Introduction to Non Voilence Communication

At the Dharma Summit religious leaders will explore the meaning and application of Dharma in the present times where fragmentation is so prevalent.  The word Dharma literally means ‘that which holds together’ or ’sustains a being’. It includes religion, but it is much more. It is a combination of rule of law, duties, laws of being, the principles & forces which sustain a being and the path of righteousness. Every action, thought or speech that sustains growth and promotes harmony is part of Dharma. Here I  introduce meditation and nonviolent communication as a key Dharma practice.

 All religions recommend controlling ones passion to enhance ones ability to manifest the divinity which is already present in man.  Passions like anger, greed, deceit and lust result in individual and collective violence in thought, word and action. At the same time we must learn and understand that anger, pride; deceit and greed are very much a part of our lives today and that these will not disappear overnight. Life is filled with frustration, pain, loss and the unpredictable actions of others. We have not been able to change that; but we can change the way we let such events affect us. One requires skills and tools to deal with anger, conflict and stress nonviolently and compassionately.

The story of Chandakaushik has helped me clarify my understanding about non violence and compassion. Chandakaushik was a big black poisonous snake, and he had bitten many people that few dared go into the fields. Using his powers Lord Mahavir, the Jain prophet and teacher tamed and persuaded Chandakaushik to practice the discipline of nonviolence. Within a short time the villagers discovered that the snake had become harmless. They took to throwing stones at it and dragging it about by its tail.

After several days Lord Mahavir was very sad to find the snake wounded and battered, and he said to Chandakaushik, “What have you allowed to happen to yourself?” To which the snake replied, “But it was you who taught me to practice the discipline of nonviolence!”  And Lord Mahavir said “Chandakaushik I asked you to stop hurting, but I never told you to stop ‘hissing’.”

Expressing your angry feelings in an assertive –not aggressive nor by blaming and shaming the other — manner is the healthiest way to express anger. To do this, one has  to learn how to make clear what ones needs (not wants) are, and how to get them met, without hurting others. Being assertive doesn’t mean being pushy or demanding; it means being respectful of oneself and others.

At an intellectual level this is very easy to understand; at a practical level it is harder. I felt my way through many explosive situations and have learned that to act nonviolently in the face of violence requires a regular practice of meditation.  Quiet moments help to experience compassion within ourselves and allow compassionate alternatives to arise from the heart. Stress stimulates violent inclinations.  A relaxed person is less likely to commit violence. Regular time in prayer and meditation has helped me to find steadiness in my continuing choice of nonviolence over violence. This has helped me to act with long-lasting, life affirming consequences as opposed to a quick fix when faced with any form of violence. Nonviolent living is taking the time and energy to stop, breathe and connect with myself and my inner core which is the source of divine wisdom. Living nonviolently takes great courage, commitment and vigilance in a culture whose values are antithetical to this compassionate ethic of non injury. The environment and the media encourage us to deal with anger violently. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, and smash a fist into the wall or sometimes into another person! Our inability to be aware that we are angry and then control and manage our anger leads to violence. Conflict in our relationship with people around us is inevitable but how we deal with the conflict is important.

Anger is an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage,’ according to Charles Spielberger, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger. Like other emotions, it is accompanied by physiological and biological changes; when you get angry, your heart rate and blood pressure go up, as does the level of your energy hormones, adrenalin and noradrenalin. Anger is an adaptive response to threats; it inspires powerful, often aggressive, feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. A certain amount of anger, therefore, is necessary to our survival.  All anger has a life serving core and one can deal with anger nonviolently, this does not mean that you suppress anger; the danger in this type of response is that if it isn’t allowed outward expression, your anger can turn inward — on yourself. Anger turned inward may cause hypertension, ulcers, depression and many other medical problems. The aim is to use the anger energy and convert it into more constructive behavior.  

Developing the ability to say “ouch” when one hurts without blame or shame is a skill I have learned from Marshall Rosenberg, clinical psychologist who teaches a process called Nonviolent Communication. Nonviolent communication is a life-connected language. In speaking this language we connect with others by honestly expressing ourselves but without any blame or criticism, and by empathically receiving communication from others, without hearing any blame or criticism from them, regardless of how they express themselves.

While communicating nonviolently our attention is focused on how people are, and what would enhance their life.  There are four distinct pieces of information, which are the components of nonviolent communication, are 1.Observation without evaluation or judgment. 2. Feelings 3. Needs 4. Request.

According to Marshall Rosenberg anger and conflict management begins by being aware of the situations that trigger the feelings of anger. Being aware that the other person is just a stimulus and not the cause of your anger. At this point we relieve ourselves of thoughts such as, “He, she, or they made me angry when they did that.” Such thinking leads us to express our anger superficially by blaming or punishing the other person.

So to deal with a conflict situation nonviolently would be to be aware of our own feelings and needs rather than going to our head to make a mental analysis of wrongness regarding somebody. In doing so we choose to connect to the life that is within us. Understanding that the cause of our anger lies in our thinking (in thoughts of blame and judgment). The following is an example to help shed some clarity on how focusing on our needs helps to deal with anger nonviolently. If you have an appointment and the other person arrives late and if we are needing assurance that the other person ‘cares about us’, we may feel hurt. If, instead, our need is to spend time purposefully and constructively so we can keep up with the plans of the rest of the day, we may feel frustrated. If on the other hand our need is for thirty minutes of quiet and solitude, we feel grateful for the other person’s delay and not angry at all. Thus, it is not the behavior of the other person, but our need, which causes how we feel. The process of being in touch with our need which may be reassurance, purposefulness, or solitude; we are in touch with our life energy.

In the face of anger the first step is to simply stop and breathe without giving in the temptation of blame, punish or hurt the other person in any way. Simply remain quiet. Violence is not possible in the absence of stress. A relaxed person cannot commit violence. Once we are centered and connected with our selves we become aware of our thoughts and identify the thoughts that are making us angry.  In most cases, however, another step needs to take place before we can expect the other party to connect with what is going on in us. Because it will be difficult for others to receive our feelings and needs in such situations, we would first need to empathize and hear how they are feeling and what needs of theirs are being met. The more we empathize with them the more likely it is that they will be able to understand how we feel and need. It is in this exchange of understanding of the other persons feelings and needs, we recognize our common humanity.

Submitted by : Dr. Hema Pokharna to ISSJS