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Monday, January 23, 2017

Nonviolent Communication: It's Up to Us in 2017

We are living in a society today that is increasingly divided into us and them categories that are growing increasingly small and increasingly insular. We have gotten to the dangerous position of deciding that if someone does not agree with us on some particular position (a wedge issue most likely set up by an organization to meet an end that profits that organization and nobody else). We demonize all who view the world differently, or are in some way physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, sexually, or in some other way different. We are writing people off in large swaths. This path leads to judging others as less than human and it leads to physical, emotional, and psychological violence and death. In a civilization where private citizens can get hold of weapons that allow for death on a massive scale, that is an awful way to be thinking.

We need to be mindful of and work hard to avoid using violent communication, which takes on the forms of judging, blaming, finger-pointing, name-calling, bullying, bigotry, discrimination, refusing to listen to learn or to understand another point of view, criticism, hostility (in initial action or reaction, often way out of proportion to any perceived slight), using divisive political/theological rhetoric, being defensive, judging others as evil and hell-bound, deciding who is right and wrong, good and evil, painting whole populations, races, religions, etc. with gross generalizations intended to demean and dehumanize. This is violent communication, which leads to physical violence.

Non-violent communication involves intentionally viewing others differently, refusing to tar people with that broad brush. It starts with seeing people differently. Much of society chooses to see people as basically evil (especially those outside our little in group, whatever that may be). If you choose the path of non-violent communication, you start with the proposition that people are innately good. People start out as being basically empathetic, caring for others, and that it is a violent society and violent individuals within that society that teach people to be something other than their basic human nature. Violent communication, bigotry, greed, and a great many other social ills are learned. When you decide that people are basically evil, you have recast them in your own image rather than seeing them all as much loved children of God (yes, I'm a pastor, and I speak in religious terms but practice non-violent communication here and don't write me off if you are not, as this method works on both the sacred and secular level) or as basically good people if that is your perspective. To be non-violent in communication we see all people (yeah, even those of a different political party) as redeemable people. Nobody is lost. God sees us all as forgivable, redeemable, lovable people and if God can do so, so should we, as we too are sinners. Reaching for non-violent communication means listen to others' perspectives to learn from them, coming to any conversation from the position of here is an opportunity for me to learn and perhaps for my position to evolve. It's a good place to be. Who really wants to go through life with the exact same set of beliefs they had when they were five? We use language to build bridges to others, not to push them away. We need to work toward solutions that are inclusive not exclusive. We want to reach out to as many people as possible, banding together in ever larger groups to use all our combined talents and knowledge for the advancement of us all, for the inclusion of others, for the strengthening of us all.

In an age when people are redefining lies as "alternate truth," we need to step up and work for truth, justice, and love as we understand them. It starts with how we choose to see others and the world around us. It moves on to what we say and do.

I do not want to live in a dystonian future. How about you?

For more on non-violent communication and its influence, see this sermon:

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