Sunday, March 06, 2005

Skills of Peace:Language of the Heart

"Conversations should have different rules than war."

Sharon Ellison, a communications consultant in Oakland, has developed an alternative she calls "Powerful Non-Defensive Communication." Instead of conversations that attack and defend, which shut down communication and accelerate conflict, she teaches strategies and techniques for communicating clearly and honestly, without manipulation. "And with this kind of communication, you don't lose control."

"Power struggle is the most pervasive and least recognized addiction on earth... My belief is that if we can begin to communicate without trying to control people, it opens the door to levels of resolution that can start with individuals and become contagious, and extend to families and communities and then on a larger scale."

"Peace has to start with us as individuals. When people from different peace organizations get so angry they're screaming at each other, as I heard from someone recently, I don't see how we can expect world leaders to create world peace."

Ellison and her trainers work with individuals and groups on professional and family interactions. Examples of how her methods apply in different situations appear on her website.

There's also local training available in another approach called Nonviolent Communication (NVC), developed by Marshall Rosenberg.

"It's grounded in the premise that the most important thing, when there's a difference, is to connect with what are the underlying needs and get all parties to hear fully each other's needs---the deeper needs---not just the surface strategies," says Miki Kashtan, co-founder of BayNVC headquartered in Oakland. "Once a quality of hearing happens, there can be a solution found by the parties that meets everyone's needs."

But it's more than a different technique. "The language is not the goal. The goal is the connection," she said. "What we are doing is about coming from a different place in the heart."

Teaching and especially using his communications principles has founder Marshall Rosenberg traveling the world. Just before his most recent visit to conduct workshops and a public forum in San Francisco in March, Rosenberg spent 10 days in Hungary, training people from 14 countries, including Serbians and Bosnians, then two days in Senegal working with "people who have been victimized by various wars, and want to know how to help rehabilitate people after they've been tortured or lost their families."

Rosenberg describes his work generally as helping people to translate their language of judging into "a language of what's alive in you---what are you feeling, what are you needing? It's very hard to maintain peaceful relationships with language that turns people into things."

But he also cautions that the mechanisms of language are not the essence. "It's a certain consciousness about what is the good life, which we define as contributing to another's well-being, not getting more than others, or punishing others. We need to create social structures, including an economic system and a judicial system that supports that." To explore how to approach this task, in April Rosenberg assembled visionary authors and activists such as Duane Elgin ("Voluntary Simplicity", Linda Stout ("Bridging the Class Divide"), Shariff Abdulah ("The Power of One") and Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun) for a Synergy Event in San Francisco.

"Fortunately there are people who have already evolved this consciousness, and they're very hungry for concrete tools like we offer, to live this way, and to create a world that is in harmony with these principles."