Being Positive, vs. Anti-Negative

Thursday, July 20, 2017

From a recent reading of Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication comes the following amusing lesson about using positive language to make requests (be they of others or oneself). The author, disappointed in himself for failing to use his own communication techniques during a televised debate, had vowed never to repeat his mistakes again:

A chance to redeem myself came the very next week when I was invited to continue the debate on the same program. All the way to the studio, I repeated to myself all the things I didn't want to do. As soon as the program started, the man launched off in exactly the same way he had a week earlier. For about ten seconds after he'd finished talking, I managed not to communicate in the ways I had been reminding myself. In fact, I said nothing. I just sat there. As soon as I opened my mouth, however, I found words tumbling out in all the ways I had been so determined to avoid! It was a painful lesson about what can happen when I only identify what I don't want to do, without clarifying what I do want to do. (loc. 1468)
This reminded me of advice I received early in my stint in the Navy: When filling out your preferences for Permanent Change of Station Orders, only list where you'd prefer to go. Why? Because if you said where you didn't want to go, whatever that place was, is what would be in the mind of whoever later processed the form.

Rosenberg's anecdote, amusing and instructive on its own merits, is so in another way, but unintentionally: The author clearly failed to follow his own advice when naming his book. I blame his altruistic moral philosophy for that oversight, along with many other shortcomings of his nevertheless valuable book. The influence of altruism on Rosenberg's thinking was so pervasive that at every level, it was often necessary to think carefully about what made a given point good or bad. This is on top of the fact that the author never defines what he regards as "violent": The closest he ever got was, towards the end of the book, was when he referred to the way most people communicate as, "life-alienating communication" (loc. 3646). So communication is supposed to further "life", but since Rosenberg is an altruist, he skirts around lots of points that would really hit home if expressed in egoistic terms. (Instead, he either misses or evades lots of connections that someone familiar with Ayn Rand's ideas will often make without much effort.) It is somewhat fitting, then, that the author also misses out on a positive title, which might have been something like, Mutually Beneficial Communication.

-- CAV

P.S. For anyone familiar with Nonviolent Communication or interested in Marshall Rosenberg's work, I am passing along, with permission, the following announcement from the Thinking Directions Weekly newsletter:
II. Free Webinar

Rationally Connected Conversations
Sunday, July 23, 2017
3:00 - 4:00 p.m. Eastern

(12 noon PT, 1:00 p.m. MT, 2:00 p.m. CT)

Defensiveness on either side of a conversation kills the connection and dooms communication. In this talk, Jean Moroney will introduce a method for unilaterally eliminating defensiveness from both sides of a conversation. The method is egoistic interpretation of the work of Marshall Rosenberg. When one person uses it, it brings out the rational best in both people.

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Do note the even more egoistic title than I came up with in the post above.

I first heard about Nonviolent Communication from someone who had learned about it from the Thinking Directions site. After benefiting from other books I'd heard about there, I knew it would be worthwhile and am glad to have read it. This should be an interesting and valuable webinar.

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