many others. Violence is not a part of nature but comes from the way we have been educated. For thousands of years, people have been taught that humans are basically evil. Our mythologies (e.g. fairy tales) use destructive and dehumanizing language. Heroes in the stories always triumph over evil. The universal concept of justice is that of reward and punishment based on ”getting what you deserve.” We tend to hide our thirst for punishment of others under the guise of fairness and justice. This is not gospel teaching.

We are all children of God. We all have needs, both universal ones and specific ones. Awareness of needs in ourselves can lead to awareness of the same needs in others, which leads to a connection between us in such a way that compassion is awakened in us. Henry illustrated this by several powerful stories of violent actions and their peaceful resolution through engaging the violent in conversation and hearing the need being expressed.

How it works

Helping someone who has abused others might begin with asking about his or her experiences of abuse and discovering that the person had also been abused. Identifying the person’s needs at the time of the incident may reveal the need that that abusive incident met. Recognizing our own needs helps us realize how those who were being abused must have felt. Punishment alone will never generate this kind of response nor will it bring about a change in the abuser, a change which may take place when he or she learns that there are other ways of meeting the need for love, companionship and empathy.

Thought, language, communication and action are intertwined. We need to grow in awareness of the thought behind the action and the way that language disconnects. Moralistic judgements, labels, demands, blame, imposing “shoulds” or “oughts” and a denial of the truth that we all have a choice are signs of a needy person.


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