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Compassionate Communication

AE_nonviolentLocal group, Nonviolent Communication Santa Cruz, continues to expand

“Compassion is the radicalism of our time,” the Dalai Lama has said.  Locally, we can feel grateful to have a number of radical organizations focused on cultivating compassion in personal, political and spiritual realms.  One such group is Nonviolent Communication Santa Cruz, currently celebrating five years of growing and learning in the community. On Saturday, Oct. 17 all are invited to join in the celebration at Funabunda, an extravaganza of “fun in abundance” with delicious food, inspiring music, spectacular magic and a “hungry duck” silent auction.   The event takes place from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Center for Compassion (225 Rooney St., across the freeway from Morrissey Avenue).  Tickets are available for $15 at nvcsantacruz.org or $20 at the door. 

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a method for connecting with self and others that is rooted in unconditional empathy and authentic expression.  Also known as “the language of compassion” or “mindful communication,” NVC offers a bountiful vocabulary of awareness for sensing feelings and needs and for making requests to meet those needs.  The practice is used worldwide by parents, teachers, couples, neighbors, communities, businesses and social change groups and has benefited so many here in Santa Cruz.
“We have a strong connection with UCSC and have worked with staff, students, and faculty through the years,” says Jean Morrison, local NVC trainer.  “More than 10 schools use our services.  Many spiritual groups sponsor our classes and we've worked with county agencies and nonprofits to share the skills of NVC with their staff.”  NVC Santa Cruz offers classes and workshops at The Center for Compassion, including a nine-month integration course.
Jean Morrison was the first NVC teacher in Santa Cruz, landing here in 1996.  She studied with Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of NVC, in the mid-’80s and integrated it into an established counseling practice.  “The positive feedback we get from individuals and groups in Santa Cruz is what keeps me loving getting up in the
morning and doing this work,” reflects Morrison.  She is one of five trainers certified in Nonviolent Communication in Santa Cruz who provide services like mediation, conflict resolution, meeting facilitation, counseling and specialized workshops such as Emotions in the Workplace, Gossip Prevention, and Communicating for Success.
Another local NVC trainer and mediator is Christine King. “Part of what we teach,” says King, “is only to say yes if it’s from a place of true natural giving.  We know that if you are saying no it is because there is some other need that you are taking care of in that moment. … The auction at Funabunada is being called a “hungry duck” auction because in nonviolent communication we suggest that people don’t do anything unless they want to do it with the joy of a child feeding a hungry duck.  That’s also been how we’ve asked for auction items: we’re not twisting anybody’s arm, but asking only for what people want to joyfully contribute.”  The auction will feature an abundance of fun and useful items and services including restaurant gift certificates, handmade art, classes for kids and adults, astrology, cranial sacral treatment, kayak rental, photography and life coaching.  
During the Funabunda celebration, a delectable buffet of eclectic food will be provided by long-time local chef Jozseph Schultz, the mastermind behind “India Joze” restaurant and regular culinary contributor to art and social change organizations.  Entertainment will abound with The Great Morgani, Stuart Clark’s Jazz Band, Mickey Magic and Armando Alcarez singing and strumming guitar.  The Nonviolent Communication bookstore will be open and there will be opportunities to speak with local NVC trainers and students to discover more about communicating with empathy.
One local student of NVC, Bar Lowenberg, has been taking compassion to the streets of Santa Cruz with a “Free Empathy” table.  For over a year, most Saturday afternoons from 2 to 4 p.m., Lowenberg has set up a table in front of The Gap on Pacific Avenue to offer empathy to anyone who needs some.  “It’s a lot of fun,” says Lowenberg.  “Some people walk by and say things like, “The world could use more of that!” He goes on, “People who sit down really do need some empathy.  They have something going on in their lives and they may not have other places where empathy is readily available.”    
King explains a little more about her experience of empathy:  “Empathy is being a witness to the experience of someone else and knowing what it feels like to be in their shoes without thinking I have to agree or disagree with that person.”  
Locally, King combines the empathic practice of NVC with a communication model called “restorative circles” to re-establish trust between people after a conflict situation; “Let’s say that vandalism occurs at a school.  What is usually done?  The kids often get suspended or expelled; there’s some punitive retribution.  Instead, this is a process where people come together with understanding and then trust is established.”  Additionally, she’ll be teaching a course at UCSC called “Transformative Action” in which she’ll incorporate NVC ideas.  “I was introduced to social action through protests against war and nuclear weapons,” she says.  “I later found out that it’s more effective to work toward what you’re wanting rather than what you’re against.” Morrison adds, “NVC is a tool and process that helps awaken our minds, hearts, and bodies.”
At the Funabunda event, King and Morrison will be present with the other local NVC trainers—Kelly Bryson, Rick Longinotti, and Kristin Masters—and will be available to answer questions and welcome you to the Center for Compassion.  A session of the popular Conflict Improv will unfold, in which trainers role-play real-life conflicts, acting out a variety of compassionate strategies for resolving communication difficulties.  
“The process of NVC takes us out of the paradigm of looking at the world in dualistic terms of good/evil, right/wrong and good/bad and helps us to see that really all of us are functioning at a level of wanting to meet universal needs and values,” reflects King, “Compassion truly is a powerful force.”

Funabunda is from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct.17, at the Center for Compassion (225 Rooney St.)  Tickets are $15 at nvcsantacruz.org or $20 at the door.  John Steven Malkin is a local writer, musician and radio host of The Great Leap Forward on Wednesdays at 7 p.m.  He is the co-author of “The Only Alternative: Christian Nonviolent Peacemakers in America” (Wipf & Stock, 2009).
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