Thursday, March 28, 2013

Violent Communication

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I wasn't aware that the Supreme Court was considering the Defense of Marriage Act until I started seeing all of the red equals signs on facebook.  

I think this is a good indication that I need to start getting some sort of newspaper delivered.  I used to get my news from NPR on my morning and afternoon commutes, and for the first few years after having kids I could still stay in the loop that way.  But now that Eden’s old enough to pick out words like “killed” and “bomb” and ask a ton of questions I unfortunately can’t listen to news radio anymore. 

I think it’s interesting how facebook is used during times like these.  No doubt, the Court’s decision is important and momentous and matters.  But it seems that much of the virtual “conversation” surrounding the issue is angry and hurtful and unproductive.  I wonder, how many people are talking about this issue face-to-face?  Have virtual debates taken the place of personal conversations?  My guess is that the virtual argument – because it’s full of polarity, anger, and fear – discourages face-to-face conversation.

I recently was rereading one of my all-time favorite books, Nonviolent Communication.  I have to read it, along with about 4 other books, once every couple of years because it speaks truth and I am so stubborn that I can’t seem to absorb it into my life.  In case you’re not familiar, the basic steps in the process of nonviolent communication (or NVC) are

1. Observe without judgment the actions that are affecting me.
2. Identify my feeling in response to what I observe.
3. Determine my need, value, desire that creates my feelings.
4. Decide what concrete action I can request in order to enrich my life. 

The goal is to use this communication style to both express our own feelings/needs and to receive the feelings/needs of others.  The end result is to meet needs and enrich lives rather than place blame and foster resentment.  Yes, it’s very hippy and psychobabbly, but also productive and helpful.  The author has had amazing results using this process with the most vitriolic and volatile conflicts in the world (think Palestinians and Israelis, for example).  

I suck at this.  My natural style of communication is violent communication (or VC):

1. Observe what someone else did that was wrong.
2. Shame you because you made me feel bad.
3. Lament that you will never change.
4. Reserve my right to complain forever about what you just did or said. 

My guess is that my struggle to incorporate NVC into my life consistently is not because I’m an immature, mean, and spiteful person.  My guess is that it’s because I haven’t learned yet to be okay with who I am enough that I can let other people be radically different from me.  And I haven’t learned yet that it’s okay to have needs and be vulnerable enough to express them.  And I haven’t learned yet to give myself grace when I am hurtful, so I don’t give that grace to others. 

Maybe other people are like me in that.

I am in a politically diverse marriage (you like my politically correct language?).  We are one partially red, one partially blue, and together some shade of purple.  It’s hard to scream obscenities at and stereotype your political counterpart when you are married to them.  You know them too well to stereotype, and you also know you’d better be careful because you’re going to be living under the same roof for the rest of your life. 

Maybe we should all pretend to be married to those political counterparts we engage with on this issue of gay marriage.  Or maybe some nonviolent communication would help.  Either way, I think we would do well to remember that whether we’re looking at an equals sign or a photo, behind it is a real, complex, feeling human being. 

I know, it’s hard.  I know, with what some people are posting, it’s easy to think that there is no feeling human being behind it.  But there is.  “Those people” may be completely disconnected from the effects of their words, and the feelings and needs of others.  If that’s the case, they are likely equally disconnected from their own feelings and needs.  Shame begets shame.  Hurt begets hurt. 

The way forward is nonviolent words and actions.  It’s grace for ourselves and others.  And it’s equal acceptance of all. 

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