Nonviolent Communication & Restorative Circles

Wed, April 1, 2015 (4 years ago)

Restorative Circles, a system of conflict resolution which is based on the principles of Nonviolent Communication, is proposed to become part of Auroville's Conflict Resolution Policy.

Meet L’aura Joy, born 1978, second generation Aurovilian, and passionate about Nonviolent Communication (or NVC for short). NVC, she explains, is about using communication as a means to get to the consciousness behind our words. “There’s so much judging and blaming, even if ever-so subtle, in our language, and we’re not aware of it. We’re conditioned by our upbringing, culture and education to speak and think in ways that create separation between us. Once we start dissecting our language, we realize that what we’re actually saying is not really what’s going on inside us. NVC supports us to become more conscious of why we say certain things and to understand what’s going on inside ourselves, without starting a blame game. At the same time, it’s about developing curiosity and listening skills to understand what’s really going on for the other person. NVC uses communication as a means, although the ultimate goal is not communication but the development of consciousness.”

L’aura got hooked on NVC after reading a book about Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg, an American clinical psychologist. “I finished it in one night. A few weeks later the Auroville News & Notes carried a notice about a Nonviolent Communication workshop, and I signed up immediately. Within five minutes, I knew this was going to be my life. It struck home. It gave me such clarity about how we function as human beings, and how we can come back to our innate nature of goodness, from where we long and aspire to collaborate and work and live together harmoniously. I find NVC so empowering, because although it’s based on a deep philosophy, the practice is very do-able and practical. It’s a beautiful coming together of human psychology and spirituality.”

This, she says, is also the background of Marshall Rosenberg (1934-2015), who had studied psychology and comparative religion. He was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, who all chose nonviolence as a life path. Marshall’s quest was to understand what separated us as humans and what brought us back together. “I find that NVC deepens my understanding of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother’s teachings.” It’s a practice she now shares with others through workshops, coaching and consulting, being a Certified NVC Trainer herself (with the Centre for Nonviolent Communication, USA).

Restorative Circles

A natural offspring of NVC is the restorative justice system called Restorative Circles (RC), developed by NVC trainer Dominic Barter in the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. “It shares the philosophy of NVC that in our hearts we are good, that we want to be and do good, and if we don’t, it’s because we’ve somewhere along the way lost connection and trust. But, contrary to the normal justice systems that are punitive and don’t necessarily support long-term reconciliation and healing, RC’s intention is to restore trust and increase our willingness to co-exist, thereby bring- ing about a new kind of justice,” says L’aura. “But it asks for a huge shift in how we relate to justice, and I imagine it will take time before we can fully trust in it.”

RC invites people to keep talking until the conversation deepens. “Often conflicts are windows into old hurts, and in Auroville some of these hurts go back many years,” says L’aura. “We have so many stories about each other: when we open one, we get automatically drawn into another one, and then again another one. In RC, we therefore do not confine our discussion to one issue, but let things develop. Often, the true conflict lies behind the present one, in older issues that people might have been avoiding, often because they are too painful or appear risky.”

Another unique aspect of RC is the awareness that conflicts don’t only affect the conflicting parties, but also others, directly or indirectly. “In RC, anyone can call a Circle, not just the two conflicting parties. We start with individual Pre-Circles, and one of the questions the Facilitator asks each person is “Who needs to be there?”Then we all meet – those who agree to come – and, guided by a Facilitator, people share, ask questions, and practise deep listening. And if someone feels they have not been heard, there is the opportunity to speak again. The dialogue often deepens and people start to become aware of the impact of their actions upon one another.”

The Circle meeting itself usually takes up to two hours, and if necessary there can be a follow-up. Ideally, the Circle closes with an Action Plan to rebuild trust and community. “Action Plan items may include someone offering to do 100 hours of community service, for example. Unlike in the punitive justice system, this offer comes from an altogether different place – from a place of having seen the impact of our actions and of genuinely wanting to repair the damage, instead of from the idea that this person must be punished and forced to pay his/her dues.” says L’aura.

RC – while it is a good system for any group of people living or working together to process what happened and how it impacted them – is not ideal for immediate outcomes. “Those who want an immediate outcome should opt for a different system of conflict resolution,” says L’aura. “For RC is long term; it invites systemic change. One conversation might not necessarily solve all the problems – but it opens the possibility for a shift, for a softening, an opening of the heart and, last but not least, a healing of the past.”

RC in Auroville and India

Has RC already been used in Auroville? “A little bit, although RC here is still relatively low key. We’ve been learning and practicing RC for a couple of years now, and we have a small group of committed learners and facilitators, and we’ve facilitated a handful of live RCs.” Since then, RC, along with Mediation and Arbitration, has been made part of the Auroville Conflict Resolution Policy, which will soon be submitted to the Auroville Residents’ Assembly for approval. For L’aura, these are a positive signs change and transformation. “Although,” she says, “there’s a long road ahead.”

Like Auroville, India too is slowly getting exposed to alternative systems of conflict resolution. But while mediation has meanwhile been embraced by the High Courts of India, RC is still in first gear. L’aura has been giving courses all over India, most recently in Kochi where she and six other trainers trained over 200 enthusiastic participants from all over the world for 6 days. “It’s still a drop in the ocean. But the Indian NVC community is quite strong and committed, and NVC and RC are growing.”

In conversation with Carel


Some Inspiration...

"If we touch fire, it burns, but there is no principle of punishment in this relation of cause and effect, it is a lesson of relation and a lesson of experience; so in all Nature's dealings with us there is a relation of things and there is a corresponding lesson of experience."
~ Sri Aurobindo