Some highlights from my sharing of Nonviolent Communication in Guatemala in 2015.
My trip to Guatemala was generously sponsored by the Guatemalan “spouses” chapter of the YPO ( Young Presidents Organization). YPO Guatemala is an organization of family businesses, and I was eager to explore how Nonviolent Communication could be In service of developing compassionate communication within families and local businesses. I also was eager to bring NVC to other sectors of the population- women’s groups, NGOs, educators and various conscious communities.
In Guatemala City, I went back and forth between a group of women who were supporting their families by scavenging in the city garbage dump and women who were on the boards of organizations bringing various skills sets to the women who live and work in the garbage dumps.
I was struck by the commonality of feelings and needs between the two groups of women- needs for community, support, consideration and appreciation. A deep longing to have their voices heard and respected. Safety for their children and a world that values compassionate listening to women and children. I also was struck by the courage it took- a clear going against the tide of the dominant culture- for the women from both classes to come together and become their own allies.
For example, when I first proposed doing a 2 hour workshop with the women living by the dump, the response I heard from an organizer was that the women’s attention span wouldn’t support a two hour workshop. I held my ground ( me as a woman trainer !) and we scheduled a two hour workshop. I was supported deeply by a young colleague from Colombia who came with me to translate, learn more about offering Nonviolent Communication trainings and also offer her aliveness and compassionate presence to the women.
Empowerment through Making Requests
The workshop focused on how NVC can help us ask for what we need. My teacher, Marshal Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, often said that a main reason people don’t get what they want is because they don’t know how to ask for it. I believe that even in situations where what we want is a redistribution of power from domination structures, learning how to ask- as individuals and as a collective movement- can be transformative and effective.
One scenario we worked on in this workshop gave me trust that this is true. These are women who struggle everyday to keep a roof over their and their children’s heads. The conditions in the neighborhoods perched on the edges of garbage dumps challenge the strongest and most courageous – noise, pollution, instability, violence surround the struggling households. It can be life risking to even ask a neighbor to turn down loud music or refrain from drug dealing in front of children. And yet, if this is where you live, and you want to create a better world for your children, you may be brave enough to try communication that connects.
Taking Responsibility for Asking for What you Need
First we invited the women to envision what would make life more wonderful for them, even under their current conditions. We used words, movement and writing to express these dreams- some women did dance movements to show their yearning for clean air, peace and quiet, beauty, safety, and consideration. Sometimes we wrote these universal human needs on a board. We mixed in with this, what actions would you like to take, or would you like others to take, to bring these needs into being. We acted out the actions, and participants translated them into each other’s words. The energy in the room was uplifted, just releasing and enacting these dreams. We role played various scenarios where the women practiced making requests- Asking a neighbor not to play music so loudly after her children ‘s bedtime.
Facing the Challenges of Asking for what you Need
If the response was blatantly hostile, we practiced empathizing and connecting with the person who seemed triggered by the request. For example, we imagined that a neighbor living by the dump who was playing music loud into the night was expressing frustration and helplessness, and a yearning for any little bit of freedom and relaxation. The women reported that this humanizing of difficult neighbors felt wonderful- to see the suffering and struggles of others, to realize that they were companions in very difficult circumstances, was empowering and created a basis for hopefulness. We practiced reflecting to the neighbor how we saw their humaneness, and then how to get back to the women’s requests. We then processed other challenges of making such a request. The difficulty of honoring and embracing, perhaps even celebrating, your own needs for safety and peace- the tendency to put yourself down for having such needs, for asking. And the vulnerability of asking, of risking a “no,” or risking worse. I was surprised that fear of retaliation wasn’t expressed as a challenge. Rather, it was fear of loneliness and not fitting in.
Strategies to meet your needs
We worked as a group to come up with strategies that had the possibilities for meeting needs for the children’s well-being (quiet and calm for the children ) as well as belonging and support for women and other child caretakers in the community. The women wanted to hear from each other, right in the workshop, that other women would respect them and back them up if they spoke out. We practiced making empowered doable requests on the spot- which women would you like to hear that from? How would you like them to communicate to you that they heard your request and were willing- even eager ( some wanted eagerness) to stand with them. What exact action would you like them to take? When? Where? What else is important to you to trust ( this need also came up strongly) that you would get the support you want with the motivation and heartfulness you want? The women wanted to create a Neighborhood Women’s Association that would meet regularly to give support and build connection and trust. At the end of the allotted session time, no one had left and the women wanted more strategizing. We arranged for Camela to meet with them at a specific time later that week.