Author and corporate trainer Reena Ginwala was managing a retreat centre in Pune when she first met non-violent communication (NVC) pioneer Marshall Rosenberg, who had come down for a training programme in December 2006. Developed in the 1960s, NVC is a method of communication based on the notion that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence when they do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs. Intrigued by Rosenberg’s vision of peace within and around us, Ginwala found herself drawn to the idea of NVC and is now one of the leading NVC practitioners in the country. She talks to Lounge about how NVC can help navigate social and political divisions. Edited excerpts:

Do you see NVC as a communication tool or a spiritual practice? 

It’s very much a communication tool. The best part of NVC is that you don’t need flowery, high level of English, it’s very adaptable to our mother tongues, because essentially it is the language of the heart. It helps us approach inter-personal relationships with empathy and take responsibility for our own choices and life experiences while supporting others to take charge of theirs.

But it also depends on what definition of spirituality you follow. NVC helps people be more humane and compassionate, and I consider that to be spirituality. 

How popular is NVC in India today? What sort of demographic is most interested in the practice?

It’s not very popular but it is growing, and I’d say there are at least a 1,000 people in India actively learning and applying non-violent communication. Earlier, there were more women or grass-roots activists or people who had walked out of the corporate world. Those who were disillusioned, those who were in counselling, or those who were suffering from some sort of setback in life. But more and more, we have doctors, corporate trainers and even corporate leaders who are interested in non-violent communication. People understand communication to be the key to any initiative or leadership or community building. So now it has widespread interest and application.

Do you think NVC can help us navigate India’s complex social and political conflicts?

The fact that this question is asked so often shows people’s readiness and curiosity to explore what else we can do. There has to be some sort of answer, this madness cannot continue. I think NVC has huge potential and relevance in our socio-political and socio-economic realms. I and other NVC practitioners are gearing up to engage with conflicts as a natural reality of our modern, complex multilayered lives where we are brought up as fiercely independent individuals, almost as a value; instead of seeing the inherent need for healthy inter-dependence as a social being.

Going beyond conflict resolution, does NVC also offer ways to tackle social issues caused by structural power differentials, e.g. patriarchy or caste? 

Yes, very much. It teaches us to shift from assumptions and evaluations to observation. So when one looks at the layered and complex impact of patriarchy through NVC, one does so through the process of observation instead of evaluation, feelings instead of thoughts, needs instead of strategies and requests instead of demands. Instead of our conditioned fear-based communication behaviour, it helps us go back to the basics and engage with patriarchy at a fundamental level, starting with our internal environment.

Even in response to the #MeToo movement, NVC is helpful for deep listening and reconciliation without taking away the dignity of a person. We can move out of the victim and martyr space by exploring anger, guilt and shame with empathy, connection to self and others. Activism takes a new form where there is awareness regarding the pitfalls of creating an enemy image.

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