Nonviolent Communication: An Attitude of Cooperation in Activism & Environmentalism

by Bonita Ford.  Creative Commons - Attribution, 2010. 

I recently had the opportunity to give two workshops on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) at Power Shift Canada, a national youth conference focused on climate change and action. In these sessions, we explored some of the ways that we communicate to others about climate change, including: telling people what they are doing wrong; what they should or shouldn't be doing; calling people ignorant, unconscious or self-centred; threatening people with the idea that they'll regret it if they don't change; or trying to convince people about the rightness of our position. We also looked at our responses to hearing this kind of communication, which included: wanting to close off, trying to defend ourselves, wanting to be on the offensive, feeling angry, resentful or ashamed - none of which helped or motivated us towards changing.

When we want to convey to someone our views about climate change, peak oil, or other critical environmental issues, I have found that expressing our personal concerns and how we are impacted by these issues helps the other person hear us with more openness, even if they have different views. For example, "When I think about oil becoming too expensive for the average person to afford, I feel really scared about how people here will feed themselves, because our food system requires oil for transportation. I'm concerned about people's security and well-being."  In one conversation, I responded to someone in this way and we ended up sharing a long conversation, speaking and listening to each other's concerns, thoughts, questions and ideas. I found this so enriching at the level of exchanging information, as well as in my relationship with this person.

As I was reflecting on another recent conversation, I had an "aha" moment. I realised that even if we manage to share about our feelings and what is important to us, as "environmentalists" or "activists", we often want to convince people to change or do something differently! Isn't that what we try to do: convince people to change or do something differently? At the moment, I see this as the crux: learning to practice activism and environmentalism collaboratively, cooperatively and non-violently.

Can I be curious about what is important to this person, what motivates her to think and act the way she does? As I value taking care of the Earth and people (two main permaculture ethics), can I stay with my desire to respect and engage with this person, only sharing information if he is open to listening, or suggesting changes without making demands? Perhaps I could ask this person questions like "What do you care about? What kind of world do you want to live in?". I might discover that we have some things in common. And when it seems that we are both exchanging ideas with an atmosphere of openness and respect, perhaps I could suggest things like "Have you ever considered car sharing? What about joining a CSA? How would you feel about doing that?"

When I think of the permaculture ethics of caring for the Earth and people, I realise the importance of finding ways to understand each other about environmental issues with an attitude of collaboration. In permaculture, we recognise that everything is connected in nature and that synergy comes out of cooperative relationships. Instead of trying to make people change, how could we inspire and engage people to join us in taking better care of the Earth and our communities? 

Read NVC: Starting with Intention.

Read NVC: The Alchemy of Feelings & Needs in Personal & Social Transformation.

Please check out our workshops on NVC.



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