Marshall Rosenberg says he lives in Switzerland and New Mexico, but it would
be more accurate to say that the world is his home. His seminal book, Nonviolent
Communication, is both record of his life work and blueprint of a world he is
intent on helping bring to pass. His Center for Nonviolent Communication has
a vision statement: A world where everyones needs are met peacefully.
We mention to Marshall that our publisher, Gabriel Media Group, has one, too:
Global Prosperity Through A Philanthropic Economy®, and he says,
Ive never heard that term before
philanthropic economy. I like
it. Were not surprised. Marshall works his quiet nonviolent magic
in schools, prison cells, corporate offices and the worst war-torn political
hot spots of the world, and no matter what the context, his patient, practical
message is the same. And heres the amazing thing: it gets results.
Was he saying the profession was pathologizing the victims?
He was saying that theres no scientific validity to the concept of mental illness, that its purely a value judgment, and not a scientific diagnosis at all. Research after research shows that there is no scientifically valid way of making a diagnosis of mental illness. If you say someone has tuberculosis, there are concrete, measurable indications you find before you can make this statement.
Exactly. And the research shows that there are absolutely no such empirical criteria in the basic diagnostic manuals of psychiatryzero. And this isnt just one or two studies, this is a broad range of studies.
Much of human suffering, Professor Hakim said, derives from how we are educatedwhich is the result of the economic, judicial and governmental structures we have created. He pointed out that in the heyday of Soviet oppression, they didnt put political challengers into prison, they put them in mental hospitalsand the same thing was happening in the United States.
This was quite a revelation to me. I said, Okay, youve helped me see the political, scientific and moral limitations of the concept of mental illness. But we still have lots of suffering peoplewhat are you suggesting we do?
And he said, Thats your problem.
Now, thats a great professor!
Yes. And that was very valuable for me. He got me thinking for myself.
I began asking, How are we supposed to live? I devoted myself to the study of comparative religion, and came to the same conclusion that Joseph Campbell did after 43 years of studying the worlds religions: they were all saying the same thing.
At the time, I was also involved in some research with Professor Carl Rogers.
The author of The Importance of Being Human?
Thats right. We taped some of our sessions at the mental hospital where I worked, and various measurements taken from these recordings were correlated with indications of healing.
Rogers research showed that two things correlated most with healing: empathy and genuinenessspeaking honestly, coming from your heart.
This was exactly what I was seeing in my study of the worlds religionsand it also fit with my own observations of people like my Uncle Julius.
It all seemed to boil down to being able to simply be with people, to hear them without criticism or judgment, and in return, to be genuine, come from your heart and speak honestly. When that connection is there, we see each others vulnerability, our oneness, that we all have the same needs, and this makes compassionate giving natural.
But if everybody already knows this, then why the hell do we have all this pain? Yes, this has been known for centuriesbut how do we manifest it? How do we show people?
So I put together a very simple formula for teaching people how to connect with other people in a way that made compassionate giving possible. I was in private practice by this time, so I had the opportunity to try out these weird ideas.
And what happened?
Oh my goshI couldnt believe what a difference it made! I had people coming to me with depression, family problems, different issuesand in a single session I was suddenly doing more to help them liberate themselves than Id been able to do in a year of therapy!
And that is what youve called nonviolent communication.
Thats been the basis of everything Ive done since. However, I was very skeptical, at first.
It was too simple to be valid?
Right. I was a trained psychoanalyst, remember: for people to really make growth happen, you had to see them two or three times a week for a couple of years.
But I kept at it. After about three years of applying this approach, I knew this was really powerfuland that seeing only affluent people in private practice was not the way to distribute it. There was too much misery in the world. I had to find a way to make this process available to more people, not just people with money.
So I gave up my private practice. Now, by this time, I had been pretty successful, I had a nice big house, three kids in private school
Quite a shift in lifestyle!
Indeed. Within a year, I was driving a cab to pay rent. Most of the people I was working with didnt have much money. The government funded me here and there to do projects on racism, but it wasnt enough to support me and my family.
I was traveling around the country in a dinky little Chevette. It was too small to sleep in, but I couldnt afford to stay in hotelsso I usually slept outdoors. I had a sleeping bag that would take me down to about 20 degrees
What an odyssey!
It was. But I started meeting people around North America who were really finding the training valuable. That was about 35 years agoand the last 35 years have gone by like a weekend. Its been wonderful.
Can you describe the scope of your work today?
We have people all over the world benefiting from the nonviolent communication process and helping us distribute it. For example, we go into schools and show people radically different ways of creating schools.
Were also working on the prison system, showing people how nonviolent communication can support a restorative justice system instead of the current retributive system. One of our most exciting prison projects is in Brazil, where were working with judges to radically transform the correctional system there.
We have active projects going on in about 40 countries.
You have, what, over 100 trainers?
Several hundreds. And for every official trainer we have, there are five or ten people systematically teaching and using our material in their work.
Tell us about your work with businesses.
In many of the countries I visitfor example, Rwanda, Burundi, Israel and Palestinethe people need our training desperately, but they dont have much money. So I play a game called Robin Hood.
Corporations can also benefit highly from our training, and they can usually give me some moneywhich I can then use in these other countries. In fact, some corporations have been so grateful for our training that they have given me money beyond my fees to do projects.
For example, Ciba-Geigy in Switzerland gave me the money to bring 20 Serbians and 20 Croatians to Hungary during the war between those two countries.
When you go into a company, what kind of work do you do?
Sometimes they bring me in because theyre having morale problems within the organization. Sometimes were brought in to show how nonviolent communication can be helpful in performance evaluations, which managers often dread doing.
Were also brought in to help sort out interdepartmental conflicts. Its amazing, the conflicts within departments and between departmentsits like putting out wars.
What I really want is for them to do the scary work: Id like to have them look at their mission. Is it really a life-serving mission or not? And if not, why are they doing itand how could they transform it into something that is life-supporting?
Of course, these are sensitive issuesand companies dont bring me in and pay me to get them to take a look at these issues. But thats what Id prefer to do.
I also want to help corporations make a radical transformation in their structure. Right now, were in the process of effecting a radical change in our own organization using sociocracy. Are you familiar with that?
No. Fascinating term. What is that?
It comes from a man named Gerard Endenburg, from the Netherlands. [According to Amazon.com, Developed in the rough and tumble of real Dutch businesses, the sociocratic circle organization uses the principles of the new science of cybernetics to empower everyone in the organization through consent-based decision-making. Ed.]
Endenburg developed a radically different kind of organization, where everybody has meaningful input into whats going on, even in a large, worldwide organization. He has really transformed some corporations. Its very radical, but much more in harmony with the principles were teaching.
Because the structure of the organization has a critical impact on how people
relate to each other?
Oh, the structures of organizations have a huge impact on that!
For the last 10,000 years, weve been operating on what the theologian Walter Wink calls domination structure, where some people claim superiority and the right to control those below them and use such tactics as punishment and reward to enforce that right. This requires a type of language that creates most of the suffering on the planet.
Our training shows a different way of thinking and resolving differences. So of course, parents and teachers and managers freak out when they experience our training!
What makes them freak out?
We say, Here are the no-nos: no criticism, no compliments, no punishment, no reward. And they think were nuts!
Its actually a more natural way of relating, and people very quickly become quite fulfilled by it. But the first few hours with it can be pretty scary.
I can understandgiving up a 10,000-year habit! Still, the approach
you describe in your book seems immensely practical, not at all theoretical
We start out every workshop by saying, Think of somebody, whether yourself or someone else, or some organization, whos behaving in a way youre not too happy with. And in the first five minutes, we show people how nonviolent communication might help you connect with that individual or gang in a way that helps you fulfill your needs, in a nonviolent way.
Wow. Bet they never thought about that before.
Basically, we show people how to say and hear two things.
First, How are you? We show you how to say how you arewhats alive in youand then to connect with whats alive in others, even if they dont know how to tell you.
The second question is, What would make life more wonderful? What would you like?
Nonviolent communication is a way of expressing those two questions, and to hear the answers in other people, no matter how theyre communicatingeven if the other person is screaming obscenities or insults at you.
We get people to see that the only thing anyone is ever really saying is Please and Thank you. Unfortunately, for 10,000 years weve been taught to say Please in a pretty nasty way.
When a parent wants to say to a child, Please, would you meet my need for support in keeping the house in order, he says it like this: Why are you so lazy?! He doesnt realize that expressing it this way takes all the joy out of giving.
In the first 20 minutes, people start applying this and seeing how it works in their lives. The thing they always say is, My God, its so simple! And the second thing they say is, My Godits so difficult!
Its like adopting a whole new posture for your body when youve
been slouching for 25 years.
[laughs] I like that image!
At the same time, the mechanics are secondary. If you use the mechanics without the consciousness, itll drive people nuts. We need to have the consciousness that our objective is not to get what we want from people. The objective always needs to be to create a quality of connection that allows everybodys needs to be met through compassionate giving.
When that happens, then whatever people do for one another, its done willingly, and you cant tell the giver from the receiver, because the giving is enjoyable. No more punishment, no more rewards. Its not necessary, they only get in the way.
Are you an optimistic man? Do you see us being able to make this kind of
I had a student traveling with me for his internship. We went to seven different countries, four of them war-torn countries. At each place we visited, he would observe the people who met us at the airporttheir kindness and how devoted they were to effecting change in their countries.
When we reached the last country and were greeted once again by wonderful, hopeful, committed people, he turned to me and said Marshall, you are a very rich man!
What a wonderful thing to say!
In my work, I see a different world than the one you see on television. In answer to your question, yes, Im enormously hopeful and optimistic, because I see a rapid and radical transformation in process.
Now, its not going as fast as I would like all the time, especially when Im in places where I see children starving. Its one thing when I read the statistics about how many are starvingbut when I actually see them with my own eyes, I get pretty impatient.
But when I look at just how fast things are moving in this direction, it gives me hope.
The truth is, Im not just optimisticIm overwhelmed by how things are moving. Were going to create a world where everybodys needs get met peacefully. We have the resources; theres no reason for thousands and millions to starve every day, we have the food. Its just a matter of our transforming the limitations created by the last 10,000 years.
Its inevitable. Its only a matter of how much we can speed it up.
Nonviolent Communcation is available for purchase at www.networkingtimes.com/catalog