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The Power of Language Cannot be Underestimated

May 27th, 2014 by Tera Gardner

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How Nonviolent Communication Can Assist the Vegan Activist

Do you long to make a difference within your community as a vegan activist?

Do you struggle at times with internal habits and reactions that get in the way of inspiring others in your vision?

IDA_COSA_TeraOur words have the power to create profound healing, or incredible suffering. Yet, even with the best of intentions, it is often difficult to express ourselves in ways that build harmony and trust. Nonviolent communication can be used immediately to connect to the spirit of love and generosity within us so that we can more easily contribute to the well-being of everyone we relate to.

How we hold (or understand), in our minds, our experiences of reality (the words we think) and then share that understanding (the words we speak) will affect, and often even generate, our experiences of reality!

Nonviolent Communication (NVC)  training provides a means for influencing people that enhances good will and avoids means of influence that may cause resentment or resistance. It emphasizes compassion, mutual respect, and authenticity as the motivation for action, rather than fear, guilt, or shame.

NVC: What is it?

The Nonviolent Communication (NVC) process, also known as empathic or compassionate communication, is a simple yet powerful four-step communication model that facilitates speaking and listening from the heart. How often have we as vegans wanted to share our passion for making healthy and environmentally conscious food choices that don’t contribute to animal suffering only to be confronted with individuals that have opinions that differ so greatly from our own. Compassionate and empowered communication supports speaking and listening to others that inspires self-responsibility, mutual respect, connection, and cooperation.

The purpose of NVC is to inspire compassion from others and to respond compassionately to others, thereby enabling mutually respectful connection on a needs-based human level. NVC guides us to reframe how we express ourselves and how we hear others without shaming, blaming, judging, or criticizing. We communicate instead by focusing on the simple, yet powerful 4-steps of the model which are: observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.

Communication can sometimes feel most challenging with our families, especially during the holidays. The example below illustrates an NVC Thanksgiving dialog:

Mom says, “What? It’s Thanksgiving! You’re not going to eat the turkey, and be a part of our family tradition?”

First focus on hearing your mom with understanding and compassion in your heart:

“I hear mom, that you’re feeling disappointed that I won’t be eating the turkey this year along with everyone. I know you spent so much time preparing this beautiful meal for the family like you do every year. It’s so important for you that we’re all together enjoying one another and sharing a meal. Mom, may I tell you how I feel about my choice to not eat the turkey this year?” (She may still need a bit of empathy, keep offering it until she feels “done” and willing to hear you.)

“Well, mom, it is important for me to be with the family during the holidays. I love coming home and being with everyone, it so warms my heart. I am choosing to eat a plant based diet because I value not contributing to the suffering of animals. It feels right for me, mom, and I so hope you will respect my choices around this. I am willing to talk about it more in depth if you’d like…”

NVC can help you…

  • Do the inner work that nurtures your outer work.
  • Connect with others in ways that let you hear and be heard.
  • Find positive alternatives to giving-in, withdrawing, and counterattack.
  • Increase inner resources and outer effectiveness wherever you’d like to see things change.

NVC can also help you by…

  • Offering authentic and mutually respectful conversation – , the listener tends to be more receptive to the speaker.
  • Stepping out of the perpetrator/victim paradigm, practicing NVC takes out any “enemy image” (“us versus them”), enabling true connection on a human needs level.
  • Providing proven skills for overcoming “dehumanizing” communication patterns that block compassion and therefore connection.
  • Teaching us how to see through the eyes of the other to foster understanding and how to use one’s natural empathy to defuse stressful situations and safely confront anger, fear, and other emotions.

My spiritual practices motivate me to live a nonviolent lifestyle. Being vegan for more than 41 years as well as my passion for Nonviolent Communication (NVC) are two important parts of my nonviolent practice. When I think of how NVC relates to my vegan activism, I consider NVC a form of verbal vegan-ism (nonviolence of thoughts and words). I love how NVC assists me in sharing my authentic passion for veganism from my heart without any attachment to the outcome and supports me in offering requested information to others in ways that are not demanding or alienating for anyone. For instance, one simple tip: when I take out any “should” thinking (because it can be “shouldy”), it’s a lot easier (and cleaner) on all of us!

I appreciate how NVC helps me to stay respectful and self-empowered by taking 100% responsibility for my experiences and needs. NVC, along with my vegan lifestyle, is another tangible way I can make moment-to-moment choices that help me to contribute to peace on earth. Learning to use words in compassionate, respectful, and responsible ways – compassionate to ourselves and to others – will generate a more peaceful and harmonious experience of our inner and outer worlds; a world we want to be a part of!

Tera Gardner is a Certified Life Coach, specializing in NVC-based Relationship Communications and Relationship Addiction re-patterning. San Diego Community College District credentialed in Communications and Personal Development. Practicing NVC since 1992 and as a San Diego NVC coordinating team member since 1998, she now offers workshops and on-going classes and is available for private coaching. Tera can be reached at tera@helpmyrelationship.com.

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