Though many of us diligently research issues, construct well-informed beliefs and set out to integrate these beliefs into our lives, many people often fall at the final hurdle: communicating their beliefs to others in a manner that people respond positively to.
Thom Bond, the author of The Compassion Course Online, outlines that positive communication requires at first empathy (here defined as an exploration of a parallel universe of thoughts and needs), followed by compassion (the sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others).
However, in our culture embedded within ‘modern’ civilisation, we have been drilled through our schooling, what we watch and read, in every aspect of our lives, to defend our points of view through rigorous reasoning. A relevant example of this, and I’m sorry to bring it into yet another conversation, is Brexit. I’m sure you can identify with a situation where you were either an observer or participant of a debate between a Remainer and a Brexiteer, perhaps in the pub, perhaps over a family dinner. This confrontation would likely have consisted of each opposing side either constructing complex infrastructures upon which their positions stood (e.g. ‘£350 million could be going towards the NHS’) or attacking their opponent’s reasoning (e.g. ‘this is really about immigration and you’re being racist’).
Though often it is reassuring in a sense to engage in this way, drawing reassuring passion from the tension of such exchanges, it is largely counter-productive. How often did such a conversation conclude with either party changing their mind? Never, I’ll wager.
Furthermore, it’s rare that such arguments are with complete strangers. An article in the Guardian from June 2016 demonstrates the deep, personal ramifications these unresolved disagreements can engender; using the example of a 21-one-year-old from Merseyside whose family was torn apart by the issue:
my parents completely refused to see things from any point of view but their own, and would deliberately misunderstand my view or rubbish it completely.
The article contains many different stories echoing the same outcome: escalating debate, overbrimming anger and ultimately deep and painful rifts between friends and family.
But how can we begin to approach such situations? Cue the teachings of Marshall B. Rosenberg, American psychologist mediator, author and teacher and founder of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Rosenberg, having drawn attention to the innumerable positive interactions which are required every day the world-round to allow society to even function, stated that ‘a difficult message to hear is an opportunity to enrich someone’s life’. He developed a manner of communicating which focusses upon the needs of the people involved rather than the arguments; by focussing on the needs of opposing viewpoints, solutions are naturally the next step. Rosenberg’s teachings aim to move us away from our naturally confrontational, ‘violent’ manner of interacting and encourages us to focus instead on needs. Rather than getting bogged down in analysis, Rosenberg’s approach focusses upon what we can learn from hearing the needs of others, striving to establish empathy which leads to compassion. This manner of thinking naturally espouses development in both parties mindsets: ‘if I can think in terms of needs I’m far more likely to learn from my limitations without losing self-respect’.
When thinking about thorny, seemingly insurmountable conflicts, the words of Desmond Tutu in 2004 spring to mind: ‘Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument’. With the ever-growing threat of far-right political fervour across Europe, the state of North-American politics, the scapegoating of immigrants and conflicts as complex as Israel-Palestine and the Syrian war raging on, we need understanding more than we ever have. The 3rd week of the School of Gentle Protest is set to explore exactly this approach. Focussing upon the concept of ‘Intimate Activism’, our visiting professor John-Paul Flintoff, writer, coach and teacher in the ‘Art of Conversation’ will discuss the issue of confronting those nearest to us, give us some top tips to overcome these obstacles and encourages us to have fun while doing so. Over the course of the week, we’ll be revisiting the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg, reviewing some of the great intimate protestors of the past and looking to see where our next productive interaction might be found.
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