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Speak Peace in a World of Conflict

Speak Peace in a World of Conflict by Marshall B. Rosenberg

Here are a few of my notes…

Bringing about peaceful change begins with working on our own mindsets.

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Everything we do is in service of our needs.

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“Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.” — THE BUDDHA

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NVC is a combination of thinking and language, as well as a means of using power designed to serve a specific intention. This intention is to create the quality of connection with other people and oneself that allows compassionate giving to take place.

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I ask people to think of something they’ve done within the last twenty-four hours that in some way has contributed to making life more wonderful for somebody. After they think a minute I ask, “Now, how do you feel when you are aware of how that act contributed to making life more wonderful for somebody?”

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“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” — HAROLD WHITMAN

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Question number one: What’s alive in us? (Related questions are: What’s alive in me? What’s alive in you?)

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The second question—and it’s linked to the first—is: What can we do to make life more wonderful? (Related questions are: What can you do to make life more wonderful for me? What can I do to make life more wonderful for you?)

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So these two questions are the basis of Nonviolent Communication: What’s alive in us? What can we do to make life more wonderful?

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I asked what the daughter does and she told me what she thought the daughter was. I pointed out to this person that labeling people—diagnosing them as lazy—leads to self-fulfilling prophecies.

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Get clear about defining behaviors without mixing in a diagnosis.

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EXERCISE: Take a look at what you wrote down. See whether it had any evaluation mixed in. If so, see if you can now say it, being very specific, just describing what the person does that you want to talk to them about. Now that we have an observation in mind of what this person does, if we’re to use Nonviolent Communication, we want to be honest with them about it. But it’s honesty of a different kind than telling people what’s wrong with them. It’s honesty from the heart, not honesty that implies wrongness.

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Whatever circumstance you can recall at the moment, big or not so big, write it down or make a mental note of it: one specific thing that this person does that makes life less than wonderful for you. It could be something they do, something they don’t do, or something they say or don’t say.

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“You make me angry when you hit your brother.” We’ve been educated by people who tried to make us feel responsible for their feelings so we would feel guilty. Yes, feelings are important, but we don’t want to use them in that way. We don’t want to use them in a guilt-inducing manner. It’s very important that when we do express our feelings we follow that expression with a statement that makes it clear that the cause of our feelings is our needs.

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EXERCISE: Write down the following in relation to what the other person has done. Identify how you feel about what happened and write it this way: “When you do what you do I feel_____.” Put into words how you feel when the other person behaves as they do.

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The problem with people who are in touch with their needs is that they do not make good slaves.

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In a workshop I was doing recently, a woman was upset with the way her daughter was not cleaning up her room. I said, “What needs do you have in this situation that aren’t getting met?” She said, “Well, it’s obvious. I need her to clean up the room.” “No, “ I said, “That’s going to come next. That’s the request. I’m asking what needs you have.” And she couldn’t come up with it. She didn’t know how to look inside and see what her needs were. Again, she had a language for diagnosing what was wrong with the daughter, that the daughter was lazy. She could tell what she wanted the daughter to do, but she didn’t know how to identify her own needs.

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It’s been amazing to me over the years of doing conflict resolution and mediation work what happens when you can get people over their diagnosis of each other, and get them to connect at the need level to what’s going on in one another. When this happens, it seems as if conflicts almost resolve themselves.

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At this point we have listed the three pieces of information that are necessary to say what’s alive in us: what we’re observing, what we’re feeling, and the needs of ours that are connected to our feelings.

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EXERCISE: Please write down the following in relation to what the other person has done and how you feel about it. Identify what needs are creating your feelings, and write it this way: “I feel as I do because I need____.” Put into words that need of yours that isn’t being met by the other person’s behavior.

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Nonviolent Communication suggests that we make our request using positive action language.

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Your language is positive in the sense that it requests what you do want the other person to do, rather than what you don’t want or what you want them to stop doing. You want to request an action that involves them doing something.

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Question number one: What do we want the other person to do?

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And what is the second question? What do we want the other person’s reasons to be for doing what we want them to do? As I’ve mentioned, the purpose of Nonviolent Communication is to create connections so people give to one another out of compassion—not out of fear of punishment, not out of hope for rewards, but because of the natural joy we feel of contributing to one another’s well-being.

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She said, “Well, I told you. I want her to clean up the room.” “Not quite. We have to use action language. Clean is too vague. We have to use a concrete action to make our request.”

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EXERCISE: Imagine that you’ve said the first three things to the person. First, you’ve made an observation about what happened, without mixing in an evaluation. Second, you’ve expressed how you feel about what happened, free of blame and criticism. Third, you’ve expressed your needs in the situation, without referring to the other person or specific strategies. Now write down what you would say to make a request. Put it this way: “I would like you to_____.” What would you like this person to do to make life more wonderful for you?

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We want to make clear, assertive requests, and we want other people to know that these are requests and not demands.

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So we have to show the managers, the head nurses, whomever, how to make clear requests, and then be able to empathize with dissent in a way that makes it safe for people to disagree. When you have that, you will come to agreements everybody will respect. That’s one big thing we teach in the corporate world, in schools, and, of course, to parents.

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Power with is getting people to do things willingly, because they see how it’s going to enrich everybody’s well-being by doing it.

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One final distinction we need to be clear about is the concept of “power over” versus “power with.” Power over others gets things done by making people submit. You can punish, or you can reward.

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Research shows that companies, families, or schools that use power-over tactics pay for it indirectly through morale

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EXERCISE: Look at your request of the person and the situation you recorded earlier. Is there a chance that your request will be perceived as power over them? What steps can you take to establish power with them and thereby increase the chance that they’ll willingly respond to your request? How can you reword your request so that it reflects positive action language?

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“How did you educate yourself at that moment? What did you say to yourself?”

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And I asked this mother that very question: “What need of yours was not met by how you talked to the child?” With a little help from me, she got in touch with the need. She said, “Marshall, I have a real need to respect people, especially my children. Talking to my child that way didn’t meet my need for respect.”

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“Well, we’ve already looked at that part of yourself that doesn’t like what you did. It didn’t meet your need to respect other people. Now let’s be conscious of what need of yours was met by doing it. You care for the child; you wanted to protect the child’s well-being.” “Yes.” “I believe we have a much better chance to learn how to handle other situations in the future if we ask ourselves how we could have met both needs. Now, when you have those two needs in mind, can you imagine how you might have expressed yourself differently?” She said, “Yes, yes. Oh, yes. I can see that if I had been in touch with those needs, I would’ve expressed myself quite differently.”

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In this way we can actually make good use of our depression, guilt, and shame. We can use those feelings as an alarm clock to wake us up to the fact that at this moment we really are not connected to life—life defined as being in touch with our needs.

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The word should comes directly from this game of violence that implies there’s a good and a bad, a should and a shouldn’t.

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What we find is that when people can empathize with themselves in these ways … then if they do start to criticize themselves, they know how to translate that criticism into an unmet need. When people can practice self-empathy, they are much better able to learn from their limitations without losing self-respect—without feeling guilty or depressed.

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When our awareness is on our needs, we’re much better able to meet our needs without losing self-respect, and we’re also better able to avoid judging others for what they say or do.

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NVC helps us learn how to create peace within ourselves when there’s a conflict between what we do and what we wish we had done. If we’re going to be violent to our self, how are we going to contribute to creating a world of peace? Peace begins within us.

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First of all, we talk very little if at all about what happened in the past. I have found that talking about what happened in the past not only doesn’t help healing, it often perpetuates and increases pain.

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You heal by talking about what’s going on in the moment, in the now.

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Nonviolent Communication shows us a big difference between mourning and apology. Apology is basically part of our violent language. It implies wrongness—that you should be blamed, that you should be penitent, that you’re a terrible person for what you did—and when you agree that you are a horrible person and when you have become sufficiently penitent, you can be forgiven. Sorry is part of that game.

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Now, in contrast, what is really healing for people is not that game where we agree that we’re terrible, but rather going inside yourself and seeing what need of yours was not met by the behavior. And when you are in touch with that, you feel a different kind of suffering. You feel a natural suffering, a kind of suffering that leads to learning and healing, not to hatred of oneself, not to guilt.

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EXERCISE: Think of a person or event from the past that still brings you pain. What’s alive in you at this moment about that person or event? What may have been alive in the others involved?

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“Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. All things are bound together. All things connect.” — CHIEF SEATTLE

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The other half of Nonviolent Communication shows us how to make empathic connection with what’s alive in the other person and what would make life more wonderful for them.

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It doesn’t mean we have to have the same feelings; it means we are with the other person.

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We have been educated that when authorities tell us what’s wrong, we think there is something wrong with us. I suggest that you never, never, never listen to what other people think about you. I predict you’ll live longer and enjoy life more if you never hear what people think about you. And never take it personally.

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The recommendation I have is to learn to connect empathically with any message coming at us from other people. To do that you have to see what’s alive in them.

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empathy is like riding on a wave; it’s about getting in touch with a certain energy. But the energy is a divine energy that’s alive in every person, at every moment.

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At the core of our humanity, we all have the same needs. So when I do this healing work, I don’t go up into my head and think what’s going on with this other person. Rather, I put myself in that role and say what would have been going on in me were I to do something like that.

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EXERCISE: To prepare us to see how Nonviolent Communication suggests responding to other people, let’s go back to your situation and use your imagination. Imagine you will try out what we’ve learned so far. You decide to go to this person and be honest with them, using the four steps to answer the two questions. You tell the other person the four things I’ve asked you to write down: what they’ve done that you don’t like, how you feel, what needs of yours aren’t met, and what your request is. Now, predict how they might respond and write that down.

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Learn how to connect empathically, and you will hear they are always singing a beautiful song.

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Try to connect in a way that shows the other person you care about what’s alive in them.

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Now, when we put this all together, it looks like this: We may start a dialogue with the other person by telling them what’s alive in us and what we would like them to do to make life more wonderful for us. Then, no matter how they respond, we try to connect with what’s alive in them and what would make life more wonderful for them. And we keep this flow of communication going until we find strategies to meet everybody’s need.

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“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — GEORGE BERNARD SHAW

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I said, “Whenever our objective is to get somebody to stop doing something, we lose power. If we really want to have power in creating change—whether it’s personal change, changing another individual, or changing society—we need to come from a consciousness of how the world can be better. We want people to see how their needs can better be met at less cost.”

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You see, once people don’t have to defend themselves against our single-mindedness of purpose to change them, once they feel understood for what they’re doing, it’s much easier for them to be open to other possibilities.

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So, obviously, if you are going to do this and have to pay so much for it, it must be meeting some needs of yours. Let’s identify those needs, because I believe that once we understand those needs, we’ll be able to find another way of meeting the needs more effectively and at less cost. So, what are your needs?” He asked, “Are you saying it was right to do what I did?” “No, “ I said, “I’m not saying it was right. I’m saying you did it for the same reason I do everything I do, to meet needs. So what needs are you meeting by doing this?”

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He realized that his need for doing that was for understanding, for empathy. From the terror in their eyes, he felt that his victims understood what he felt when he was a child and his father had done this to him. He didn’t realize that was his need. He didn’t know other ways of meeting that need. Once we got it clear, it was obvious there were many other ways to meet that need other than terrorizing children.

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The practice of NVC is very much in harmony with principles of restorative justice.

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Then I help him mourn for what he did. Not apologize; that’s too easy. I help him go inside and look at what he feels when he sees the suffering of this other person. That requires going deeply into oneself. It’s very painful, but it’s a healing kind of pain. So I help him do that.

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EXERCISE: In relation to the person who has done something you don’t like, think of the ways they might have met their needs without doing what hurt you. Write down how you might express those options to them, using what we have covered so far.

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“The world will change for the better when people decide they are sick and tired of being sick and tired of the way the world is, and decide to change themselves.” — SIDNEY MADWED

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Basically, it’s the same structure as before; it’s just that we’ve substituted a gang for a king. For further reading on this subject, I recommend G. William Domhoff’s book Who Rules America? He’s a political science professor who lost two jobs writing the book because the people in the gang have a lot of money, and they don’t like to fund professors to educate the public about their gang.

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U.S. schools, however, are doing what they were set up to do, which is to support gang behavior. Which gang? In this case, it’s the economic-structure gang, the people who control our businesses. They control our schools, and they have three historical goals: First, to teach people obedience to authority so that when they get hired they’ll do what they’re told. Second, they get people to work for extrinsic rewards. They want people to learn not how to enrich their lives, but to receive grades, to be rewarded with a better high-paying job in the future. If you’re a gang who wants to hire a person to put out a product or service that doesn’t really serve life (but makes a lot of money for the owners of this gang), you want workers who aren’t asking themselves, Is this product we’re turning out really serving life? No, you just want them to do what they’re told and to work for a salary. Katz says the third function of our schools—and this really makes lasting change difficult—is that they’re doing a good job of maintaining a caste system and making it look like a democracy.

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It’s the structure that’s the problem, not individuals. Teachers and administrators within the schools are not enemies. They genuinely want to contribute to children’s well-being. There are no enemies here. It’s the gang structure we have set up to maintain our economy. So what do we do if we want to transform the schools in ways that better serve people? We need not only to change the schools, we also need to change the bigger structure of which schools are a part.

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EXERCISE: Think of one thing you can do to make it more likely that you’ll attempt to change something you don’t like. Write this down and put it in a place to remind yourself to do it.

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“The greatest revolution in our generation is that of human beings, who by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” — MARILYN FERGUSON

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I started as I usually do in mediation. I said, “I’m confident that if anybody’s needs get expressed and understood, we’ll find a way to get everybody’s needs met. So who would like to begin, please? I’d like to hear what needs of yours are not being met.”

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Well, that wasn’t quite what he was saying. He said, “You’re murderers.” But it’s closer to the truth to hear the needs than the enemy image. With Nonviolent Communication skills, I was able to hear the needs behind the judgment.

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That’s why the first thing we do with people when we’re training them in how to tackle “terrorist gangs” is how to do the necessary despair work: looking inside and dealing with your own pain in relationship to the gangs. You transform all the enemy images you have of other people into clarity about what needs of yours are not getting met.

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Every time we go up into our head and make a judgment of others instead of going into our heart and seeing the needs, we decrease the likelihood that other people will enjoy giving to us.

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And I said, “That’s why I think we had ten minutes of unproductive discussion. Whenever we take the attention of a group and present something, and we’re not clear what we want, it’s very likely that we’re not going to have a very productive encounter. Nonviolent Communication shows us, whether we’re talking with an individual or a group, to be sure you end whatever you’re saying with clarity about what you want back: What is your request?

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As Walter Wink points out, organizations, structures, and governments have their own spirituality. And within those environments people communicate in a way that supports that spirituality.

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Think of someone you’d like to connect with, but whom you now consider to be an enemy. What’s the first thing you’ll do to turn that conflict into connection?

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Here’s another application of Nonviolent Communication for social change. In our meetings we can be more productive and not fill the air with a lot of words. Rather, we can create a flow in which the other person can tell us what they need to know to decide whether we can work together.

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EXERCISE: The next time you’re involved in an unproductive meeting, what can you do to get things moving? (Hint: Focus on observations, feelings, needs, and clear requests!)

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Despair work is Joanna R. Macy’s concept. She’s a person working in social change whom I admire very much. She points out how important it is to do despair work, noting that spirituality and social change go together. If we have a good, powerful spirituality, we are much more likely to reach our social-change objectives.

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I had never seen the man, but they had, and they showed me how he communicated. I worked hard the night before to see his humanness so I wouldn’t see him as an enemy.

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And when the spirituality of the organization is “production over all, “ that’s the only thing that counts. Human feelings, human needs, humanness doesn’t matter. Then the company pays for it in terms of both morale and even production, because when you get people believing that their feelings and needs are understood, production will go up.

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Another thing we teach business people is how to do performance evaluations that don’t criticize employees when they don’t do what supervisors like. In this sense, we teach teachers the same thing. We also teach parents how to evaluate without criticism. I was explaining that to managers in one company. I started by saying something that’s part of our training—how to make clear observations, how to get people’s attention by expressing what they’re doing that you don’t like. I asked this group of managers I was with this question: “For example, what behaviors would you like to work on today that are problematic among the employees?”

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We suggest that positive judgments are equally as dehumanizing to people as negative judgments. We also suggest how destructive it is to give positive feedback as a reward. Don’t dehumanize people by complimenting them or praising them. When I say this to managers in industry or to teachers, they’re often shocked. They’ve often been in training programs that teach them to compliment and praise employees or students daily because performance rises. And I point out to such people that if you look at the research you will see that, yes, most children work harder when they’re praised and complimented. Most employees work harder when they’re praised and complimented … but only for a very short time. It lasts until they sense the manipulation, until they sense that this is not the real stuff, that this is not gratitude from the heart. That is another manipulation, another way of trying to get them to do things.

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If you want to read more about the violence of rewards, to see that it’s the same kind of violence as punishment, and just as dangerous, read Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. Both punishment and praise are means of control over people.

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How do we express gratitude in Nonviolent Communication? First, the intent is all-important: to celebrate life, nothing else. We’re not trying to reward the other person. We want the other person to know how our life has been enriched by what they did. That’s our only intent. To make clear how our life has been enriched, we need to say three things to people, and praise and compliments don’t make these three things clear: First, we want to make clear what the person did that we want to celebrate, what action on their part enriched our lives. Second, we want to tell them how we feel about that, what feelings are alive in us as a result of what they’ve done. Third, we want to tell them what needs of ours were met by their actions.

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“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” — MARCEL PROUST

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“Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” — MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

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