A week of NVC (Nonviolent Communication) in Bethlehem and Jerusalem

Last week I offered two classes in Nonviolent Communication.  One in Bethlehem for Palestinians and one in the Jewish Quarter  of the Old City of Jerusalem where I have been living.  Here are some reflections.

 Bethlehem                       Image                                                                            

For the second Monday in a row I took the ” Arab bus”  through Jerusalem to teach NVC to Palestinians in Bethlehem.  We ( me and Jerusalem resident Ellen Eisenberg, with the awesome  translation and leadership of Holy Land Trust Director Sami Awad )  are in the second week of facilitating a 5 week course that is part of the train the trainer program for Palestinians who want to become trainers and leaders  in Nonviolent Communication.


The classes are held in the beautiful offices of Holy Land Trust, www.holylandtrust.org,  located in the heart of Bethlehem’s Old City  in the restored historic building of Hosh Hanania. 


We opened the class by asking everyone to share their experience with the home practice we did during the preceding week. The practice included intentional listening skills- listening with curiosity for what is important to the other person, reflecting back to them what you heard and checking if you heard them in the way they wanted to be heard.


The first participant shared that he was in another training course that week and that he had felt angry and annoyed when one of the participants arrived late to class and left early.  At first he didn’t want to even talk to this person. Then he decided to try the NVC home practice. He looked at the person and generated some curiosity within himself about what was going on in the other person. He spoke to him and asked what was going on. The other person shared that since he was a child, he had a history of his difficulty in honoring agreements with groups and that he wanted to change that very thing about himself.


Another participant, a university student, shared that every day when he leaves for work, his 4 year old brother cries and cries. So, trying out the home practice, he guessed that his brother wanted to know he mattered, wanted connection, maybe adventure, and he felt curious about what would happen if he took his brother in the car, so he did, and drove around with him for ten minutes , then brought him happily home!  I am so touched by this example of listening for children’s needs, caring about the needs of a younger sibling, and the willingness to be curious and flexible with a busy work schedule, to creatively meet his own needs for learning and experimenting and for the happiness of his younger brother.


This young man’s father, also in the class, and already active in bringing NVC into Palestinian organizations and community, and participating in trainings with Israelis and Palestinians, shared his experience listening to another son’s needs that week. He noticed that his teen son seemed upset about something, so he asked him what was going on. “Nothing,” was the answer. He persisted, applying one of the NVC teachings, to make different attempts to meet your needs

 ( here, the dad’s need  to connect) , and said, “besides nothing, what else is going on? ” Now he got an answer with the information he wanted:  “the whole vacation has gone by and we haven’t gone to Jerusalem! I want to go to Jerusalem.” 


This family lives outside of Hebron, about 1/2 hour from Jerusalem, and because they are Palestinian, they are not permitted to enter Jerusalem unless they have a permit from Israel. The son had a permit for the school holidays, and the time was running out. So father heard the son’s needs for companionship, adventure and mattering, and dropped his other plans for the day and they set off to Jerusalem. At the checkpoint, they were turned back by the Israeli soldiers- the son’s permit had expired. Even with this disappointment, the father realized that they could still meet their needs to be present with each other, to enjoy spending time together, so they created another plan and had a special day together .


Another participant then shared how he had practiced NVC listening and reflecting skills in his organization. He had decided to meet individually with each of his staff to connect, and create greater understanding and shared vision. Each meeting is 2 hours long. For the first meeting, he met with a staff member he has worked with for 7 years.  He listened with curiosity, checked in that he understood what was being said, wrote down what he was hearing as important and reflected it back. The staff member said it was the first time he ever felt he really had a sense of meeting the other person. The supervisor said it was the most meaningful connection he had had with this staff member.


Another participant, a high school principal, reported that she had dreaded a certain work meeting with one of the teachers.    She guessed the teacher had a greater need for autonomy and so decided to ask the teacher to present a plan to her, instead of telling the teacher what she wanted. To her delight, the teacher came back with a plan that, when she listened to it, covered all the components that were important to her, and were then carried out in a timely way so that everyone could finish the project and go on vacation on time.


Another participant brought the practice into his family life other his sons. He sensed that there was friction between him and his sons so he asked them to sit and have tea together. He listened to their needs, and heard that they wanted more affection from him, the kind of affection he showed his daughter. Now he is kissing his teenaged sons goodnight!  The daughter joined in, and said she wanted the affection from her mother that the sons get ! Mother and daughter spoke about that and all of them realized a family dynamic that was not serving them well. Now the whole family is hearing about each other’s needs for affection.


I was deeply touched by the attentiveness of the fathers in the class to the needs of their children. I found myself wishing my own father had these tools when I was a young girl.


Old City of Jerusalem 

On Wednesday, I walked across the parking lot from my present home in the Old City of Jerusalem , through an old pedestrian tunnel and alleyway,  to the lovely home that was hosting a four hour NVC training. A contingent came from the Aish haTorah yeshiva and from other sectors of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.


After introductions and a go around, we began with an exercise to help us learn to discern observations from judgments. The participants wrote down a judgment they have of someone ( e.g.,  they are lazy, they don’t care about me, they only care about themselves, etc.) Then we wrote down one thing this person does that supports the judgment we have of them. This is an exercise to practice distinguishing our observations of what happened, from what we are telling ourselves about what happened. As we went into the examples people were working with, we could see the possibilities for greater connection, understanding and shared reality that arise when we retrace our steps back from our analyses and judgments, our stories, to what actually happened. We started to see how doing this helps us know what we want to ask of other people to better meet our needs.


 For example, one woman wrote down that people in her community walk right by her without saying hello. She shared that she felt lonely and sad about this, and created a meaning ( analysis) of it, that people weren’t friendly and didn’t care about her.  When she connected to her feelings of loneliness and her need for community and also understanding, she realized that she didn’t really know why people passed her by in that way. She knew her feelings about it- sadness, loneliness, frustration- and with the help of our VC learning community she understood that her needs were for understanding and community.  Now it became easier for her to imagine saying hello first, and even asking people why they didn’t say hello, not from a place of  judging them, but out of curiosity and a yearning to meet her need for connection.


We continued exploring how to create connection with ourselves and others by bringing our hearts and consciousness to the Life Serving Energies that are behind all actions and words. We explored the distinction between these Life Serving Energies (aka Needs or Values) and the unlimited possibilities of strategies we can employ to bring ourselves, our relationships and our actions into alignment with these Life Serving Energies.


A rabbi in the room asked me, how would this work with Israelis and Palestinians?  I shared that I believe that this NVC principle of creating connection around universal human needs first, and then exploring what strategies could work to meet everyone’s needs, had the potential of bringing a satisfying peace and transformation of the situation.


The someone asked, But what if our needs and their needs are in opposition?


We then explored together the NVC principle that conflicts don’t occur at the level of needs- conflict occurs over the strategies we employ to meet the needs. If the only way I know to meet my need for something is at the expense of your needs, then we have a problem. If, instead, I see conflict as feedback that something isn’t working right and everyone involved gets to participate in creating a new strategy, there is no problem, only opportunity for better ways of meeting needs and greater and greater perfection of systems and relationships. 


But, she continued, doesn’t my need for Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel conflict with their needs. 


A yeshiva student jumped in and said, that’s a strategy, not a need ( for Jewish sovereignty over the historic land of Israel).


I said, rather  than debate what’s a Need and what’s a Strategy, let’s hear what’s important to each other, and let’s then ask ourselves, what is it that we want to ask people to do to help us achieve what is important  to us.


So, I asked, feeling really excited and curious, because it is exactly the conversation I want to be involved in, an open and honest conversation where we all say what’s important to us and become aware of the impact on others and explore how to move forward to something new, I hear that Jewish sovereignty over the historic land of Israel is important to you, can you say what you are asking Palestinians to do?


We moved into the empowerment NVC offers, by learning how to make clear doable requests– if we have a need we want to meet, let’s learn to take full responsibility for it by asking for what would help us meet the need.


I saw something more clearly for myself in this discussion- that in the most difficult, charged situations – such as the one between Israelis and Palestinians – the more each of us takes on the responsibility of thinking through what exactly we want others to do to help us meet our needs, the more we bring ourselves out of the world of concepts and positions into really looking at the human cost of what we are asking for. I have confidence that this very looking will be immensely beneficial because on the human level of what actually I want you to do I am more likely to connect to your universal humanness, with your humanity, and I believe that when we connect on this level we are far more likely to open our hearts to solutions that are in alignment with the basic needs of all humanity.


I fully trust that when we each take responsibility for  getting clear about what exactly we are asking others to do, we will have more clarity about the cost of meeting our needs and what cost we are willing to ask for. This goes as much within our families and communities as between groups in conflicts. In this discussion, considering the considering the specific impact on other people is a starting point. Asking them directly if they are willing to do what would meet our needs is another step.  Hearing a “no” to a strategy, without hearing a “no” to the fundamental need, , and moving forward from there, is another step. I invited everyone to come to EcoME to have an opportunity to dialogue with Palestinians, to explore together what people are willing to do so that everyone can move on to freer, more stable, productive and joyful lives.


I feel very excited to join with Israelis and Palestinians from February 20-March 1 for the 9 day training at Eco ME to explore these questions and issues in the context of an NVC learning and practicing community.   Please join us and support us in creating this radically new way of encountering each other! http://www.steps2peace.com/uploads/Rev_Communication_Training_and_Retreat_for_Leaders.pdf


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