In Your Corner: It’s better to use nonviolent communication to discuss needs, wants

The world would be a much more peaceful place if people used nonviolent communication (NVC) to discuss their needs and wants.

Marshall Rosenberg coined the term “Nonviolent Communication,” which also has been called “Compassionate Communication.” He developed a process for using NVC, and believes that given the choice and knowledge, people would choose NVC over arguments and conflicts because it helps people understand and communicate what they want, and directs them to have empathy for themselves and others.

To understand NVC you have to understand what empathy is. Empathy is the ability to understand and share another person’s feelings. One way to do that is to imagine how you would feel if you were in their place.

Stop right there and breathe that one in. If we all practiced NVC we’d be living in a world where people would care about how we felt, and want to understand us, and we’d be doing our best to understand them. It’s very similar to how the ancient Hawaiians lived.

From some of the kids I’ve spoken to, except for a few of their close friends, it seems that they have a kind of wariness that other people might put them down.

To make NVC work you also have to have self-empathy, which means that you have to know what your own feelings are. Understanding that everyone has the same basic needs makes it easier to accept that we have needs. We have:

• Physical needs. We all need food, air, water, exercise, touch and rest. We need to be protected from the elements, predators and life-threatening diseases.

• Emotional needs. We need to feel that we are safe emotionally, and that we can trust others, and that others will trust us.

• Social needs. We need to feel that people will try to understand us and support us when we need help, and that those in our community respect us and are honest with us.

• Mental needs. We want to choose our own dreams, goals, and values, and the ways we fulfill them. We want to pursue happiness, fun, laughter, and to celebrate the positive in our lives.

• Spiritual needs. We need to feel connected in the way that we choose, and to experience the beauty, harmony, order, inspiration and peace that come from it.

• Self actualization needs. We need to be able to organize our experiences and live lives that are honestly what we believe we are to do, because that life has meaning for us, and makes us feel good about ourselves. We want to give back to the world.

Keep this list. It’s important. It will help you learn about yourself. This is how you can use it: Let’s say that one day you feel “off,” and realize that you’ve been getting angrier lately. Now that’s a bad feeling, so some need probably isn’t being met. Look at the list, and run down the topics. Everything seems pretty well taken care of except for “social needs.” I see that I have the right to be respected by those in my community, and there is one kid at school who gives me stink eye every day. Please understand that he is not the cause of your feelings. He is the trigger of them. I then make a choice. I can ignore it (which may make it go away, because people like to do mean things to others for their reactions) or I can begin an NVC with him.

Try to empathize with him. What might be making him mad or sad? Maybe his needs aren’t being met, either. Happy people are too busy being happy to try to make other people unhappy.  

Sadly, some people don’t want to communicate nonviolently. But if more students begin to have NVC with each other, it will become more acceptable to do it.

• The ‘In Your Corner’ team comprises the leadership of the island’s government, court, police, education, family and social services communities. Contact Annaleah Atkinson with your questions or comments at


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