A few years ago I had this amazing experience. I was standing in line at the movie theatre with my partner, waiting to see Avatar, and somehow the woman behind us started talking to me about politics. It seemed we generally disagreed at first, but I did something I'd wanted to do for a long time--I used my empathy skills, to triy to connect with her fears and concerns.
With the tools of NVC I was able to do this without indicating agreement or disagreement, simply giving her the experience of being heard. If I noticed any points of agreement, I made sure to highlight those. Then, once I sensed some openness in her, I occasionally inserted a question or perspective of my own that was somewhat challenging her ideas on how to deal with the country's problems--and I had the miraculous experience of being listened to instead of argued with! She met my respectful listening with the same.
By the time the line started moving to go into the movie, I had the sense that I had just had one of the most meaningful conversations of my life. I had dreamed of this for years, ever since I heard of NVC--using empathy to navigate political conflicts--but until that moment I hadn't really applied it. This was partially because I tend to surround myself with friends who agree with me politically, so there was never a chance. It wasn't until a year and a half later that I would actually seek out this kind of challenging conversation.
This was when some local Tea Party activists were trying to pass Measure A in my town, which would have changed the election dates for city council members to a few weeks after finals--discouraging university students from swinging the vote towards the liberal end of the spectrum. My whole town was fired up about this; name calling was spewing from all sides, and even my roommate who was working on the No on A campaign could vent for hours about the evils of the Republicans.
At the time I was partnering with Jonah, my boyfriend from paragraph one, to facilitate a group called Grounding Spirit, which was designed as a safe space for people to process their overwhelm and other feelings about the state of the world with all its crises. After one particularly cathartic evening of this, it came to me that the best thing I could do was approach the Measure A proponents and attempt to converse with them nonviolently, to reconcile with each other's humanity, even if we disagreed politically.
I went up to their booth at the next Farmer's Market, and had a very pleasant interaction, despite firmly stating my intention to vote No on the measure. These people were actually quite friendly to me and I enjoyed talking with them. One member, who was also the president of the university's Republican club, agreed to meet with me to discuss how we could make local politics more respectful and collaborative. Although nothing immediately tangible came of it, I feel that I made a very friendly acquaintance, and we continue to amicably chat with one another when we run into each other around town or on campus. I am hopeful that I can build more relationships such as this, that this can contribute to a peaceful revolution--one where, through dialogue, we--liberals, conservatives, anarchists, and everyone else--admit that things are not working very well for most people, and together find new ways of doing things.
I find myself discouraged when I see the very same people who are opposing war with bombs and bullets abroad waging war at home with verbal attacks. I wonder how we will ever have peace if we don't find a way to respond to conflict peacefully, no matter how passionate we are about a cause. When "fighting the Republicans" becomes as sacrosanct a mission as "fighting the terrorists," I don't think we are really changing anything.
I would love to find more people who want to delve deep into communicating nonviolently for social change. If this is you, I invite you to join me for the class, "Sharing Power and Advocating Effectively" that I am offering through the grassroots wisdom school University of Earth starting March 27th. For more information or to register you can contact Rich Silver: rich@UofEarth.org / 530 368-6325. Space is limited so sign up soon!