“Communicating non-violently means not only refraining from physical violence and obvious forms of verbal violence, such as threatening someone or calling them names. Accusations, judgments, interpretations, evaluations, analyses, manipulations, advice, praise, etc. are also subtle forms of violence and block real encounters unnoticed.”
I cannot undo the past. I can only ask for an apology, and gradually reconcile with myself. I cannot demand to be excused, neither from myself nor from others. I can demonstrate by my actions that I am willing to learn. At the same time, I admit to myself that to live nonviolence requires profound changes in order to make unconscious patterns visible and gradually dissolve them. That I will not always succeed, and that complete nonviolence may not be achievable for someone who has grown up with violence.
I want to be considerate of missteps, with myself and with others. Not constantly monitor and pull myself together just to avoid “reacting emotionally.” So an essential building block, far more than intellectual engagement, will remain honest engagement with my own feelings and emotions. My current understanding is that this is the biggest hurdle to then eventually being able to let go.
To learn, in addition to self-reflection, I depend on being pointed out when I slip. One’s own psyche is wily, and has the ability to hide one’s own misbehavior from oneself. However, I want to and can demand that violations are expressed to me non-violently.
The more I learn about projection and the connection of learned reaction patterns and survival strategies of the past, and their effects on my present feelings and thus also on my actions, the more careful I become. The guideline that remains is to try to stay with my own feelings, to take responsibility for them, to represent my truth openly and directly, and to orient myself to facts that I have agreed upon with my counterpart, so that as little unfortunate mixing as possible takes place.
Defending my boundaries is just as much a learning process. What does it mean to renounce violence not only for myself, but to live in an environment and a society where this is not the consensus? In a world that finds it difficult to distinguish between anger, aggression and violence, and where more and more people want to or are expected to swallow and hide their feelings? Where showing feelings is more and more often met with rejection because it forcefully reminds you of your own shadows?
If I restrict my range of movement to such an extent that I encounter as little violence as possible, and withdraw wherever I experience violence, I reduce my radius of movement, and that can hardly work in a society saturated with violence. I also want to continue to be socially engaged. Stand up for my values, and for change. How do I adequately defend myself against violence, instead of just letting perpetrators have their way and continuing to watch them gain more and more power while the rest retreat?
When do I intervene when I witness violence against others? How do I make it clear to someone who consciously or (more likely) unconsciously uses violence that this hurts me? If the person simply doesn’t want to be considerate, and at the same time I don’t want to or cannot completely break off contact? If the reflection about it would demand too much from the person, because they are involved in a whole network of violence? If I also want to meet them with the necessary understanding? Telling someone directly that I personally perceive something as violence seldom seems to achieve the goal of not only stopping it, but also bringing about understanding and possibly a change in thinking, a change in behavior at least towards me.
Who would want to be called a perpetrator of violence, directly or indirectly? A direct confrontation seems to lead rather to a hardening or even a categorical refusal of a continuation of the conversation, which I then again perceive as hurtful, and thus leads to injuries on both sides, not to the desired result that “perpetrators” show insight and understand that they are dealing with someone who has understanding for their imprint, their inner despair, their developed survival strategies. In such moments, I do not show any insight either that my criticism, expressed in a non-violent way from my point of view, would already violate their boundaries, and I demand that they “endure it” instead of “violently refusing” to touch the subject. Currently, I often find it far less painful to “endure” their verbal violence and to “ignore” it (i.e. not verbalize my hurt at all), than the potentially resulting complete break-off of contact by the other party, just because I point out that something they did or said has hurt me. I want to learn how to be clear and insistent about my boundaries and polite at the same time.
What is violence anyway, and what is not? If I am responsible for my own feelings, and I experience something that hurts me, can there even be something like a universal definition? My current understanding, around the project of becoming as “non-violent” as possible myself therefore first involves allowing everyone their own definition, their own feelings. To make matters worse, we have become accustomed to ascribing responsibility for our own feelings to the other person, and direct communication is often not even desired. Who wants to hear the truth? At the same time, for me it means gradually experimenting with my definition of violence, developing it until I have a clearer perspective, which I can then in turn defend for myself. What is also interesting is the question of which standard I ultimately want to advocate for socially. It seems to me that with the framework of “Nonviolent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg and the “Roadblocks to Communication” by Thomas Gordon there is plenty of material to explore. But with this I am only at the beginning.
In the sensitized confrontation with it, I find it at present even more difficult than before to “bear” the omnipresent violence in society. In which lies, insinuations and insults are not only part of the daily routine, but such behavior is welcomed and defended, while speaking out uncomfortable truths is perceived as violence and assault. It is part of my journey to find a better way to deal with it, and possibly even somehow make my own inner peace.
All this may sound simple at first, and there may be people who succeed at it. I know few such people; which is likely also due to the fact that I myself did not grow up without violence. Who did. Nevertheless, I would like to learn, so that I can do my part to not pass on patterns of violence to my environment and future generations.