Yesterday, I was saddened to learn of the death of someone I have admired and respected tremendously. Marshall Rosenberg lost his battle with prostate cancer on February 7th, at age 80. I feel confident in saying that his loss is felt around the globe.
Marshall created a process he called Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in the 1960s. Over the next several decades, he spread the word about it by writing books, recording audio and video tutorials, and giving his humorous and transformative interactive lecture in person on multiple worldwide tours.
He also used the process of NVC directly, for self-growth and conflict resolution. He worked in prisons, facilitating dialogues between willing victims and offenders. He facilitated conflict resolutions in the Middle East between Israelis and Palestinians. He worked with members of warring tribes in Nigeria, again facilitating healing dialogues. He worked with “high-risk” high school students in the USA.
The number of lives he touched, and hearts and minds he inspired, is truly countless.
I was introduced to his work in April of 2002, here in Portland, Oregon. The nation was reeling from the events of 9/11. I was perusing the local alternative weekly paper, and my eye caught a small ad containing the quote, “Every judgment is a tragic expression of an unmet need.” That sentiment both jarred me and resonated to my core. I knew I had to attend the lecture it advertised.
My friend Michelle and I went to the lecture, and we both walked out with our minds transformed. Neither of us has ever been the same. We quickly read his seminal book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, and then we began to co-host a weekly practice group based on the book. When that practice group came to an end, Michelle and I decided to carry the principles of NVC forward in our personal relationship explicitly, by meeting regularly in a format where one of us would talk about the ups and downs of our week, while the other would listen empathically. These get-togethers were tangibly richer than other “hang-out” times I had with other friends. We each felt truly heard, and our friendship deepened. More than ten years hence, we still meet regularly—now by Skype, since we are separated by distance—and we follow the same format. Our friendship has remained deep and rich.
Later, my commitment to NVC principles led me to start up my Happy to Listen practice, embark on an East Coast Empathy Tour, and volunteer in a maximum-security prison, helping to teach NVC skills to violent offenders. All of these have been among the most meaningful activities I have undertaken in my life thus far.
If you are unfamiliar with NVC, I humbly encourage you to read Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (almost certainly available at your local library, but also worth purchasing as a reference and/or to share with friends) or to take a look at some of Marshall’s videos or peruse the offerings at the Center for Nonviolent Communication.
Thank you, Marshall, for the gifts you have shared with us all. Please know that your work will continue, through all of us you have inspired.