Seeds of Change Planted during A Season for Nonviolence

Univ. Communications – A group of students at the University of Rochester recently wrapped up a six-week Nonviolent Communication training course offered free of charge by the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. The course is part of a series of programs and lectures offered by the Institute during A Season for Nonviolence, which lasts between January 30 and April 4.

A Season for Nonviolence was initiated by Arun and Sunanda Gandhi at the United Nations in 1998. The two dates commemorate the assassinations of M.K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., respectively. The 64-day education, media, and grassroots campaign aims to “bring to life the principles and practice of nonviolence as a powerful way to heal, transform and empower individuals and communities,” according to a statement by the Institute.

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Nonviolent Communication, as a formal conflict resolution strategy, was started by American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s and is based on the principles of self-empathy, empathy, and honest self-expression. The class, led by Gandhi Institute director and former apprentice to Rosenberg, Kit Miller, convened for two and a half hours each Thursday over the course of six weeks. It brought together students and community members to discover the psychological principles underlying nonviolent communication and to practice the daily application of Rosenberg’s strategies.

“What I’ve valued most is being able to actually apply it,” said studio art major Joey Hartmann-Dow ’12, “the concept of making observations to guess what other people’s needs are instead of making snap judgements is a challenge and a gift.  Kit Miller is a wonderful teacher, and it was inspiring to meet other students and community members who want to gain these valuable skills.”

The course is usually organized in the fall semesters, but when Keegan Olton ’13, a philosophy and studio art double major, heard about the opportunity this past winter, he approached Miller about teaching the course in the spring. “I heard about NVC from a friend of mine who just completed the training for his work.  Having studied the history of noviolence with [philosophy department Professor Emeritus] Bob Holmes, I was very intrigued by it,” said Olton.

“I’m highly motivated by receiving requests from students,” said Miller. “I’m more and more happy to be someone who responds to requests from students, rather than sort of sitting here in splendid isolation, trying to guess what people want.”

“I was excited to have realized that if there’s something good going on and you want to take part in it you can make it happen and not just wait until it’s scheduled to happen again,” said Olton. Miller asked him to find ten students to sign up for the class and the remaining eight spots were opened up to interested community members.

The result was a mix of people of different ages and backgrounds, which created a rich learning environment. “I definitely think that 18- to 23-year-olds practicing anything, really, with a group of people much older than them is something that doesn’t happen often enough,” Olton said. “The people who came brought different levels of understanding but everyone was willing to move the class forward at a pace needed by those with the least understanding.”

For the students participating in the class, the interest came from a desire to improve interpersonal communications, develop more effective leadership skills, and, some looked to explore interesting psychological work. Matias Piva ’14, a philosophy and psychology major, decided to take the class because of aspirations of becoming a relationship coach and therapist. “I thought that the skills I stood to learn from the class would be invaluable tools for the career I wanted to achieve,” Piva said.

One of the main goals of NVC is to teach people to recognize the humanity in others and to, in Gandhi’s words, separate the doer from the deed.  This is possible when people’s actions and words are considered in light of the needs they are aimed at fulfilling. Once the needs of others are identified and the emotions, words, and actions used to express those needs are discussed, common ground in conflict can be reached.

“We see someone doing something or saying something we don’t like and we collapse their act or their speech with them. Nonviolent communication, for me, helps to pull that apart, to be able to look with compassion on a person even when I’m really, really not on board with what they’re saying or what they’re doing,” Miller explained.

As the last class wrapped up, the students and community members reflected happily on the new skills they acquired and their experiences in applying them to daily interactions.  “I do highly recommend this class to students and anyone else interested in changing the way they approach the world and one another,” said Piva.

Olton agreed. “My communication is slower and more deliberate and I find myself saying less, but what I do say means more to those I say it to.”

Both Piva and Olton, along with other members of the course, expressed the intention to continue practicing and sharing their skills to affect positive changes in their environments and within themselves.

As the Season for Nonviolence continues, the Gandhi Institute will host speakers and organize events to promote their cause. For information about upcoming events or opportunities to learn about nonviolence, check out the Institute’s website or email Kit Miller.

Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia (www.out-of-russia.com) and the other to photography (www.myorientalism.com).

 

Photo courtesy of Maya Dukmasova.