(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. For information on services offered by Steve Pollack, please visit www.mediation-usa.net)
According to the NVC approach to language, there are many patterns of speech that are inherently, though maybe unconsciously judgmental. Calling someone stupid, for instance, or ugly, would be two examples of negative, hurtful judgments. Many would agree that such words express negative evaluations or judgments.
Yet, even a simple, positive word of praise such as “great” can be a form of evaluative judgment as well. Just because a word is positive with intent to praise does not mean it is purely nonjudgmental. Take, for example, the exclamation or proclamation: “That movie was really great!” Positive evaluations can be judgmental if they pronounce something to be generally good or bad without expressing it clearly as a personal opinion, as a like or dislike. When we make a positive judgment or evaluation that others don’t agree with, they are left to either agree, be silent, or disagree and express an opposing opinion.
The general proclamation, “that movie was great!” can be expressed in a more specific and personal way which may be less judgmental. For instance, “I really liked the music and cinematography of that movie!”
Someone who didn’t like those aspects of the movie might find it easier then to express what they liked. For example, “I loved the emotional chemistry between the actors, and the twists and turns of the story that kept me engaged.”
Now we have two people sharing their personal likes without the need for a disagreement…even though they may not like the same things at all. On the other hand, if they use the traditional, generalized pronouncement of good or bad, the stage is being set for disagreement and possibly even an argument or verbal fight.
Bob: “That was one great movie!”
Steve: “I like the star actor, but the movie sucks!”
Bob: “Whaddya mean? This is the best movie I’ve seen all year!”
Steve: “That actor is on his way out, and his movies keep getting worse.”
Bob: “Don’t say that about my favorite actor, that’s rude!”
Steve: “I’m just calling it like I see it…”
And on and on. You can see how easily things can devolve into violent thoughts and words, especially if the people involved are stressed and tired, or sleep-deprived and cranky.
When I saw Facebook come out years ago with its “like” button, I felt hopeful for the future of nonviolent language. I hope the like button is helping people to practice liking something while taking personal responsibility for that liking, and not imposing it upon anyone else. Of course many do, after clicking on “like,” go on to write a comment with positive judgments in it. “This movie review page is great, wonderful, excellent…or bad, horrible, evil.”
I’d love to see more specific comments including a brief, specific observation of something the person likes on that page. E.g., “When I see the daily update on the latest movie reviews on this page, I’m really impressed. It makes it so easy to keep up, and the reviews are reliable and truthful.”
Even if the general culture of language does not transform itself in a sea change, we can each evolve our own personal levels of nonviolent language. In our own way, and in our own time.