A Walk in the Park – daily NVC

May 24, 2021
Walking with Mira (Haarlem, the Netherlands)
Mira, Haarlem, the Netherlands

I first “met” Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in 2004, and for some time now, I have had the goal to integrate it into how I speak with myself and with others. My intentions have to do with minimizing harm, experiencing inner awareness, choice, authenticity, being in my power, empowering others, and where possible meaningful connection with others. Do I always manage? Heck no. When I do, I enjoy sharing examples from my daily life, in hopes that it provides inspiration and encouragement . . .

1. The context, or observation

I was walking my young dog who loves nothing more than playing with other dogs. This week, we came upon a black lab who immediately rolled onto her back as we approached. In her attempt to stimulate active play, my dog nibbled on her face and ears with . I said rather softly to my dog “hey, no teeth,” even though I know she doesn’t hurt when she does that. Looking back, it was my way of letting the dog owner know that I care about no harm. He responded with advice for me: “You should train her to not do that, by saying ‘bad’ and jerking her away when she engages in behavior like this.”

2. My immediate reaction (old pattern of keeping peace, avoiding conflict)

I knew that I didn’t agree with him, but what was most alive in me was wanting to get out of the conversation, flee! I stayed just long enough to express from a defensive standpoint. My first thought was: “That’s a stupid, dominating, violent approach!” I didn’t trust that this judgmental expression would get us anywhere, so instead I heard myself say to him: “I’m just not authoritative like that. My partner is better with that kind of approach. I try to tell her what I want instead of ‘no,’ like ‘leave it.’” He insisted that this would get me nowhere: “You have to be the master over your dog.”

3. Empathy for me

I walked away highly annoyed. With more thoughts like, “How dare he tell me he knows THE way I should be with my dog! How arrogant of him to think he knows what’s best for others. I feel sorry for his dog who probably fears him.” I didn’t want the rest of my walk to be dominated by the dark cloud hanging over me. So I switched away from a focus on him towards a focus on ME. What’s really going on inside me (not my head) . . . what’s important for me? What can I OWN here? I rather quickly discovered I was full of sadness . . . about what I refer to as “domination culture” – the idea/belief that “power over” is the way to be with pets, children, our partners, friends, colleagues, etc. I wish for another framework—a way of being in our own power and enabling others to be in theirs (Miki Kashtan calls this “power with”). My dog was totally in her power, encouraging play the best way she knows how and doing NO harm. So why interfere with an interpretation like, “I must stop bad behavior by overpowering her”? I see another way that is more serving to all living creatures.

4. Empathy for the other

After landing in this much softer space inside myself, I became curious and turned my focus to the other dog owner. What’s really going on, so important for him? I considered that he may have felt concerned for his dog being hurt by my dog’s teeth. It also occurred to me that he could have been triggered by my (admittedly) passive way of communicating with my dog. I spoke but did nothing to intervene (because my words were only meant to reassure him; I wasn’t at all concerned). So he could have been reacting more to ME than to my dog’s behavior. Like, “You say it, but do nothing – how ineffective! Let me help you know how you can be more effective with your dog.”  Aww, perhaps he was genuinely trying to help a stranger out in her not-knowing-how-to-be-an-effective-dog owner. This softened me even further.

5. Request to myself (staying in my power & seeing choices)

The next time something like this happens (and I’m confident it will), I want to respond in a conscious way instead of reacting in my automatic pilot mode (e.g. reassuring in this case). I aim to be more aware and stay in my power, knowing that my way is my consciously chosen nonviolent, non-dominating way. It’s not for everyone, but it’s mine and I own it. I don’t have to convince others that it’s the best way.

Choice 1:

I can turn to empathy, like: “So you find that’s the most effective way to change your dog’s behavior?” Or, “Would you like to inspire me about how I can more effective with my dog?”

Choice 2:

I can express, like “Thank you for the inspiration.” But if I really want to be honest, then I can express: “I hear that’s an effective way to change a dog’s behavior in your experience. I choose another way which is less authoritative.”

Choice 3:

After all of this introspection, what I want above all is stop saying things that I don’t mean (like “no teeth” which makes zero sense to my dog). Instead I can address the dog owner directly and ask if s/he is concerned about about her behavior.  If they are, I can intervene, using my non-authoritative way. In this way, I stay in my power by honoring my own choices.

Cara Crisler
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