A Friend After 50 Years

A record of one journey into a peculiar type of Quaker Christianity, and a bit of silliness to boot.

Location: Arkansas

Friday, August 31, 2007

Giraffes & Testimonies

In response to some messages about interpersonal communication and Quaker testimonies on our meeting's discussion list:

In Nonviolent Communication they don't approach what they are teaching as the "right" or "better" way, rather they look at whether certain language is going to serve life or not. Marshall (Rosenberg's) strongest admonition is that, if you speak "Jackal," you are going to "pay" for it in some manner. He himself actually loves to speak Jackal, although usually in a humorous vein. He is from Detroit, and refers to foul language as "Detroit poetry." (For those unfamiliar with NVC, "jackal" is basically critical, judgmental language, distinguished form "giraffe," the language of the animal with the largest heart and the ability to see the farthest).

I have spent a great deal of time delving into NVC, and have found that most people I have met, many of whom have had greater exposure than I have, ultimately have trouble "pulling it off." However, I still believe its a worthwhile thing to study more for the underlying philosophy and understanding of the dynamics of human relationships. I am not very accomplished at actually using it, though -- old dog, new tricks and all that. I'd also add that there have been a very few occasions when it has worked wonders in my "difficult conversations," and from Marshall's accounts, at least, it has been very effective in some highly confrontational situtations.

And the idea of speaking from what you're experiencing does, I think, correspond to the Quaker approach of "testimonies." I think its also important, however, not to confuse ideas like "testimony" and "continuing revelation" with unbridled personal desire or will, and I think that may be where approaches like NVC can fall short. The "center of concern" is largely "my feelings" and "my needs." In fairness, there is also an emphasis on listening to "your feelings/needs," but this still seems to atomize us into organisms seeking nothing more than "getting our needs met." This may be unfair, but there is a certain level of discomfort there for me around that.

Friends, on the other hand, traditionally have seen the value in checking their presumptive leadings with other Friends and against scripture, not to make sure that other Friends are "getting their needs met" or that "everybody's happy" but to see whether there is a possibility of transcending personal cravings and compulsions -- in traditional parlance, seeking "God's will." Today, some Friends are speaking of this as "accountability." I'm lukewarm about that terminology, but it points to something that I think we need. Now, can I put that in "I" language, state what I am observing, what I need and how I feel about it, and then pose a clear request? Probably more than I can manage at the moment. But if you're willing to put your "giraffe ears" on, maybe you'll be able to hear me saying, "please" rather than hearing this as a "demand."


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