Recently, the moderator of an NVC-related mailing list I’m on wrote up a draft list of “guidelines” for the group to follow. (I don’t mean to single out this fellow. He just happened to provide a recent example of an issue that has been on my mind.) The list addressed some behaviors that he and some other took issue with (discussion focus, forms of humor, and “following standard ethical procedure” of citing articles, etc.) Predictably in an NVC crowd, a few folks (including me) wondered whether these guidelines were requests or demands and expressed concern about the use of domination tools. The moderator replied that the guidelines are requests that meet needs like respect & efficiency. And that if folks do otherwise, “then you know there are people whose needs you may not be meeting.”
I suspect that this person is making some assumptions that I don’t share, namely that his proposed strategies are actually more effective at meeting needs than other strategies, and that his strategies don’t also interfere with needs being met.
I figure, however, that the opposite strategies must meet needs as well. Otherwise, people wouldn’t be doing them.
It occurs to me that all sets of rules or guidelines have this same problem: they support needs sometimes in some ways and interfere with needs sometimes and in some ways. Another example is CNVC’s strategies around other people’s use of the name “NVC”.
Here’s an idea for a more alive approach to address clashing preferences:
- Use a living, collaborative medium, like a wiki page. Expect an ongoing evolutionary process, not a static conclusion.
- Jot down what behaviors you sometimes like and which ones you sometimes dislike, say which is which and why.
- Invite others to contribute to these lists as well.
- Deal with stuff as it comes up instead expecting to control it in advance.
I expect and hope that some behaviors will show up as both liked and disliked (even by the same person), and I believe this intersection will be where the most value comes. In fact, I’d be very surprised to learn of any behavior at all that’s worth writing down in one category (Like or Dislike) and not also in the other. After all, if everyone agreed, then either the behavior would always happen or never happen. In either case, there’s no point in mentioning it.
This last point gets me most clearly to one of the essential pitfalls of the whole idea of rules or guidelines (part of the game of Preserve & Prevent). They record thin slices of creative tensions among strategies. The matching counterpoint strategies are omitted, and more importantly, so are the “good reasons” (needs met) by both sets of strategies. And so the beautiful dream of “all needs fully met” is short-circuited, and we settle for and propagate the same old either-or, win-lose-compromise thinking and living we were inculturated with.
I’m going for the dream. Want to join me?