sustaining your nonviolent communication practice with an empathy buddy

My empathy buddy’s name is Joy. Joy lives in a rainforest, runs her own socially and environmentally responsible small business, teaches yoga and is a vibrant member of her local home-schooling and anti-vax movements. I am a urban librarian and am very attached to my regular hours, wages, and holidays. My kids went to school and got vaccinated as scheduled. It would appear that Joy and I have little in common, or to contribute to each other but we are excellent empathy buddies

What is an empathy buddy?

An empathy buddy is a fellow student of nonviolent communication who is committed to a mutual and regular shared practice of giving and receiving empathy.

How does the empathy buddy relationship work?

The relationship could take many forms, depending on the needs and constraints of the buddies. Joy and I live 100 kilometres apart and have different patterns of busyness and rest. It suits us to video call each other most Tuesday evenings. We spend an hour together, starting with a few minutes of silent meditation and then sharing some stories of the week and sharing empathy for any pain and any happiness. Sometimes it looks like that. Sometimes we wander off-course and let the jackals run with a bit of gossip, and bitching, or divert to giving advice. Sometimes a week comes and goes and we forget or have another commitment. But one or other of us eventually interrupts the distraction and gets us back on course.

We also like to explore new resources together. At the moment, we are working our way through the buddy practices described in the ONGO Book. Exploring new resources and attending courses together is a great way to keep nonviolent communication alive for us and to stay on track with sharing empathy.

Why have an empathy buddy?

It’s great to do a course in nonviolent communication and be all excited about it because you got it, you really got it and then go home all excited, walk through the door and pick a fight with your partner. Well, no, it isn’t great, but it demonstrates that it can be hard work to translate what you learned in a class and use it in your real life. An empathy buddy relationship helps by:

  1. affirming your commitment to nonviolent communication — even when it is hard work and you keep ‘stuffing it up’ turning up week after week is somehow a reminder that this is important and worthwhile.
  2. providing support to keep going: It is hard to give up when you have some other soul out there giving you empathy and also being appreciative of the empathy you give to them.
  3. encouraging and reminding you to give yourself empathy. Self awareness of your feelings and needs around a challenging situation create ease around a conflict or misunderstanding. It can provide the calmness and patience to try again — or the wisdom to know it’s best to leave it be for a while.
  4. providing practice in giving empathy to others, so that it becomes more automatic and natural to share empathy rather than erupt in anger or withdraw in the heat of the moment.

Where do you get an empathy buddy?

Most nonviolent communication courses offer to set up empathy buddies, so a course could be a good place to start an empathy buddy relationship. Joy and I met through the online course: the compassion course. This course runs every year, starting in June. Another avenue may be empathy-buddy.com. I have not had any experience with this site, but at a glance it seems OK. 🙂

How do you set students up with an empathy buddy?

The empathy buddy relationship is a sustainable way for students to take what they have learned in class and develop the skills and aptitudes needed to apply these in their lives. I have not had any practice with connecting empathy buddies, but I can share what I have experienced as a participant.

From what I have observed, the most important consideration is that the empathy buddies do not have an established relationship or connection. It is way too easy to fall into old habits of communication with someone you know, and this will limit the empathy buddy relationship.

Secondly, there is no need to set people up with those who have similar interests, beliefs, or expressed values. This practice may reinforce the idea that there are ‘us’ and ‘them’ – an idea antithetical to nonviolent communication.

I imagine in a class where everyone knows each other, or folk are working in the same industry it would be best to carefully consider how to manage discussions around shared experiences. The nature of the buddy relationship means there may be sharing about issues at work or with colleagues and confidentiality clauses aside, it will be tempting to gossip. It may be necessary to set up buddies away from the group.

You may also like to set the students who chose to take on an empathy buddy with some resources to help the relationship flourish. This may be a simple structure to follow (like the one Joy and I commonly use). You could also suggest one of the many workbooks available which provide exercises to complete and share each week.

Some examples

In the online course where I met Joy we were able to pick another participant from the entire class list. Joy was someone in the same timezone so I chose her. In a face-to-face class Joy and I attended together, those interested in a buddy gave their names to the facilitator and she did the work over lunch matching them with someone they did not know before class. Like the empathy buddy relationship itself, connecting empathy buddies will need to match the circumstances of the course.

Image attribution

I loved this image for representing a relationship that has been deliberately cultivated yet full of love. Heart by Leslie. CC BY-NC 2.0

writing compassionately to my Representatives in Government about climate change

In December last year, I wrote to my Prime Minister, Premier, Leaders of the Opposition and my Federal and State Members of Parliament about my hope that they may work with each other to make a positive difference to climate change. I had put this off for a while because the topic overwhelms me, and I find it hard to focus on one thing and not just ramble disjointedly about all the individual and combined issues that come to mind. Also, I have seen little evidence that politicians on either ‘side’ are willing to take action.

But this is an important issue, so I finally put my doubts aside and attempted to communicate succinctly and with clarity and compassion.  I wanted my concerns to be heard and to make a difference. I also wanted to hear what they had to say about the matter. To achieve this, I used a communication pattern presented in ‘the Ongo book: Everyday nonviolence.’

The pattern looks something like:

When I think about …

I feel … because

I need … therefore

my request is …

I was wondering why I only received one response – but re-reading the email I think I see why! If you can pick the problem let me know what you think it might be in the comments. I am hoping you will offer a few suggestions so that I might learn some more. ❤

My email regarding climate change

Heading: Request for swift and decisive action on climate change

Dear (title and name of politician),

I am Rowena McGregor, resident of Ipswich, Queensland within the State electorate of Ipswich, and Federal electorate of Blair.

I am writing to you because when I hear that scientists say we have a very limited time to act or face catastrophic climate chaos and in the next moment I hear that yet another mine has been approved by my governments and yet another catastrophic climate event is forming, I feel a sense of deep sadness, and sometimes, despair.

I would like to trust that the people representing me in government will act together in the best long-term interests of people everywhere by creating and enacting policy and legislation to ensure a healthy environment for all. I would also like to acknowledge that communities reliant upon the industries causing climate change need to be supported to create new opportunities for employment so that everyone can enjoy the dignity and benefits of rewarding work.

To this end, I would love to see all MPs working together to take swift and decisive action on climate change and helping our communities transition to a post-fossil fuel future.

That’s what I will be voting for.

Kind Regards,

Rowena McGregor.

— Leave me a comment if you have any feedback!

Rowena.

Reference and photo attribution

Brett Coulstock. Cracked earth [photo]. CC BY 2.0

Catherine Cadden & Jesse Wiens (2017) The ONGO book: Everyday nonviolence.

create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution

Today, I provide some reasons to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution. I provide two ways to create a resolution that will inspire you throughout the year. I ask you to share any alternative ways to create a compassionate resolution and share your resolutions if you would like. ❤

In a few days I will write about compassionately keeping your compassionate resolution…

take some time to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution

Your New Year’s Resolution is not only a promise and a commitment to take — or not take — certain actions. Your resolution is a communication to yourself about yourself and what you value. A compassionate New Year’s Resolution articulates and strengthens your personal values and interests. It is likely to be open-ended and capable of accommodating your humanity.

If you take the time to create a compassionate resolution, you will create a powerful resolution, one that will uplift you and inspire you to act throughout the year.

Although it may take a little longer to write a compassionate resolution, the process is enjoyable. The two methods of creating compassionate resolutions provided below will also avoid resolutions that come from a place of self-loathing, from comparisons, and a feeling that you should be different to what you are.

“I resolve to eat only 1500 calories per day”

“I will run 100 km per week.”

Such generic New Year’s Resolutions can become empty acts of violence against yourself. These resolutions lock you into one or two strategies to meet the goal underneath the resolution. They imply that you are only worthy if you succeed in those strategies. They do not take into account the wonderful beauty and messiness of our humanity. This may lead to failure, frustration and defeat. Don’t go there.

I value myself, therefore, I take the time to reflect on my values and create a resolution that is personally meaningful and exciting to me. Here are two options to create a compassionate New Year’s Resolution that work for me.

Option 1: A values-based New Year’s Resolution

This is my preferred way of creating a compassionate New Year’s Resolution. It is suitable if you have not already created your resolution.

  1. Pick an issue that you would like to focus on. The issue could be anything important to you: your well-being, relationships, adventure, education, whatever is important to you in this moment.
  2. Consider what values might help you make progress in that area. Underpinning your work on the issue with your values will help you stay connected to your resolution and motivated to continue with any strategies you create. A great resource for this step is the CNVC Needs Inventory (needs and values are the same for this exercise). You may find that one, two, or three jump out at you and resonate in the moment. Choose those values. I take a little longer — I usually download the list and highlight a dozen or so that appeal to me and then whittle it down to a maximum of three.
  3. Write your resolution with the emphasis on the values you are bringing to your issue.

What might that look like?

I will give my process as an example.

I chose the environment, specifically greenhouse gas reduction as my issue. When I considered this, the values that most resonated were: presence and mutuality. From this work I developed my compassionate resolution. It naturally fell into two parts: reduction and capture of greenhouse gasses. The two parts are:

“In 2019 I will apply presence and mutuality to reduce greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.”

AND

“In 2019 I will apply presence and mutuality to carbon sinking.” 

I have some new and existing projects in mind that will bring this resolution to life. More about that in the next post on keeping a compassionate New Year’s Resolution.

Option 2: Communicating to yourself that you are worthy of love and compassion.

This is an option for people who are already set on a specific resolution. It frames your resolution with self-compassion. This technique is heavily influenced by Louise Hay.

  1. Write your resolution.
  2. Reframe your resolution by reading “I love and appreciate myself, therefore I…” and then write down what comes to mind. You might like to do this a few times.

What might this look like?

Lets return to one of our example resolutions:

“I will eat only 1500 calories per day”

When I read the statement above a few times, the resolution transformed through a few iterations…

“I love and appreciate my beautiful body and provide myself with delicious, nourishing food to keep me healthy and strong.”

“I love and appreciate myself and I live life to the fullest.”

“I love and appreciate myself and I take loving care of myself and of my home, the Earth.”

Even though I had no intention of creating a diet-focused resolution, these really speak to me.

Your resolutions

I would love to hear your resolutions, of alternate ways to create a compassionate resolution, or of your experiences using my techniques. You are very welcome to share in the comments. ❤

Fighting Hanson is superficial

Vote counting for the Federal election resumes today but we already know that  Pauline Hanson will be returning to our Senate. Hanson’s politics are frequently labelled racist and she certainly provided evidence of this in her book The truth.  Hanson is also a climate change denier. Despite this, my heart sank when I read the headline: Greens vow to fight Pauline Hanson Why am I upset by this promise of opposition to racism and environmental chaos? It’s because I want my party to do more than fight.

I want the Greens to do more that create political huff and puff and bad feelings. I want my party to use principles of nonviolence to communicate with the people and communities that support Hanson and to participate in resolving the issues that these people are facing. I believe we could use this as an opportunity to create some real, powerful and sustained changes in our communities. Most importantly, such changes could be owned and directed by the people we make enemies of when we fight Hanson. Continue reading “Fighting Hanson is superficial”

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