Thursday, 21 May 2015

The A-Social Rant. 21.05.15

It's been a week of blasts from the past, which will be blogged about anon. Then I got back to find that on a friend's FB page someone had mentioned "Non-Violent Communication" aka "Compassionate Communication" aka NVC (see here and here). Very briefly, it is a method for de-escalating emotionally charged conflicts and/or stopping repeating scripts. It incorporates the "to de-escalate a situation, the first thing you need to do is de-escalate yourself" a la Marc MacYoung / Rory Miller Conflict Communication - though the similarity ends there. NVC allows you to acknowledge and respect emotions (yours and those of others) without being overpowered by them. It's a way to better manage your monkey brain in order to better get along with people, basically. 

I'd completely forgotten that the whole thing existed; yet, once upon a time, I spent a lot of time (and a fair bit of money, too) trying to incorporate NVC into both my work and my life. And failed, pretty spectacularly.

Looking back, the issue wasn't with my application (as I thought back then) or with NVC per se. It was simply a case of trying to use the wrong tool for that particular job. I thought - innocently or stupidly, take your pick - that because certain situations were taking place in a social setting, with no physical risks to anyone, they must be social conflicts. Nobody was trying to rape me or beat me or sell me or steal my stuff, which is the asocial I was familiar with in the bad old days. We were all in the same boat, part of the same team, trying to achieve the same thing, and everyone had their clothes on, so it must be social, right? 

The major failing in NVC is in its assumptions (listed here), for instance:

All human beings share the same needs.
Yes, maybe. But many if not most people can't tell between their "needs" and their "wants", and some people just want to watch the world burn.

Conflict occurs at the level of strategies, not at the level of needs.
Well, if you take it to the level of 'everyone just wants to be happy' then yes, sure... but some people's one and only strategy for happiness is to destroy other people - as in, the two things, happiness and destruction, are inextricably interlinked. So what are you going to do about that?

All human beings have the capacity for compassion.
Apart from those who don't. There are entire psychology tomes written about them, and many a real-life horror-story. Yes, they might have been made to lack compassion; there may have been some tragic event at any point past their conception that made them into what they are now. However, to pretend that they just don't exist is rather misguided.

We only resort to violence or other actions that do not meet our own or others' needs when we do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs.
And that's where I just gotta call bullshit.

That's where Non-Violent Communication and Marc and Rory's Conflict Communication differ most. Though both acknowledge the huge effect on emotions, particularly emotions we're unaware of, on communication going south, ConCom doesn't stop there. ConCom acknowledges the fact that there's a lot more going on, including asocial situations, personality disorders, garden-variety evil, etc. ConCom is, essentially, based on reality. NVC seems to look at an incredibly narrow window of social conflict and try to expand it to cover the entire gamut of social interactions; which I personally class as "wishful thinking".

I don't know why we're so keen in this society to cling to the idiotic notion that there are no monsters, that there is no inherent evil, that everyone would be nice if only they were given the chance to be. I mean, even if that were true (which I personally doubt), how in the name of all that is holy does it help us when the shit hits the fan? Yes, if Jack the Ripper had been loved more by his momma he might have grown up to be a kind and loving person, or at least a better-functioning psychopath... but he wasn't, or he wasn't wired right, or a cart run over his dog, or something went wrong; so he killed. Treating him like a non-killer and trying to connect to his inner child while he's waving a knife in your proximity would go beyond the idiotic into the potentially suicidal. And if you're writing policy, it could cause you to be responsible for the deaths of others.

That doesn't mean that I think NVC is a waste of effort. I think it is a lovely system for managing social conflicts between those who are able and willing to apply it. I heartily recommend it. It will particularly help if you've been the source of some of your issues (not that anyone cares to admit that, but it can be true). If nothing else, it will deepen and improve your internal dialogue, which for many people is a massive deal. 

On the other hand, NVC sucks ass for managing social conflict with people who flat out refuse to play ball, for whatever reason. You can't just throw niceness at people and expect it to change them for the better; you can hope and you can try, but if that's your only strategy, then good luck to you. And if you're the sort of person who looks inside first and foremost to find the cause of problems, not realising this could seriously mess you up.

Worse than that, iyou try and use it to deal with asocial conflict at either extreme of Maslow's hierarchy of need, NVC could get you killed, or worse. I mean, it's bad enough if you try and connect intimately with someone who's trying to rob you, but if you actually manage to connect intimately with a high-functioning, self-actualised sociopath... God help you.

I don't understand what the problem is with looking at a tool like this and admitting that it has limitations. A hammer has limitations. A screwdriver has limitations. Neither are a "bad tool", unless you try to use them for the wrong task it. I think the problem rests with our society's unwillingness to contemplate the darker side of the human soul and the type of conflict it generates. We act as if pretending that it's not there, despite plenty of proof to the contrary, can somehow make it go away. We refuse to admit that the issue exists, as if that made us safer; instead, that makes us unable to switch gears to handle it if the need arises.

The more I look around, the more I realise how so many of the things that make me want to headbutt the wall until my brain leaks out of my ears are essentially social strategies trying to apply specific social cures to problems that are either a) asocial in nature or b) a completely different social dynamic. As Marc MacYoung said:
"Trying to deal with asocial using social is like trying to play chess while in standing in traffic.Trying to use specific social scripts when someone is going after a different goal is like you're playing chess and he's playing checkers.There's a big difference between it not being a game and playing the wrong one."
NVC and countless other current strategies are based on the same sort of fallacy, roughly summarisable as "wouldn't it be nice if everyone was nice". And yes, it bloody well would be; but they are NOT. It may be nature or nurture, we may never know which, but right here and now they are just not nice. And as there isn't a damn thing I can do about that, how about we focus on me not getting raped or beaten or sold or killed or just slowly destroyed emotionally and psychologically as a first priority?

(Oh, if you want a cheap and cheerful intro to NVC, here's the book. If you want to know more about Conflict Communication, here is Rory Miller's version; Marc MacYoung's is in production, and you can follow him here.)

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