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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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Dearest Friends,

            I am writing with some sad news. I found out last night that Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication, passed away on February 7th. Marshall’s work has deeply influenced my work as a Chaplain, and I want to take a moment to lift up his work and honor the legacy he left us all.

            The purpose of Nonviolent Communication is to remain connected to life; to learn to connect to yourself and others fully without compromising either one. The basic premise, for anyone new to Nonviolent Communication, is a methodology to help us receive ourselves and the world with ears ready for understanding based on observations, feelings, needs, and requests, rather than opinions, desires, obstacles, and demands.

In order to clearly express what is alive in you, and also adequately stay connected to what is alive in others, Marshall devised NVC as a communication tool where you articulate observations, feelings, needs and requests. First, we separate our feelings from observations by paying attention to articulate what we saw or heard and how it made us feel outside of the common layer of judgment and analysis. Then, in order to share with the person we are communicating with why the feeling is important to us, we identify what basic need of ours is or is not being met. We then determine a specific and doable request in relation to the observation, feeling and need which have been identified.  Hence: Observation, Feelings, Needs, Requests.

The process can come out sounding somewhat formulaic at first, so it takes practice to let go of seeing the world through the eyes of blaming, shaming, should, coulds, and musts, and then even more work to integrate this way of seeing with new eyes into your own unique way of communicating. I will tell you with all my years of experience as a chaplain and activist, that the work is worth it. Becoming emotionally literate enough to identify how we are feeling in relation to a specific situation, and then articulate enough to connect that with a specific life-serving need and a doable request is a path for true relationships and peace that our world deeply needs.

            I was introduced to Marshall Rosenberg’s work a few months before I met him in person, in 2006, when I was working with Sherry Ellms as the Contemplative Practice Assistant at Naropa University. Sherry had the idea for us to organize mini-trainings on contemplative practices that related to peace and justice work, and we came upon his Introduction to Nonviolent Communication DVD. For four weekends in a row, I showed parts of the video and hosted practice sessions on campus at Naropa. It was so profound I knew I wanted to learn more.

A few months later, Marshall came to teach at Naropa through the extended studies program, and I soaked up his wisdom for the first of several weekends I would spend learning from him and other trainers. I found the tool so profound, and so congruent to my work that I pursued more in depth training through an intensive program at the University of Maine in Orono, with my Mom, and I committed to practice and follow through over the years. Nonviolent Communication provided a deep foundation for all the work I did in Boulder facilitating Restorative Justice Circles, and now here in Appalachia as an Eco-Chaplain.

 Marshall’s work lives on through the many people trained to teach Nonviolent Communication, and the many more who have brought it into our lives and work. May his legacy be honored through the practice of more compassionate listening to ourselves and others in this time that so greatly needs it.

Rest in Power Marshall Rosenberg, you will be remembered.