Colorado Movie Theater Shooting and NVC

(Note: NVC is an abbreviation for Nonviolent Communication, a fluid, ever-evolving language process created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It is also sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication, and is based on universal human feelings and needs, the giving of empathy and making humble requests rather than demands. More on Steve’s professional services at

When I heard the story of so many people killed and even more injured, not on a battlefield where one might expect such violence, but in a movie theater, I felt horrified and shocked. I also felt pained and concerned for those who lost loved ones, and for all those who were so deeply terrified and traumatized that they may not be able to enjoy going out to the movies for years.

When I read a list of official statements from various political leaders in the region, I saw certain word choices come up repeatedly. “Senseless crime,” for instance. Others use words like “unimaginable, cruel, evil, unthinkable, horrific.”

Notice how they (and we all) tend to use words that evaluate or describe the very painful situation, often avoiding the use of pure feeling words. Instead of saying “I feel absolutely horrified and frightened when I see a mass shooting in a theater,” we are more likely to see evaluative language stating “It was a horrific crime.” Which of course it was. I’ve no intention to invalidate anyone’s statements; I’m just pointing out that this is evaluative language. “A senseless mass shooting, perpetrated by a sick, twisted mind.”

An example of observational/feeling language may read more or less like this: “When I hear of a man killing and maiming so many human beings, I feel astounded and aghast. I cannot understand why anyone would do such a thing that would trigger decades of untold physical and emotional pain and suffering, heartbreak and shock. The shooter, after he is safely detained, may desperately need some profound psychological help and support, as he is probably a danger to himself and/or others in the state of mind he was in during the shooting.”

Do you see the difference between evaluative language and nonviolent observational language based in feelings and needs? I’m not suggesting one is wrong and the other right, they are just different. Feelings and needs simply make it easier for us to understand and connect with each other emotionally.

As more people begin to understand the differences between the two, perhaps someday it will be more common to hear people respond with feeling language. Instead of evaluating the crime as senseless (which implies that other crimes may make sense and be reasonable) we may then hear people share what’s going on within them.

For instance, “I’m terrified and worried about what may happen next in this unpredictable world we live in. I’m thoroughly confused as to how someone could entertain and actually execute such actions. When I see these events, I feel doubtful about where the human race is heading, and scared of terrorism in all its various forms.”

How could anyone’s emotional and mental health become so afflicted that they would act out so violently, on such a grand scale? Could that man have had many needs for empathetic understanding and compassion that were not met for a very long time? Even from his childhood?

These are the mysteries surrounding this tragedy that may be answered in time. My heartfelt prayers and compassion go out to all the victims, their friends and families. Most of all, I wish and pray that people like the shooter learn to ask for help when they need it, so as to prevent such tragedies whenever possible in the future.

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About swpollack

I’m an independent mediator and collaborative communication coach who can help you to co-create greater ease, connection and mutual understanding in your personal and professional relationships. As a non-traditional specialist, my aim is to get concrete results for my clients in a fraction of the time usually required by traditional therapy and counseling. Please visit my business website: . The emotion-based coaching work I do is deeply therapeutic, yet I am neither a psychologist nor a psychotherapist. Instead I work with a holistic, empathic process called compassionate, nonviolent communication. I also facilitate ongoing support groups for people who want to learn this organic process of nonjudgmental communication to help build bridges of connection, harmony, collaboration and understanding. For more about my Build Compassionate Relationships meetup group, visit: . I’ve been offering these services to the public since 2000 in the greater Miami and Fort Lauderdale area, as well as by phone and through Skype conferencing. . Nonviolent Communication is a process developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It’s based on a very pure, nonjudgmental language of feelings, needs and requests. I’ve found this to be a powerful tool in my mediation work which involves bringing two or more people together despite a painful history of conflict.
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