Happy Birthday, Marshall!

by | Oct 1, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

October always makes me think about Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of Nonviolent Communication. He was born October 6, 1934. If he were still alive today (he died February 7, 2015), he would be 89 years old!

Marshall and his work changed my life trajectory and all my relationships. The first training of his I attended was around 1996. A friend of mine told me about him. She liked him because he created steps for expressing anger that she thought were brilliant, easy to understand, and life-changing. He was doing a few trainings in our area and she invited me to sign up for one of his workshops. 

In that first meeting, I honestly could not tolerate him or his teachings. I had just figured out that I get to express anger and I was busy “expressing” (ha!) every chance I got. For me, this was liberating and I was afraid if I tried to use a “formula” or tried to be angry the “right” way, I would get mixed up and would not get that same feeling of liberation.

At the time, I thought this was because his process was flawed. Later, I realized that this was all about me (of course!). I simply was not ready for Marshall’s brilliance because I had some more growing to do internally before I could embrace NVC.

A few years later, another friend suggested that I take an NVC class that she was teaching. I did not know at the time that she and Marshall were teaching the same thing. She was a brand new trainer and this was the first course she would teach. I was awestruck by the simplicity of NVC and its teachings. I was finally fully ready to dive in.

Over the next several years, I had numerous opportunities to work with Marshall as he came to my community a few times a year. I went to every single training, while also working with other local trainers. 

My life completely changed! 

My relationships improved— even those that I thought were doomed to remain disconnecting— and I even quit my well-paying, well-satisfying work and career to take a 50% job at a small NVC organization called the Flagstaff Center for Compassionate Communication. They had the equivalent of 1.5 employees. I started my job without a desk, phone or computer (okay, I’m dating myself, but these were the days before laptops were ubiquitous!) and I was like a fish out of water – moving from a traditional Higher Education work environment to a tiny, forward-thinking organization with, what I thought of as, RADICAL thinking. 

Working for the Flagstaff Center for Compassionate Communication was the most painful and growth-inducing time of my life. I literally could not bear it sometimes and lived in utter awe of others as I tried to take in this different philosophy of life and relating to self and others.

At one point, I thought NVC was not for me. I simply could not live this philosophy, and someone suggested that I ask Marshall for a one-on-one session when I attended my first IIT (International Intensive Training), which was one of Marshall’s signature programs (that still lives on, well beyond his life!). These were the days when Marshall entertained one-on-one sessions at IITs — one of the many ways that he expressed his enormous generosity. I applaud his willingness to do this because being a trainer at an IIT, let alone the primary trainer, can be exhausting over 10-days of training. I know this from experience and I can’t imagine giving many one-on-one sessions with such an intensive training schedule over 10 days. Marshall offered them regularly.

Anyway, I did just that. I asked Marshall for a one-on-one session.

I had a plan and I started with, “Marshall, the NVC idea of transparency is too much. For example, what if I asked you out for a date and I told you the whole story, like… Marshall, would you like to go to dinner with me? You need to know that what I really want is a husband, 2 kids and to live in northern Arizona in the USA.” I thought this would be a preposterous way to ask someone out on a first date. Way too transparent. Way too much information. I believed that any rational person would “run for the hills.” And, I was certain that Marshall would see it my way and rethink his idea about transparency (yikes! Very embarrassing to think of this now!), but instead, Marshall said…

“Oh! I would just LOVE being asked out that way, Mary!!! Really, I would love that. Wouldn’t you?”

“NO!!!” I said, “I’d be horrified and scared and…” I was terrified to live transparently and it seemed dangerous and way too vulnerable.

By the end of that brief 1-hour session with Marshall I was completely and utterly committed to living NVC principles. 

Every relationship, every role, every moment of my life has changed and grown since that moment and the thousands of NVC-related moments since then. I will forever be grateful and humbled by it.

To you, Marshall, blessings and peace. I bow in gratitude, humbleness and respect.

What is your “Marshall” story? Maybe you also got to work/study with him? Maybe it was something of his that you read, or a moment when NVC changed your life? Please join me in this moment, right now, to express your gratitude for Marshall and his work, in any way that nurtures you. Maybe you could celebrate Marshall’s birthday in your next NVC practice group or workshop. Or perhaps you could write a word or two of gratitude in your journal, or drop a line to your favorite trainer who has brought NVC to you, or simply acknowledge it quietly to yourself.

Whatever your favorite option is, please do take a moment for gratitude, and do remember to thank yourself for letting his teachings in to whatever extent you have been able to so far. May we all continue to bring forth his teachings into our lives, thus honoring his life and work.

By Mary Mackenzie

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