What is Non-Violent Communication (NVC)?

NVC is a communication modality which synthesizes many different components of empathy and compassion building. This particular form of the practice was developed and structured by Marshall B. Rosenberg in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. The following concepts contain the keys to a healthy NVC practice:

  • Universal Human Needs (a.k.a. basic human rights): We all share a universal set of basic human needs/rights which include everything from material substances (food, water, shelter) to nonphysical needs such as the right to play and the right to dignity. Although we may prioritize these needs differently at different points in our lives, these life-affirming needs form a foundation with which we can all resonate.

  • Feelings: Feelings emerge based on whether or not these needs are met. An unpleasant feeling, such as sadness or irritation, can indicate a need that has gone unmet whereas a need that is met may bring us a sense of joy or satisfaction.

  • Strategies: We engage in a variety of strategies to get our needs met. When our strategies do not align, conflict emerges. Conflict will never occur at the needs level, only in the ways we choose to get our needs met.

  • With these concepts and a few other tools, NVC offers insightful ways to reframe and review our language and relationship to each other during times of conflict.

Why trauma-informed?

Trauma impacts our ability to recognize the needs we have in our own bodies and thus our ability to speak those needs into the world. When we are unable to voice our needs, we risk remaining silent for far too long causing a potential build up and explosion of pain and frustration. Alternatively, we may have difficulty attending to the needs of others, because we are fearful that our own needs will not be met. Our intimate partners, friends, and colleagues can find it difficult to meet us in healthy interdependence when these trauma histories interfere with our communication. Developing an awareness of these intersections supports the development of kind and mutually-supportive communication.

What is a transformative justice and a decolonial lens?

At its simplest, transformative justice recognizes that punitive/retributive justice systems rarely leads to the quality of healing that communities are so desperate for after harm has occurred. More often than not, these systems tend to re-traumatize those impacted by harm, leaving the community more fractured and divided by grief and loss. Transformative justice takes into account the fact that those who cause harm have often been deeply impacted and shaped by systems of oppression such as ableism, capitalism, racism, and misogyny. This approach does not excuse or rationalize harm; rather this lens asks us to shift from shame-and-blame language and into deeply honest and vulnerable accountability processes. Can we recognize harm when it occurs without dehumanizing the one who has caused it?

Colonialism took us away from indigenous knowledge, away from shared resources, and away from belonging to each other. A decolonial lens seeks to explore and deconstruct the ways we have internalized messages of scarcity and “other” such that we can re-engage with wildly open-hearted care for one another along with healthy and appropriate boundaries.

As an artist and healer, it is challenging at times to find tools and resources that speak to the full needs of our conflicts, especially in ways that support a prison abolition practice. With decolonized NVC, we can build transformative practices with each other and not depend on police or other systems.

— Shruti Purkayastha, cultural worker, artist, healer