In Memoriam: Marshall Rosenberg (1934 – 2015)
Some People Leave The World A Better Place
Our lives are a series of little miracles. In 2000 my life was unraveling, exploding really, as if a cherry bomb went off in a house of cards. The phone rang and my life changed, at least a little. A colleague had given up on several ‘do good’ organizations and landed with a man who discovered a compassionate way to listen and communicate that puts the brakes on violence. A few weeks later I packed up my crew and broadcast cameras and spent the weekend in San Francisco recording what became the Center for Nonviolent Communications’ core curriculum, at least on video. You know the name. Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD., cashed in his chips last week leaving behind a world one step closer to peace, kindness and what Marshall affectionately called ‘natural giving.’ Marshall came to my room one evening and we taped a personal interview.
‘When your mind has been shaped to worry about what people think about you, you lose connection with what’s alive in you. People can change how they think and communicate. They can treat themselves with much more respect, and they can learn from their limitations without hating themselves. We teach people how to do this. We show people a process that can help them connect with the people they’re closest with in a way that can allow them to enjoy deeper intimacy, to give to one another with more enjoyment and to not get caught up in doing things out of duty, obligation, guilt, shame, and the other things that destroy intimate relationships.
We teach people to use the judgments they’ve been taught as a window to their soul, to their heart, and to look behind the judgments, to the needs that are behind the feelings. It’s as if we were teaching them a second language. It’s more a coming back to our first language. As an infant we were in touch with our hearts. We were communicating what was alive in us, whether it was pain or pleasure and communicating it very directly. That’s a natural form of communication. When we were having our needs met and feeling pleasure, we showed that non-verbally through our smile. Our training shows people how to do that with words.’
After years of working with people filled with intense hatred and rage Marshall discovered that we needed a different quality of listening and speaking when strong feelings and needs are at stake. Somehow conflict and implicit violence had wormed its way into the very structure of our language. Rather than promoting understanding and care when emotions are running high the way we speak and listen often intensifies our rage. Blossoming from this core insight something new and transforming was born, Nonviolent Communication, and it spread around the world.
‘Most people have been taught a language of criticism, moralistic judgments, analysis and diagnoses. They’re trained to say to other people, “the problem with you is…”, and they have a wide vocabulary for telling people what wrong with them. Nonviolent Communication says get good at expressing two things: what’s alive in you right now and what would make life more wonderful. Learn how to say just that without any criticism or demand. Just say what’s alive in you, how you are in other words, and what would make life wonderful. And no matter what other people say, hear only what’s alive in them and what would make life wonderful.’
I can say without hesitation that every person in the world can benefit from what Marshall discovered and shared passionately. He put his finger on the pulse of destructive habits we all share and like a tourniquet redirected our energy, understanding and emotions to care, compassion and natural giving with song, puppets, silly jackal and giraffe ears and an ultra dry-martini wit that captured and transformed the lives of millions including me.
‘Human beings have enormous power to enrich life. We can use words to contribute to people’s enjoyment and their wisdom and we can use words that make life miserable for people. So our words are very powerful. We can touch people in ways that give great pleasure, great nurturing, support. We are powerhouses and there’s nothing we enjoy doing more than to use that power to enrich the lives of others. Isn’t it wonderful that we have this power and the joy it brings when we use it? That’s to be celebrated. Wow! And the more we celebrate that, the less we willing we are to do anything else.’
Marshall B. Rosenberg
Many hope to leave the world a better place. If Marshall, a tough guy from the streets of Detroit can, and he certainly did, so can we. Thank you dear sir, for your world changing insights, unique wit and your infectious inspiration.