Compassionate Communication

NVC is a practice and a philosophy. It is based on the premise that all of our feelings are in response to our needs being met or not being met, and that all of our actions and behaviors are strategies for getting our needs met. (A few examples of feelings: happy, sad, hurt, angry, frustrated, nervous, anxious, excited, eager, pleased… A few examples of needs/values: safety, security, nurturing, acceptance, connection, appreciation, expression, autonomy, growth, beauty…)

The three core tenets of NVC are Empathy, Non-judgment, and Personal Responsibility. Empathy is the recognition, understanding, and allowance of one’s (own or another’s) feelings and needs. Non-judgment involves bypassing the use of an objective morality for discerning good and bad, and instead, assessing things simply as aligned or not aligned with your own values and goals; and it generates an acceptance of all personal perspectives. Personal Responsibility empowers everyone to own their opinions, their preferences, and their triggered feelings.

The idea is that we all share from the same bucket of feelings, and the same bucket of needs or values, though we each prioritize them differently, and in different contexts. We all get triggered by events, but our triggers are our own, based on our own stories, and inextricably tied to our own values. While we are not responsible FOR one another, as social beings who thrive in community, we are accountable TO one another, with a reasonable effort to employ tact.

The beauty is that when empathy is given and received – without judgment, and with individual empowerment – real healing occurs. When we observe objectively, we can assess subjectively; and when the core needs or values, in any situation, are made evident, all those involved can collaborate on the strategies which will allow for everyone’s needs to get met, without compromise.

NVC stands for Nonviolent Communication, and it is called such because it eliminates the use of an objective morality – a thing which creates divisiveness (“us vs them”). Such opposition has a tendency to open the door for dehumanization, which precipitates violence. (The term also relates to its founder, Marshall Rosenberg’s inspiration from Ghandi’s nonviolence movement). By owning our opinions and preferences, and allowing others to do the same, we leave no cause for violence (except in rare instances of swift defense from immanent real danger).

There is, of course, much more to unpack here, but essentially, this – along with Oneness awareness (we’re all connected), true compassion (we’re all sharing a human experience), individual presencing (attention on the here and now), and non-attachment (acceptance of impermanence, that change is the one constant in life) – is the most promising means of world peace, and even peace and thriving in one’s own life.


Non-judgment is achieved:

By setting aside an objective morality, distinguishing between fact and opinion, and allowing for personal ownership of one’s opinions;

By relinquishing universal notions of good and bad, and focusing instead on subjective assessments of what is and is not aligned with one’s own values and goals;

And by embracing a compassionate perspective of Oneness; recognizing that we’re all connected, and we all share in the human experiences of pleasure and pain, as well as the spiritual experiences of pure joy and love.


We humans are constantly wobbling about the balance between fierce independence, and desperate co-dependence. Around the world, and across our history, we find examples of rugged individualism, and extreme collectivism.

Where we find the most sustainable and equitable thriving, however, is also where we find egalitarian interdependence. At its fullest expression, it extends beyond interdependence among humans, and encompasses all life.

Interdependence is the magnificent synergy of independently sovereign individuals, collaborating together, supporting one another, and honoring the inherent connectivity shared by all of existence. We are all pieces of the same whole. What any one of us does, has an effect on the rest of us.

Zooming in on one-to-one human relationships: as social beings, we do have certain needs that require interaction with others for our well-being. Yet, when we stray too far away from the balance of interdependence, we find ourselves on a merry-go-round of independence and co-dependence. The journey back to center requires the combination of a secure sense of self, and a connected sense of oneness.

This magnificent paradox, called interdependence, is a delicately beautiful dance that leaves its revelers in a blissful high on the joy of being.