Marshall Rosenberg (Nonviolent Communication, p. 16):

Long before I reached adulthood, I learned to communicate in an impersonal way that did not require me to reveal what was going on inside myself. When I encountered people or behaviors I either didn’t like or didn’t understand, I would react in terms of their wrongness. If my teachers assigned a task I didn’t want to do, they were “mean” or “unreasonable.” If someone pulled out in front of me in traffic, my reaction would be, “You idiot!” When we speak this language, we think and communicate in terms of what’s wrong with others for behaving in certain ways or, occasionally, what’s wrong with ourselves for not understanding or responding as we would like. Our attention is focused on classifying, analyzing, and determining levels of wrongness rather than on what we and others need and are not getting. Thus […] if my colleague is more concerned about details than I am, he is “picky and compulsive.” On the other hand, if I am more concerned about details than he is, he is “sloppy and disorganized.”

It is my belief that all such analyses of other human beings are tragic expressions of our own values and needs. They are tragic because when we express our values and needs in this form, we increase defensiveness and resistance among the very people whose behaviors are of concern to us. Or, if people do agree to act in harmony with our values, they will likely do so out of fear, guilt, or shame because they concur with our analysis of their wrongness.

For me, the most difficult part in learning to communicate nonviolently has been unlearning this widespread cultural practice of judging, classifying, and criticizing. I knew from my liberal arts background that there are two sides to any argument. But I did not really understand how taking a side, no matter which one, leads to violence and alienation. And I did not understand the depth of the notion that all judgement is self-judgement. (By far the greatest casualty in my past taking of sides was myself, as I heaped blame and judgement on what I saw as my own shortcomings.)

Note a crucial subtlety here: it does not follow that judging and criticizing are wrong. Such a statement would be a paradox, because wrongness is a form of judgement. Instead, I merely choose to avoid engaging in such activities as judging and criticizing, now that I see how they can lead to shame and violence. (Unfortunately, even that last sentence will imply judgement to anyone who is steeped in the prevailing culture of “should”.)

The subtitle of my blog used to be: “Because interesting thoughts deserve to be written down.” I’m now concerned that the word “deserve” implies rightness, which is a form of judgment. So I updated the subtitle accordingly: “Ideas I wanted to remember and share.”

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