Interconnect ED

'Only connect...' E.M Forster

Tag: nonviolent communication

Play’s the thing – part three

‘Most men have always wanted as much as they could get;
and possession has always blunted the fine edge of their altruism.’
~Katherine Fullerton Gerould

 

It took longer to make it stronger‘ was a phrase used in the last blog post in this series to indicate the value of engaging students in the construction of a Player Charter for a school Minecraft server. The time to refine the Charter worked to galvanise interest in creating not only a safe space for others to build and play but it also highlighted humanistic ideals of respect and fairness. The lengthy research project my partner teacher and I conducted concluded that game based learning spaces were ideal for developing skills in collaboration, connection, negotiation and creativity. With our school’s executive on board too, we were ready to open the ports to players.

We were all set to open the server to a core  trial group of 10 plus our senior school mentors who had worked with us for 18 months. The wider Minecraft Community at school were excited. Our enthusiasm was electric. The spawn point was ready to welcome the new year 5 students into its light filled hall. The orientation dungeon was filled with traps and treasure. The parent and student signed copies of the Charter were speedily returned to us. We opened the Server…and it all went ‘wrong’.

This blog post recounts some painful lessons on how our idealism came to grief as well as how we are building the community , block by block and quest by quest through employing Acronyms, highlighting Altruism and opening up to Adventure.


Lesson 1: The need for Acronyms

What follows is a simulated, but accurate in tone, transcript of our first few sessions with the girls. Imagine players dispersed about the room, engaged solely with their screens. When reading the script, please adopt a nasal righteously indignant whining voice – the kind that often is used when reciting the pre (and post) teen mantra of ‘It’s not fair!’. Alternate that with a frustrated shouting and you have the general sense of these early sessions.

PLAYERS run to a table, ignoring each other and login.
A few minutes later...
PLAYER 1: Who took my emerald! I stole that from an NPC village! Give it back!
PLAYER 2: I need food. Fooood!
PLAYER 3: builds a house quietly by herself
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie! Zombie!
PLAYER 1: Don't go into my house. That's for me and (name omitted) only!
PLAYER 2: Food! Food! Who has beef? Gimme food!I'm on one health!
PLAYER 3: crafts tools by herself and hides them in a buried chest.
PLAYER 4: Aaah! Creeper! 

Creeper explodes *Boom*

What were we expecting – immediate harmonious collaboration? Recalling the words of a Head of School I respected and valued deeply, this was an important F.A.I.L – a First Attempt In Learning how to create an effective play space. Rather than become dispirited: or worse, authoritarian, we employed two techniques that also involved acronyms to shift the discourse and encourage connection.

Acronym 1 : AAA or Triple A

To encourage connection with each other before connecting with the play space, we established a quick but effective protocol before logging in. Students, mentors and staff sit together in a circle and we go around responding to three brief prompts.

  • What’s been AVERAGE today? (by that we mean ‘dull’, ‘irritating’, ‘boring’ or ‘meh‘ over the course of the school day.) Curiously, this often prompts comments of agreement, clarification or even elaboration. Sometimes laughter.
  • What’s been AWESOME? (Usually they say ‘Coming to Minecraft!’ so we allow elaborations and brief comments on the successes and joys of the day.)
  • What’s on the AGENDA? (By this we mean what do you want to achieve today? Build? Explore? Collaborate? Craft?) WE’ve seen this inspire others who might lack an idea on how to proceed or even instigate a cooperative build.

Acronym 2: T.H.I.N.K

THINK

To encourage rather than enforce more ‘connecting’ or compassionate communication, we have another acronym that we are beginning to share more widely in the school context as a means of shifting the way we talk, type and text.

By referring to THINK before, during and after positive and problematic communication to draw attention to how the communication ‘feels’. How did you know that person griefed your build? What evidence do you have? How does it feel when someone inspires us to be better at something? How does it feel to hear kind words about your builds? Did someone help you to craft something and how was that for you? How was that for the helper? By highlighting our communication with meta-language, we are experiencing a significant tonal shift in our communication whilst we are playing. Also, drawing attention back to the Chat feature really reduces some of the more problematic discourse.

This is the sort of communication we are getting now.

PLAYER 1: Does anyone have any spare iron?
PLAYER 4: Sure, I've got some. How much?
PLAYER 2: I've been farming. Anyone want wheat?
PLAYER 3: Hey, you dropped your boots. Here they are. drops boots
PLAYER 4: Zombie! Zombie Zombie!
PLAYER 3: uses bow and arrow to kill the zombie for PLAYER 4
PLAYER 4: Thanks!
PLAYER 1: Let's start making shops. Who wants a cake?
ALL PLAYERS: ENDERMAN! Aaargh!


Lesson 2: Valuing Altruism

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.14.33 PM

We build connections with sharing our stories as well as sharing our resources but the fact is, do most Minecraft players value sharing? Do they build for the common good or for their own sense of achievement? Are these mutually exclusive?

To encourage greater interconnection and foster a community spirit we have our Schoology Group where images of our builds, discussions about potential design challenges and the posting of entertaining Youtube videos occurs. But we also have the fantastic customisable Game Engine, 3D Gamelab in which we have crafted a series of quests that celebrates individuals efforts but pays even greater emphasis on actions for the good of others.

Got Your BackPlayers level up by completing community quests and personal ones, though the points awarded are clearly skewed towards altruistic endeavours. As a rule of thumb – if it helps more people its worth more points.  As students progress from DREAMER through multiple levels including CREATOR, MASTER CRAFTER, SUPER HERO and eventually SOURCE OF ALL KNOWLEDGE they gain in-world gear and increased abilities. (We are still ironing out the rewards at each level but I’m sure all the Super Heroes want to be able to fly!)

By adding value to altruism we are hearing very different ideas from the players – Can we earn points for creating shops? She saved me from that skeleton, she should be rewarded. Have you seen the farm we made, its awesome!  (Badges from symb.ly)

 

Lesson 3: Opening up to Adventure

Screen Shot 2013-09-01 at 3.44.43 PM

The players by this point had structures in place for them to choose their own direction  and work alongside others. We had protocols to assist in refining our communication, yet they lacked a common goal. As it turned out, their excursion to the 1850s Gold Mines of Ballarat, Victoria prompted an interaction between myself and one of the year 5 girls who wondered if she could use Minecraft to make a model of something she saw. This prompted our first design challenge.

Chaos reigned again until the design teams met with the senior mentors armed with large sticky notes and pens. Designs were drawn up and discussions were had. IT was fascinating to watch the shoddily unsymmetrical builds get revamped after only twenty minutes of face-to-face discussion and drawing.

After three weeks and multiple sessions, including some lunchtimes, the students constructed a number of intriguing designs. Again it must be noted that our Minecraft server is set to Survival (at their request) in order to provide greater challenge and reflect the reality that not all resources are infinitely available.  They needed to survive the nights, go on scouting parties to gather resources and keep each other live during that time. At the end of this period the students walked us through the designs, some of which were incomplete. This video (sadly unedited, so if you have a spare 23 minutes you may find them well spent by watching this) was recorded to show to the Year 5 teachers who were unable to attend but were keen to see what was possible.

The winning design recreated the aptly named Victory archway in Ballarat (shown below) which they constructed in sandstone. The team who constructed this was rewarded with 50 XP each and a full set of diamond armour.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.

Victory Arch, Ballarat.


Play’s the Thing – Endgame

We are still learning what is possible with Minecraft. We continue to explore the shifting boundaries of freedom and control when creating play spaces for young people. Thankfully we have the experience and insight of our senior school mentors to assist with not only the technical aspects of running a server, but also the broader vision for its implementation.  Thanks to them we have a Player Charter to guide the members towards forging a creative and collaborative community that values altruistic endeavour as well as self-expression. By sharing protocols such as the AAA and THINK acronyms, we are bringing awareness to the very building blocks of community – the content and tone of communication. Through inventing contexts for play in consultation with the players, we ensure their commitment provide opportunties to celebrate their ingenuity.

What is ahead for us? Look out for some pixel art galleries or our Machinema challenge where teams are given generic dialogue and select a genre of film to recreate – props, sets, skins and all! Or the UN-tervention challenge where rather than being raided, an NPC village needs to be repaired, maintained and defended from hordes of zombies.

Postscript

This series has drawn its title from Hamlet’s words ‘The play’s the thing/ Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”  from Act II, Scene 2. Perhaps we can be permitted a slight modification of this quote for use in the context of Minecraft. For in this kind of creative, reflective ‘play’ we may in fact, ‘build’ the conscience – the altruistic, self-reflective faculty – of the kings, queens and leaders of the future.

Or we could just go to the Nether and hack into some zombie pigmen. Up to them I suppose.

 

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat

This is a Vimeo video of the recent Churchill Chat for the NSW Fellows.

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat from Steven Caldwell on Vimeo.

Voicethread postcard from America

This is a Voicethread that looks at both the work and the play I experienced during the Churchill Fellowship.

Nothing to fear but fear itself

The teenager seems to have replaced the Communist as the appropriate target for public controversy and foreboding.

~Edgar Friedenberg, The Vanishing Adolescent


 

Anne CollierWherever I have travelled in the US, one name has frequently been cited with regard to online safety and global citizenship- Anne Collier. A journalist by profession, Anne is a ‘Truth- teller’ who’s work through NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org, is cited by those who seek a more reasoned, less sensational voice in this highly charged domain. 

 

Anne served on the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, formed by 49 state attorneys general at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society as well as participating in various advisory boards, attending international conferences, and co-chairing the Obama Administration’s Online Safety and Technology Working Group , which sent its report to the US Congress last June.

 

It was a delight to meet with Anne and encounter a voice that actively challenges perceptions that parents and schools have about the safety of young people online.

 

This posting will blend Anne’s understanding of this issue with my own musings on the subjects of fear, youth voice and the label ‘digital natives’.

 

The origins of Fear

It is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of schools in America adopt a fear-based, protective attitude towards young people’s use of the internet given the origins of legislation pertaining to it.

 

Anne recounted the origins of Federal legislation dating back to the 1990s when the internet was still in its Web 1.0 infancy. Whilst initially the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children made use of the internet to find displaced kids, this set the scene for framing children and young people as potential victims: not an auspicious start. From the get-go, young people online was perceived as something risky.

 

Having interactions of young people with the internet already associated with Law enforcement and the Department of Justice predisposed the response taken by those bodies. Thus police began giving presentations to parents that demonstrated, in real-time, the predatory nature of some chat rooms by entering the spaces as a fictional student. These experiences served to alarm parents. To this day such presentations emphasizing the potential risks, threats and legal ramifications are still being delivered to students, staff and parents. In such instances the most egregious acts against children are revealed, skewing the public perception further.

 

Fear was later enshrined in legislation. The amusing, if aggressively titled, Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was meant to cause schools to block or seriously restrict access to social networking websites rather than “predators,” actually. This bill was not based on sound evidence linking instances of child molestation and/or grooming behaviours to social networks. Not the least controversial aspect of the bill was the emotive and misleading title. Worryingly, if one spoke in opposition of the bill one was perceived to be somehow in support of predators.

 

Thankfully the bill did not pass. But children still seem to be seen by policymakers only as potential victims and passive consumers online rather than agents of their own and others’ well-being in online community.

 

Next up: The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. The parameters of this Act were to inhibit the creation and distribution of child pornography, to protect young people from online predators once more and to remove the possibility of commercial exploitation of youth. Once again, young people were framed as passive, innocent, defenseless victims.

 

(3) with the explosive growth of trendy chat rooms and social networking websites, it is becoming more and more difficult to monitor and protect minors from those with devious intentions, particularly when children are away from parental supervision. Section 202 12-16

 

Anne was a consultant on the formation of this bill and watched as it was passed from the Senate to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for further discussion. Thus, the Senate believed that the care and safety of young people, now perceived as some form of commodity, also belonged to the Department of Commerce rather than solely to the Department of Justice. This lead to conflict between the two departments with the boycotting of reports and a vying for control over who actually ‘owned’ online safety.

 

If we add to this confusion over jurisdiction the prevailing culture of fear maintained by the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, it is perhaps unsurprising that little was actually achieved in the arena of online safety and digital citizenship for over eight years.

 

The limitations of Fear

Clearly, the mainstream perception was and still is that fear is a useful tool; the understanding being that, if you scare parents and children then you will ‘scare them straight’ into becoming model citizens. Well, as we all know, that censorious approach has always been an effective deterrent against young people experimenting with drugs, engaging in underage drinking and promiscuity.

 

Fear does the exact opposite of what we actually need which is to generate a culture of reasoned discussion and debate. What fear does is scare parents and administrators into closing down access based on fear of what might happen. (In an increasingly litigious culture, fear is seen as a guardian against possibly crippling legal payouts. My observation, not Anne’s.)

 

Fear-based reactions remove the very resources young people’s need to help them make informed decisions. Safe, loving and informed adults are removed from the equation, replacing them with frightened reactionaries who shut off avenues for discussion. Thus, young people are left to go underground and rely on their peers to negotiate the complexities of online cultures, putting them at greater risk. As Quentin Crisp, a renowned victim of perceived fear put it, ‘The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time.  They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.’

 

The discrediting of Fear

The fear-dominated discourse is being challenged as the findings of comprehensive studies question many of the assumptions held by parents and school administrators. Anne mentioned two significant reports published in recent years with which she was involved that have attempted to dispel misconceptions.

 

At the request of the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking, comprising of 49 state Attorneys General, the Enhancing Safety and Online Technologies  Report (2008) was commissioned. Written by the Internet Safety Technical Task force, comprising of leaders from social network sites (including Facebook), academics, technology developers, teachers, internet service providers and consumer advocacy organizations, the report was published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

 

The Task force accomplished a comprehensive literature review and examined data from numerous rigorous studies. The report deals a serious blow to the rhetoric of fear and to the framing of young people as innocent victims of adult manipulation.

 

The Literature Review shows that the risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and that as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems.” page 4

 

The report goes on to explore some significant points.

More studies need to be done around the area of sexual predation of minors by adults and of minors by minors (this latter area is understudied and “not part of most conversations about online safety”)

Bullying and harassment are most common forms of negative interaction both online and offline.

The internet increases the availability of questionable material such as pornography but does not automatically increase exposure.

Young people are not equally at risk online – “The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.”

Young people themselves can contribute to the construction of unsafe environments.

 

The report makes three key recommendations, none of which involved banning access or censorship, rather they advocate greater exposure and evaluation of online tools.

 

1.All stakeholders in online communities need to share responsibility for protecting young people online.

2.More training in risk assessment and online safety practices needs to be developed for all who work with young people.

3.Parents and caregivers need to educate themselves about the internet and evaluate the use of tools in their own family context.

 

What is radical about this report is that it acknowledges the role young people themselves play in creating risky online cultures. For the first time young people are acknowledged as active agents in this arena.  Also, the wording of point three is particularly relevant. Parents and caregivers are not asked to be educated but rather ‘educate themselves’ thus framing them also as active agents in dispelling misconceptions.

 

The second report, published in June 2010, Youth Safety on a Living Internet – report of the online safety and technology working group, from the Online Safety & Technology Working Group, evaluated existing online safety practices/resources promoted by the telecommunications industry and the education sector. Anne was the Co-chair of this working group made up of child-safety advocates, government officials, representatives from various internet and telecommunications industries, educators, and civil liberties groups.

 

One of the key understandings raised in this report is that-

 

…thanks to the growing body of youth-online-risk research, we are now able to seek solutions as a society which are fact-based, not fear-based, but also that minors themselves – mainly pre-teens and teens (though the tech-literacy age is going down) – have a role to play in improving their own safety online and that of their peers.

 

The sub-committee on Internet Safety Education also made some powerful recommendations as part of the report.

         “nationwide education in digital citizenship and media literacy as the cornerstone of Internet safety.”

         Avoid scare tactics and promote the social-norms approach to risk prevention.

         Promote instruction in digital media literacy and computer security in pre-K-12 education nationwide.

         Create a Digital Literacy Corps for schools and communities nationwide.

         Encourage full, safe use of digital media in schools’ regular instruction and professional development in their use as a high priority for educators nationwide

         Respect young people’s expertise and get them involved in risk-prevention education. (my emphasis)

 

As comprehensive, informative and myth-busting as these reports were, they were controversial and received considerable criticism. Even the review of peer-reviewed research in the ISTTF report was attacked. Attempts were made to discredit the findings. It appears views which challenge the status quo are themselves challenged.

 

The most significant aspect of both these reports, aside from taking a less reactionary approach and presenting a reasoned response to the issues, is that young people themselves are considered part of the problem itself and also part of the solution. Young people were now seen as stakeholders in their own right who were not only to be protected but also respected.

 

The alternative to Fear – Respect for Youth

Young people today are not just adults in training.

 

The Macarthur Foundation recently invested fifty million dollars and three years to do both quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research on youth culture in the Digital Youth Project. The extensive research acknowledged a new sociology of youth. The book Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out – kids living and Learning with New Media drew on the findings of the Digital Youth Project and makes it abundantly clear that there is a lot we need to do to earn the respect of young people.

 

They have their own cultures and societal norms in online spaces. As such there is an imperative to respect what they have to offer and to hear their voices on matters that concern them in a meaningful, consequential way. We can’t unreservedly impose our expectations upon young people any longer.

 

Sadly, Anne believes that in all her travels, talking to students, presenting to parents and administrators, attending conferences, consulting and chairing working groups she is yet to find a forum that is deeply respectful of youth. There are organizations that do enlist student voice – Inspire USA, Reachout.org, Childnet International, Common Sense Media, and Global Kids being some groups that actively seek out young people’s opinions on matters that concern them but none that respect the wisdom, experiences and inquiries of youth in ways that give them leadership in the field of online safety/digital citizenship.

 

Like the young audiences such adults are attempting to reach, Anne is bored by a rhetoric that seeks to inform rather than consult. I added that young people want and need to learn just not to be taught while it happens. Developmentally, adolescents are moving away from investing in adult figures of authority or at the very least questioning the decisions made by them. Ironically, this is the very time that adults frequently offer more feedback and make greater demands. Informed, authoritative voices of ‘cybersafety experts’ make it clear what has to be done to young people, for young people but not alongside young people.

 

When it comes to the ubiquitous ‘cybersafety’ lectures made by law enforcement or so-called online safety experts, Anne says that they may as well be carpenters given the way they are brought in to ‘fix’ a problem. This attitude is fundamentally disrespectful to young people. It says that we are the wise ones and your experience does not matter, in fact, you are broken in some capacity. Is it any wonder that they stop listening to us and go underground? In the words of the newspaper columnist Judith Martin, “Chaperones don’t enforce morality; they force immorality to be discreet.”

 

One significant way we can listen to and respect the positive choices made by the vast majority of young people is to take a different slant on data. In five New Jersey schools that were recently studied, Anne noted the findings of researchers from Hobart and William Smith in New York State that when there was a notable decrease in the perception of the frequency and instances of bullying, the number of actual instances of bullying went down. Why? The schools made concerted efforts to celebrate the positive data: the high percentages of students who were maintaining societal norms rather than over emphasizing those who transgressed.

 

It is to the voice of social imperative that young people turn. This social urgency is a necessity in young people – it is what starts them on pushing boundaries and refining the ability to assess risks effectively. Both of these are essential in developing independence.

 

Where is the opportunity to allow young people to meet their social needs and provide a forum/community of inquiry around safety and global citizenship? Instead we have teachers, politicians, journalists and businesses applying their value sets, their societal norms to young people without consultation. There is a need for us to step back and for the young to step up.

 

Learning to respect our elders.

We may be chronologically older, but in terms of experience in online spaces, young people are our elders.

 

The term ‘digital natives’ is one usually applied to describe the generation brought up alongside the internet. I personally dislike the term ‘digital native’. It is reminiscent of another meaning of the word ‘native’ that was once associated with patriarchal colonialism. Young people are not ‘natives’ who need to be saved from danger through re-education and tempted to conform by the offer of shiny beads in the forms of access, privileges and liberties.

 

Some time ago I coined the term ‘Simmigrant’ – a conflation of Simulated and Immigrant – to describe the experience of we now stand in relation to the online world. The internet is a new territory for us to discover and inhabit. First Generation Simmigrants – children and young people – came to this ‘country’ earlier, sometimes by themselves with a more courageous, pioneering attitude. Why did they leave their ‘homeland’ of traditional community and education? Perhaps they left for the adventure of exploring new ground? Perhaps they wanted to go where they felt kinship? Perhaps they wanted to find out what it felt like to be creatively free or perhaps, just perhaps we in the ‘old country’ failed to inspire them anymore. Perhaps if we actually asked them we might discover the truth and find out what more they need?

 

To do that we also need to travel, to become Second Generation Simmigrants or risk widening the divide between our two worlds

We won’t travel from the ‘old country’ without both unnecessary and essential baggage. In our suitcases we bring the ability to think critically, to reflect, to question and also a larger historical perspective that they could not easily carry. Our elders also don’t travel light either- in their luggage is stowed innovation, creativity, enthusiasm, innocence, experience, wit and a great deal of skill.

 

Anne believes that we are at a pivotal time in history when we have the opportunity to help free the wisdom in young people, to help unpack their suitcases and fully belong. To do that we must empower young people to connect to themselves more deeply, to learn to respect themselves and others in a way that builds upon the communities they are constructing. We need to provide our elders with opportunities to document their digital lives so that we may learn just who they are and what they have achieved. For this to occur we must give access to the very tools they enable this history to be recorded otherwise they will do it all on their own without the benefits collaborating with us would bring.

 

In order to begin our journey, we must give up fear-based reactions and promote a culture of mutual respect.

Reactive -> Creative Part 2 – Reconnection

Knowledge of other people’s beliefs and ways of thinking must be used to build bridges, not to create conflicts. ~ Kjell Magne Bondevik

The last posting recounted the general situation in which many find ourselves – despite best attempts at trying to live a fulfilled life, there are times when our actions don’t connect us to our deeper ideals or deeper ideals that others hold. In that posting I summarised the universality of human needs and the way in which we strategise to meet them, often with undesirable results.

The practise of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) suggests that we need to contact our true needs in any given moment of conversation so that we speak from them. Drawing attention to our feelings, those responses to needs being met or unmet, we can then amend our course so that we can be more fulfilled. Much of what we do in conversation can be judgemental – building barriers rather than bridges between people.

This posting will examine how we might best forge connections and assist others and ourselves to meet needs. To start we need to generate Empathy.

What is Empathy?

Let’s start by saying what Empathy is not. For a start it is not a synonym for Sympathy. Sympathy arises when we encounter another’s difficulty and imaginatively co-experience what it might be like in their position. So, when someone says they feel miserable because nobody listens to them, we might adjust our volume to be parallel with the speaker and adopt a tone based on how we might feel in the same situation. ‘Oh, you must feel awful, you poor thing…’ we might even say, thus assuming and pronouncing a judgment on their inner experience. Thus, it becomes about us commenting on and approximating their moment. Essentially, when we are sympathetic, it is about us. This is not to say that sympathy isn’t useful overture to empathy – it can help draw people closer together, but it can involve the listener colluding with the speaker’s situation and not necessarily assist them to move beyond it.

Empathy is a subtly different but altogether more profound option. Empathy provides an opportunity for the listener to help the speaker come to know his or her own feelings and needs while concurrently affirming their own need for connection.

Empathy, when practised effectively, embraces all the people present in the communication. If not, it can give the impression of being akin to a therapy session. Therefore it is important to frequently touch in with one’s own feelings and check to see what one’s own needs might be when offering Empathy.

How do you offer Empathy?

Firstly, for people unfamiliar with this model, it might be best to ask permission to try it before launching in, as it is rather like switching into another language in the midst of a conversation and, as such, it can be bewildering. Also when starting out with NVC, there is a standardised way of phrasing empathic speech that may appear stilted or unnatural. Over time, through extended practise, people tend to find their own more intuitive voice to communicate empathically.

Empathy begins by listening to both what is alive in you at the time and to the other person as they speak. As mentioned above, most important of all is to know what is going on within yourself- you cannot offer Empathy if you are wanting Empathy yourself. When the person is speaking, pay attention to more than the words – observe their behaviours and mannerisms with a kindly intent. Then begin by asking questions, not out of a desire to guess correctly so as to appear wise and ‘Empathic’ but rather as a gift to the other person that will help them unlock the secret of their unmet needs. The questions asked have two parts: you identify what they might be feeling and then suggest why they might be feeling this, though we need to phrase this in terms of their need rather than on any storyline or strategy.

In many cases, NVC is employed as a mediation tool where a third party might intercede and assist others to reach some form of mutuality. Thus, using the previous example of the person who does not feel heard in meeting I have brought in a person practising NVC – let’s call him Marshall.

Brad: “You don’t listen to my opinions. Clearly, you are not interested in what I have to say.”

Marshall “Are you feeling frustrated because you value appreciation?’

NOTE: This is not an opportunity to affirm the storyline for the person and side with or against their antagonists so one doesn’t offer…

Marshall: “Are you feeling frustrated because you value appreciation and you believe Janet is am not capable of seeing you?’

The underlined section is an analysis and a judgment which blocks Brad from connecting to his core need and draws him into the situation, into the troublesome narrative. We do not need take Brad into the conflict, but rather into what he needs.

Again, it must be highlighted that this is not an opportunity to be clever and ‘do’ NVC on somebody so that we might guess their states correctly like some perverse game. We are not reducing another’s experience to point-scoring, rather we are assisting the other person to come into contact with what lies at the core of their pain. Sometimes we do not touch on their feelings accurately, and that is perfectly acceptable, in fact, it might assist the person to look for themselves to see what they are actually experiencing.  So, for example-

Brad: “Janet doesn’t listen to my opinions. Clearly, she is not interested in what I have to say.”

Marshall: “Are you feeling embarrassed because you believe in working in  partnership?

Brad: ‘Um… not, not embarrassment exactly but more feeling agitated or, exasperated that Janet doesn’t take my ideas seriously.’

Marshall: ‘ Exasperated. Ok. (pause) Are you feeling exasperated because you value acceptance and would like to have more appreciation in your life?’

Brad: ‘Yes! I’d like to be appreciated for what I say. Actually, I do just value appreciation – its important to me. ’

At this point it could be valuable for Marshall to approach Janet and see if she would be willing to accept some empathy.

Marshall: ‘Janet, can you tell me what’s going on for you in your relationship with Brad?’

Janet: ‘He’s a pain! Well, it’s not that I don’t appreciate what Brad has to say, it’s just that he takes so long to say anything of value. I get lost in all the stories he tells that I lose the original point.’

Marshall: ‘So, Janet, do you feel confused when Brad shares his ideas because you value clarity?’

Janet: ‘Exactly. If he could just get to the point… I mean, I’d say something to him but I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but clearly I have by doing nothing. He’s so needy!’

Marshall: ‘I guess that you are feeling irritated because you value independence and efficiency.’

Janet: ‘Yeah… why doesn’t he have confidence in himself? People like that frustrate me. I like working with confident, self-actualised people.’

In this example, drawn from practice sessions during the course, Marshall has been able to allow the combatants to access their core needs through skilful observation of their behaviour, through reading their tone, listening to their words and reflecting on what might be alive in them at that moment. We have ascertained that Brad has a need for Acceptance, Appreciation and Mutuality, whereas Janet has a need for Clarity, Independence, Efficiency and possibly Community in as much as she wants to be with like-minded self-actualised people. Are their needs in conflict? Both have a need for Connection that is not being met in their relationship. At this point the conversation with Marshall needs to take a different direction and move into the participants making requests.

What is a request?

Requests are a do-able, realistic, positive action that one asks of another in order to assist the meeting of a need. Requests are not demands but negotiated suggestions for future behaviours. They are always specific so that there is minimal room for ambiguous interpretation.

Marshall: ‘Janet, I wonder if you would you be willing to ask Brad when he is speaking if you are confused about the point he is trying to make?’

Janet: ‘Isn’t it rude to interrupt someone when they’re speaking?’

Marshall: ‘When I hear you say that, I hear that you value respect for other’s feelings.’

Janet: ‘Well, yes. I do. I don’t want to interrupt him because it might hurt his feelings.’

Marshall: ‘Brad, I wonder if you would be willing to accept an interruption from Janet when you are communicating your point of view?’

Brad: ‘If it helped Janet hear what I have to say, then, sure. How she interrupts would be important to me, though.’

Marshall: ‘Janet, would you consider saying to Brad that you are lost or confused and that you need some clarity?’

Janet: ‘Sure. (smiles) I could say, maybe, “Skip to the end…?” ‘

Brad: (laughs) I think I’d get the point if you said that.’

In this example, we can see that both of the people’s needs can be met. Though Brad’s storytelling is not appreciated, the need for his point of view to be accepted will be, if Janet takes the move to interrupt him. Perhaps a follow up could be for Marshall to check in what everyone has agreed upon so there are no remaining misconceptions. Also, if the storytelling is an important way for Brad to be heard, then perhaps finding others who appreciate that aspect of his communication might be a way to meet that need.

This posting has been an overview of the Reconnection process. We begin by observing our own feelings and needs then observing/ guessing what they might be for others. From a place of Empathy we ask questions, not provide solutions, that allow the other person to contact their own feelings and needs. Once there is that connection, there is an opportunity for correction in the form of negotiated requests.

The next and last posting in this series will contemplate implications for educators and the young people in their care.

Reactive -> Creative Part 1 – Disconnection

‘When we stop competing against one another and choose instead to cooperate., we strengthen the community to which each one of us belongs.’ ~ Craig and Marc Kielburger, Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World

My Churchill Fellowship began with a three-day training course at the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication facilitated by Thom Bond. The course was an effective blend of the theoretical, experiential and the reflective.

Participants were from mixed professions – health care, social workers, teachers, artists, students and it attracted people from around the world. Most participants voiced both professional and personal motivations for attending; some noting that coming to the course was prompted by a need to change dysfunctional relationships. I was there to see if this particular methodology could be applied in online communication- could kids practice nonviolent communication as a way of reducing the destructive relationships that are increasingly found online?

What is NVC?

Firstly, Nonviolent Communication (hitherto NVC) is a process, awareness or way of being that creates and maintains connection between individuals and groups. It is sometimes also known as Compassionate Communication.  It is a methodology that allows effective communication with ourselves and with others in a more compassionate, constructive manner through identifying and articulating core human ‘feelings’ and ‘needs’. Essentially, it asks us to be human in a different, life-affirming way that may be counter to our habitual methods of communication. Some of us have developed styles of communication that are based largely upon judgments and criticisms.

Beyond being a personal development tool, NVC is valued as a mediation practice that is implemented in hundreds of schools worldwide as part of restorative justice programs. These schools report decreases in interpersonal conflicts amongst students and staff as well as improved student engagement, responsibility for their own learning and increased levels of mutual respect. In addition, NVC is practiced globally in assorted projects from as diverse countries as Africa, India and Eastern Europe as a way of helping communities heal.

NVC addresses two key questions –

  1. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature, leading us to behave violently and exploitatively?
  2. What allows some people to stay connected to their compassionate nature even under the most trying circumstances?

What is the purpose of NVC?

NVC provides practitioners with a shared vocabulary of feelings and needs that goes beyond the limited ‘happy’ and ‘sad’. Knowing feelings and needs more fully then allows us to select from a broader range of strategies that allows us to meet needs in ways that promote connection.

The process draws attention to the extent to which we engage in moralistic judgments in our day to day communication based around whether our needs are met or unmet and offers alternative approaches. Such judgments include making comparisons, denying personal responsibility for our actions – ‘She made me do it..’ ‘You made me feel…’- and affirming certain actions with rewards and other behaviours with punishment.

What are needs?

NVC has, at its core, recognition that human beings have needs. This is a radical notion for some who have been raised suppressing personal needs for the sake of the needs of others. Needs in NVC are not personal but universal. Needs are phenomena that everyone strives and yearn for. Needs or Values, in the NVC sense, go beyond our wants and desires for material goods and even pleasure – they are universal impulses common to all.

Needs are generally listed as abstract nouns rather than as concrete objects. Thus, some common overall headings for human needs are Connection, Play, Peace, Physical  Well Being, Meaning, Celebration, Spiritual Communion and Integrity. Under these there are many subtle variants that we can only discern by frequent reflection. However, it is difficult in some cases to discern needs, particularly when many might be present in any one moment. Needs are at the core of all human action.

Here is an example: When we say to someone, “You don’t listen to my opinions. Clearly, you are not interested in what I have to say.” We may be thinking that our need is clear- we need our opinions heard by others: it is up to others to do what we want. What NVC suggests is that the need is not in ‘being heard’, rather we are over-emphasising the strategy we use to get our needs met- in this case the strategy is to talk about our opinions to certain people. However, a strategy is not a need. In this instance the needs could be a wish for Acceptance, Appreciation or even Mutuality. Indicating that one is or is not ‘being heard’ places the responsibility of the need being met on the shoulders of others.  It also predisposes the other person’s internal response – that they are not interested – which is only an interpretation of their behaviour and may not reflect their true experience. This kind of interaction does not build connection as it based on blame and judgment; it is a strategy that we have habitually employed to attempt to meet out need for, possibly, Acceptance, Appreciation and Mutuality. It could also be the case that this particular listener may not be capable of assisting the speaker to meet that need and that need might best be met in communication with another individual.

What are feelings?

Feelings are the sensations and emotions we experience that arise in dependence on the degree to which our needs are met or not met. Like needs, they are hard to identify; being able to discern feelings is a skill in itself. Feelings are an indication of how our present experience is meeting our needs. Fulfilled and Unfulfilled Feelings have distinct qualitative  tones and, like Needs, are classified under some overarching themes. When needs are met we may feel – Affectionate, Self-Connected, Inspired, Engaged, Refreshed, Grateful, Excited, Joyful, Peaceful or Hopeful. When needs are unmet, we may feel Afraid, Confused, Annoyed, Angry, Embarrassed, Disquieted, Fatigued, Tense, Vulnerable, Pain, Sad, Disconnected.

Referring to the previous example, in a meeting where we interpret another’s behaviour as dismissive of our opinion we may actually feel frustrated, irritable, disappointed and angry which are sourced from a number of the headings listed above. Knowing what we are feeling provides us with a guide, as instrumentation, to then make more informed choices about the most appropriate strategy to meet the fundamental Need.

What are judgments?

Judgments are the comments, either internal or spoken aloud, that cause disconnection or maintain distance. They are an attempt, a strategy to meet a need that does not actually succeed in fulfilling what a person truly values. In essence, these comments tend to block empathic communication. When others speak with us, we can interrupt the speaker’s process in any number of unconstructive ways. It is easy to see that in the illustration above, the speaker is making a judgment of the other person. Using the example above, but from the perspective of the person accused, she or he might respond in any of the following ways-

  • ‘But I do listen to every word you say.’ (Discounting)
  • ‘I feel exactly the same way about you. You listen to me even less.’ (Comparing)
  • You know what you should do? You should stop talking about yourself all the time and start asking about my day for a change when you walk in the door. Why don’t you count to ten before launching into recounting your day?(Fixing)
  • If you talked about something more informed, something more worthwhile then of course I’d be more interested… Try reading this great new book about meaningful conversations called…’ (Educating)
  • ‘Is it only when you talk about that topic that you feel this or is it all the time? Is it just with me or is it more pronounced when you are at work? (Data Gathering)
  • You think you have it bad! No one listens to a single word I say- I may as well not exist!’ (One-Upmanship/Competition)
  • ‘Oh you poor thing. It must feel awful to think you are so insignificant…’ (Sympathy) (More on Sympathy and its distinction from Empathy in a later post)

These statements take away the opportunity for the speaker to forge a connection and actually meet their need for Acceptance, Appreciation or Mutuality. It shifts the emphasis and attention to the new speaker.

In summary

The diagram below models the terrain of human communication. At the core of our beings are a vast set of Universal Needs that, depending on their degree of ‘met-ness’ give rise to certain feelings – some pleasant, some painful and some just neutral. These feelings are indicators of the degree to which our needs are being actualized. Feelings can give rise to criticism and judgments of others that when expressed or internalized build barriers. Now judgments are not the only strategy that can be engaged to respond to feelings and needs. Some more constructive, connecting responses will be explored in the next posting.

Screen shot 2010-10-07 at 12.47.05 AM

I see all of these things happening in the communication I observe between young people today. They are extremely vulnerable to acting/speaking based on feelings alone. They constantly react to stimuli rather than take a more creative, if time-consuming approach, to forge connections and mutually meet needs.

I’ll write more of this in the next posting which outlines the differences between Sympathy and Empathy as well as outlining the process through which young people might use NVC in communication.

iKnow vs iCare

“Interpretations, criticisms, diagnoses and judgments of others are actually alienated expressions of our unmet needs.”

Dr Marshall Rosenberg


The strangest insights arise in the most unlikely of places. Last Thursday I bounded into a regular meeting of staff with my latest tech toy – a Livescribe pen. For those unfamiliar with its function, reading below will illuminate you. Of late, I have been a loud proponent of this device leading some to suspect that I am on commission. Anyway, what follows is a recollection, if not an accurate recount, of the interaction between myself and another teacher whose name has been removed for obvious reasons. Let’s call her, as elections are in the blogosphere, Julia.

Steven: Hi, Julia

Julia: Hi, Steve

Steven: Steven, actually.

Julia: Steve, right…

Steven: *bouncing like a puppy* Look at my new toy! *brandishes 4GB Livescribe Echo pen*

Julia: Oh, one of those. I know what they are.

Steven: Yeah, it ‘s a pen that-

Julia: – I know, it writes on a tablet and converts to text.

Steven: *mildly confused* Actually, no. It records audio and-

Julia: Oh, I know. It records a meeting and then you can play it back.

Steven: *pulls quizzical face* Um, well, yes it does that, however it does more than that. It also copies what you write and allows you to-

Julia: *briskly* I know, it allows you to read it on your laptop. You can download a file from the pen.

Steven: *irritated* Actually, more than that. *feeling alienated* It records audio and links it to the text for playback at any time with a touch of the pen on the paper.

Julia: Oh. *avoids eye contact* Really.

Steven: *Silence*

Julia: *Silence*

So, what was the result of this interaction? I felt alienated and unheard and she, to all intents and purposes, felt proven wrong. This was certainly not my intention; I was hoping to share my enthusiasm. Over the years I have learned; sorry, no, am learning to temper this enthusiasm with a more circumspect attitude. The last thing I wanted to do was make her feel ignorant and for our meeting to end up being more like a parting.

I reflected on this exchange and realised how much I do this with my own students. How often am I rehearsing, ‘knowing’, exactly what they are about to say and not actually listen as they are saying it. Moreover, how often to ‘iKnow’ the learning they are capable of and limit their achievement to the confines of my expectations? Rubrics are a fine example of this. Yes, they provide support and guidance to allow students to achieve but they can also bind creativity and narrow opportunities. That’s why I try to put extra criteria that is non-criteria into rubrics where possible – “Something beyond the expected” is one heading I like to use.

What is my need in practising ‘IKnow’? What does needing to predict another person’s response meet in me? Familiarity? Comfort? Meeting curriculum outcome/task descriptors as set out by documents? I’ll let you know when I fathom it out.

‘iKnow’ is now the opposite of what I want to be as a teacher. Rather than knowing the other in my mind on my terms, I want to be able to see others separate from my expectations. To do that, to fully see another is to begin to care.

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