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Nonviolent Communication and Racism

This collection provides resources to congregations seeking to integrate nonviolent communication into difficult conversations particularly around racism.


6 Resources
Cultivating Nonviolence, Harvesting Peace
This training prepares participants to respond to personal and societal conflict with...
Faith Online: Nonviolent Communication and Cultivating Empathy
This article articulates positive uses of nonviolent communication in online communication...
How Can Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Be Helpful in these Transformative Times?
This article uses nonviolent communication to reflect on the problem of racism.
Nonviolent Communication: Confronting Racism with Compassion
This article unpacks some causes of racism and explains nonviolent communication as a...
Seeking God's Kingdom Through Nonviolent Direct Action
This video articulates ways Christians can use nonviolent direct action to stand against...
The 4 NVC Steps Made Simple
This video outlines basic steps and principles for nonviolent communication (NVC).

Guest Contributor

Kate White

Kate was the associate director for resources at the Center for Congregations. She managed educational resources and worked to get the best resources into the hands of congregations.

Nonviolent Communication And Racism

Communities often look to religious leaders for clarity and direction, when it comes to nonviolent communication and racism. We all credit social rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the non-violent philosopher from India, Mahatma Gandhi, as being architects and great examples of modern principles of nonviolent communication.

And when it comes to racism, these men proposed that there is more that connects the human race than there is that separates us. Therefore, what brings humanity to peaceful coexistence is not violence, but rather communication, tolerance, and acceptance. Church leaders from all types of congregations will likely approach discussion around nonviolent communication and racism from both an interpersonal and spiritual view. This includes taking responsibility for using destructive words and biased behaviors that are in conflict with spiritual principles.

And this is the definition of nonviolent communication in a nutshell: “the compassionate sharing of ideas that are meant to fulfill the fundamental interests of all parties in a conversation”. This type of verbal communication can be practiced when involved in disagreements within intimate relationships, or when discussing global political concerns and conflicts. It is often these impersonal and larger issues that work to bring about biased attitudes and racist beliefs.

As a spiritual leader or head of a ministry team, it can be of benefit to learn more about nonviolent communication and racism. Oftentimes, people are not even conscious of the assumptions and stereotypes that they have carried over from how they were raised, or from the groups, they gravitated towards in the past. It takes knowledge of human behavior, along with recognizing the shared values we all hold with each other, and that those values are unique to an individual's life, personality, and sense of belonging.

You can visit the Congregational Resource Guide for more great examples of how to have helpful conversations about race in the community, and in the church, included in the Primer on Racial Equity.

Nonviolent Communication Examples

Empathy is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another". As with any human behavior, some people are naturally born with a greater capacity to understand and have sympathy for others. These definitions provide the foundation for presenting real-life, nonviolent communication examples that involve the ways we think, how we feel, and practical ways to behave.

For instance, young children can be taught early on in life to have empathy for others, along with ways to communicate in a nonviolent fashion when they feel that their needs are not being met. On the playground, things like sharing snacks at lunch and allowing someone else to go first can go a long way toward raising children to be adults that have compassion for others. And anytime a parent gets the opportunity to teach their child these principles in the context of race, it will likely help to strike down racist tendencies as an adult.

Another example is how, and what, adults talk about in the home. It's in the privacy of our homes where biased behaviors often become rooted. Passive communications in the home can lead to active examples of nonviolent communications. Consider a controversial news report or headline about another race, and use this as an opportunity and teaching moment for the whole family. Encourage discussions about what is happening without conveying criticism, blame, or interpretation. This will potentially allow for more creative and non-threatening discussions to flourish.

It is often sensitive topics that can lead to confrontational and negative communications. These can include things like politics, religion, parenting, and finances. Consider searching the internet for a helpful nonviolent communication ppt to share with the ministry or congregation, in this case.

Nonviolent Communication Needs

Religious organizations may want to include nonviolent communication guides in their library of books and pamphlets that are made available to congregations. This type of information can more easily help demonstrate in words and imagery the nonviolent communication needs of all people and groups. There is a distinct vocabulary associated with nonviolent communication, which includes knowing how to express emotions and feelings with words.

When it comes to racism, language can be used to express nonviolent communication needs - both negative and positive - as can be seen in the following list of opposing words:

comfortable - uncomfortable irritated - content confused - clarity disappointed - satisfied embarrassed - confident

If religious leaders desire to demonstrate to their congregation how to express nonviolent communication needs, they may consider leading workshops that engage members in role-playing for deeper self-discovery. There are a number of nonviolent communication articles that demonstrate sensitive areas of communication that may lead to one, or both, persons feeling as if their needs are not being met. These exercises could be especially helpful for a married couple's ministry and a young people's ministry.

Everyone likely has nonviolent communication needs that include:

the need to connect with others and be accepted the need for physical well-being during communications the freedom to make choices and to express opinions the need to communicate playfully, peacefully, or with meaning the need for self-expression that leads to growth

Keep in mind that the three main components of nonviolent communication include observations, feelings, and needs. Most of our identity is formed by what we see and hear every day, and these observations can generate feelings that we can then express in healthy ways. And that is the fulfillment of our human and spiritual needs - to express our deepest shared humanity without fear of repercussions or violence.

Nonviolent Communication Steps

Nonviolent communication, in a nutshell, is based on the philosophy that human beings have both violent and non-violent tendencies. Our violent nature has, of course, served mankind during the centuries when the very nature of our survival pitted humans against beasts. The subjugation of our violent natures was truly fulfilled when man turned to a compassionate higher power for guidance and fulfillment.

Spiritual mankind no longer resorts to violence or aggressive behavior to communicate our views, or for survival, and we can thus take these nonviolent communication steps to make our intentions and emotions clear:

Learn to observe and translate our own thoughts and feelings, and recognize the same in others Acknowledge our emotional experiences when communicating, but know that emotions should never rule Share what we need with others, while also listening to and accepting the needs of those we communicate with

Nonviolent communication cannot flourish in a vacuum of steps taken, and must exist along with empathy - which is a deep and compassionate awareness and understanding of our inner feelings and the emotions expressed by others. Honest self-expression between parties must be welcomed without criticism or self-flagellation.

Nonviolent Communication Summary

A potentially great way for a congregation to learn new communication skills when emotions are high and adrenaline is pumping is to prepare with nonviolent communication exercises. This could make a great workshop for retreats or summer camps, starting with a group discussion and a nonviolent communication summary, to help make sure that everyone is on the same page. Again, nonviolent communication often involves observing feelings, acknowledging emotions, and sharing needs, while at the same time respecting the needs of others.

Some good nonviolent communication exercises to practice include group and one-on-one role-playing of the following to gain skills in nonviolent communication criticism can include:

Group Discussion - Members talk about the last time they had a disagreement with someone, and how they could have handled it differently One-on-One - Create a list of sensitive talking points and have members practice discussing the difficult subjects one-on-one Role Playing - Have volunteers role play a difficult situation in which immediate empathy would be appropriate, rather than criticism

End the workshop with a nonviolent communication summary of the four key parts of nonviolent communication - observation or thoughts, acknowledging feelings, and sharing needs. The goal is to develop empathy for oneself and others, while also honestly expressing one’s needs and honoring the needs of others.

Nonviolent Communication Model

The Center for Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is an organization that offers helpful information on how to integrate NVC into every area of life, from business to home in the community and in places of worship. They also present a great nonviolent communication model that involves empathetic listening and honestly expressing needs, feelings, and requests. The nonviolent communication principles are based on a two-sided model:

Side 1: empathetic listening - observations, feelings, needs, and requests

Side 2: honestly expressing - observations, feelings, needs, and requests

Consider enrolling some of the ministry leaders in NVC training and certification. There also exists a self-guided NV course that answers many nonviolent communication questions about the four components of NVC - observation, feelings, needs, and requests, along with the two-part model of empathy and honesty.

Consider Congregational Communication Resources, which includes how churches can have helpful conversations about race in the church. For spiritual believers, self-reflection and checking whether our own actions are in line with our beliefs are also parts of nonviolent communication. Observing how we interact with those of other races while in the grocery store, or at our child's soccer game, is likely the first step to knowing how much change we desire or need.

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