Love Beyond Measure and Nonviolent Communication – reviews
Love Beyond Measure: a spirituality of nonviolence, by Mary Lou Kownacki OSB, 1993. Pax Christi USA, 58 pages (Available from Pax Christi, St. Joseph’s, Watford Way, Hendon, London N24 4TY, £5 plus p&p)
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, by Marshall B. Rosenberg, 2nd Edition 2003. PuddleDancer Press, 240 pages, ISBN 978-1-8920-0503-8. Approx £12
These are timeless books which I include together because in my experience they are complementary. Rosenberg’s book has long provided me with trusted company. Kownacki’s is a recent discovery for me; a ‘pearl of great price’.
Kownacki is a Benedictine nun with long experience of nonviolent direct action. The basis of her approach is expressed on p4: ‘A spirituality of nonviolence has something to do with grasping fully the depth of God’s love. So a good place to start the journey to nonviolence is by exploring love of self and the depth of God’s love for me. Without a true love for oneself, any attempts at nonviolence easily become clanging symbols and sounding gongs’. In 58 pages she relates stories and personal experiences which bring alive ‘the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love’ as expounded by St. Paul in Ephesians 3: 17-19.
She reminds us of Gandhi’s statement that his most formidable opponent ‘is a man named Mohandas K. Gandhi. With him, I seem to have very little influence.’ I imagine that few of us can say otherwise about ourselves. Kownacki’s spirituality comes across in her poetic style of writing where her wisdom and depth of experience reach out to the reader. It is perhaps more accurate to say ‘reach out to the participant’ because the second half of the book is in the form of interactive exercises some of which posed questions which took me to places where I hesitated to go. For example, ‘what were the circumstances the last time you came face to face with the violence inside yourself?’ Whilst the exercises are designed to be responded to by an individual or a group, I imagine that the group context would be even more demanding – and potentially more rewarding.
The book ends with a Vow of Nonviolence which readers can choose to take if they wish. It begins with ‘Recognising the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year (or other period) to practice the nonviolence of Jesus …’
Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication focuses upon the language we habitually use. He believes that most people live in what he calls a ‘domination culture’, a culture which reflects the power structure of a particular society; and that much of our language in turn reflects this culture and structure. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is based upon two principles, namely to express one-self honestly and to receive the other person compassionately – a tall order for any of us! He hones in on four dimensions of relating, namely:
- Accurate observation of the words and actions of the people involved
- The feelings and thoughts which connect with their words and actions
- The needs and values which the feelings relate to, and
- Any request which might be made to one-self or to the other(s) in order to meet these needs and values in more satisfying ways.
A constant question within this framework is ‘Can the people involved find ways of relating which meet the needs and values of all?’
Coming to this as a man, I was certainly limited in being literate with regard to feelings. But I was even more illiterate with regard to needs, if less so for values. The realisation that there is an integral link between feelings on the one hand and needs and values on the other, opened up a completely new dimension to understanding myself and others. To cut a long story short, when I found that there was nothing in this book with which I could argue, it seemed sensible to try to learn some of it. What I hadn’t bargained for is how something so simple and clear could be so frustrating and difficult – yet also, with the help and support of others, incredibly rewarding. Slowly I have learned that:
- My observations are often tainted by my judgements of the other person and/or myself.
- My feelings often operate outside my awareness.
- My needs and values are even more often outside my awareness.
- And my requests are often influenced by judgements and fears; and sometimes are so lacking in specificity that they cannot result in change.
Equally slowly, I have learned that if I persevere in this process and face my vulnerabilities and fears, more honesty and compassion grow.
The word “needs” requires clarifying within a culture which scarcely recognises how integral they are to our humanity. Whilst physical needs like food, drink, shelter and warmth are obvious, interpersonal and community needs like acceptance and understanding are often less so. The deeper needs (which might by some be regarded as values) such as integrity, honesty, trust, compassion and love, may be overshadowed by our materialist and individualist culture. This last sentence makes clear that this book reflects a spirituality which does not fit with the dominant culture. Whilst what it contains isn’t expressed in Christian terms, I believe it offers ways of relating with others which communicate the love and truth we are called to. There is a particular dimension of this NVC process which I want to emphasise here. It is to do with the receiving of empathy when we are troubled. This often leads to considerable clarity, relief and self-acceptance. Both Kownacki and Rosenberg regard this self-acceptance as vital if we are truly to love and accept others. I am reminded that Jesus’ answer to the question ‘What is the greatest commandment’ contained the phrase ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. This reference to loving ourselves does not fit easily with the kind of Christianity within which I was brought up. I am now grateful and happy to believe that you and I are beloved of God.
Information about NVC can be obtained from www.nvc-uk.com