November Spiritual Activism Training Report: Nonviolent Communication


Life Together’s November Third Friday Spiritual Activism training focused on deepening the skills and consciousness of compassionate communication (a.k.a., "Nonviolent Communication"). The workshop was a follow-up to an initial training on NVC that occurred during Orientation this past August. It was led by Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, a certified trainer of Nonviolent Communication ("NVC") and of Sociocracy/Dynamic Governance. Jerry's passion and what these approaches have in common is support for the notion that everyone’s needs matter; we can organize any institution based on the inclusion of all members in decision making; and we can do it effectively, efficiently, and with the joy of shared meaning and purpose.

Life Together Fellows and staff spent the day practicing the following:

  • Listening to the feelings and needs of others as well as our own (i.e., practicing empathy)
  • Staying connected in the face of judgment, criticism, and anger
  • Requesting connection
  • Speaking honestly and without blame about the things people say and do that trigger us

Jerry also discussed some key assumptions of NVC:

  • Human beings have the same basic universal needs. Conflicts occur in how we attempt to meet these needs, not in the needs themselves.
  • Feelings result from needs being met or unmet.
  • All actions are attempts to meet needs.
  • There is no inherent scarcity in the world for meeting everyone's basic needs.
  • Even when needs cannot be met, at least in the short term, they always can be honored.
  • NVC is a spiritual practice involving both skill development and conscious intention, not a mere formula for conflict resolution.
  • We always have a choice about whether or not to respond to ourselves, others, and social systems with compassion and empathy (i.e., to use NVC or not).

Jerry also touched on the relationship between NVC and public narrative ("challenge-choice-outcome"), Gandhian nonviolence, and issues of privilege and oppression. Throughout the day, Fellows and staff had opportunities to share situations and stories from their own lives that were relevant to the practice of NVC.

RELATIONSHIP TO LEADERSHIP: How does this training relate to leadership?

"I would like us to create peace at three levels and have each of us to know how to do it. First, within ourselves. That is to know how we can be peaceful with ourselves when we're less than perfect, for example. How we can learn from our limitations without blaming and punishing our self. If we can't do that, I'm not too optimistic how we're going to relate peacefully out in the world. Second, between people. Nonviolent Communication training shows people how to create peace within themselves and at the same time how to create connections with other people that allows compassionate giving to take place naturally. And third, in our social systems. To look out at the structures that we've created, the governmental structures and other structures, and to look at whether they support peaceful connections between us and if not, to transform those structures."

-Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D., founder and director of educational services for the Center for Nonviolent Communication

Training in Nonviolent Communication is an essential aspect of leadership development for members of Life Together. This is rooted in our belief that the Church is not defined by what it believes, but by how it loves. Inspired by the humanity we share, we strive to renew the Church and transform the world through our understanding, experience, and practice of love. NVC enables us to pursue this vision by offering a valuable framework and practical tools to become more compassionate, and therefore more effective, leaders. The quote by Marshall Rosenberg above outlines the following three levels where NVC can have a positive impact: internally, interpersonally, and structurally. These three levels of our shared human experience fit well, respectively, with Life Together's vision of developing contemplative, communal, and prophetic leaders.