Is peace the ability to overcome conflicts?
Yes, I’ll have to think about that for some time. Perhaps you could express it in that way. Perhaps it’s also about withstanding conflicts, being able to live with conflicts. It’s important not to end up thinking about RIGHT and WRONG, or that “only one of us can be right”, but rather to meet at the point where we have the same interests.
Is non-violent communication a tool for achieving more peace?
I wouldn’t say that it’s a tool. It has tools, but it’s actually much more of an attitude, or a way of life.
Can non-violent communication – if we rid ourselves of old models – help us to move forward on a political level as well as on an interpersonal one?
Yes. When I watch debates, I discover types of behaviour that mostly occur at a strategic level, instead of focusing on needs. We will find solutions when it’s not only one party or one position that wins and the others have to go along with that and put up with it. Meeting each other on a human level is important. It’s not a matter of one person giving up, but about finding ways of meeting as many needs as possible.
What was your life like when you were young?
My experience was that I wanted to live in a very specific way. People don’t really ask what needs a child or a young person has. I can’t recall being asked why I hadn’t attended lessons at school. That really happened. None of my teachers asked me why I didn’t attend classes. What is lacking for you here? What do you find where you go instead? That would have helped me to feel that I was noticed and to find a solution, rather than just hearing that it’s bad that you don’t come and you must come otherwise we’ll give you bad marks.
What does school mean to you, and what do you remember of it?
Of course, I learnt a lot at school. But I also experienced the fact that that we weren’t really seen as people, as what we are and what we want and how we can best develop. A specific programme had to be learnt by heart. Time and again, we were urged to learn to think independently, but I didn’t experience that very often in class.
Where we were really seen as people was in the drama group. For me, that was the main reason for going to school, at a time when I felt that I was going through a crisis and didn’t feel very welcome.
I learnt to think independently in my parental home, where I came into contact with the peace movement, with people who were trying to establish critical thinking and ask questions. How can peace be created? Why are there starving children on this planet?
What would the first step be towards non-violent communication?
It would be that we all learn early on to come into contact with our needs and to be aware of what we need when we do a particular thing. Basically, the starting point for non-violent communication is that people’s each and every act occurs because they want to fulfil their needs. There is a motivation behind every act. We are often not successful at that; the reason being that we often don’t know what we need. If we were trained in this, it would save us a lot of pain, in ourselves and in contact with other people.
If we talk about a material need, we come to the topic of consumption and disposal…
Yes, that’s a good example of an act where an individual is not aware of what kind of a need he or she wants to fulfil in that way. I buy something for myself because something in me tells me that I will feel better if I buy it, I would be happier. But you just don’t know what need you want to fulfil in that way, and it happens quite often that you only notice much later that the need hasn’t been met after all. It’s just a matter of some kind of satisfaction.
But if I really ask myself what I am fulfilling for myself in that way, I will maybe realise that there are completely different strategies for finding happiness. Concern about the planet for example, and many others.
How would you like to live?
I would like to live with people who share the same vision, who are collaborating on the same vision as I am.
Why not with people who don’t share your vision, but a contrasting one? That would also be interesting…
I’m looking for companionship, security and community. That is where I find understanding and effectiveness and where I can share ideas, and that’s what nourishes me. That’s good for me, and I find a sense of belonging there. Because more can be achieved together. In that way, I can also discuss things with other people whose opinions are quite differtent from my own. I need a community that is good for me and where I can find trust. Living in contact with nature is another reason why I moved away from the city after 13 years and now live in contact with people of different ages, with children too and older people.
As a therapist, you also depend on being successful. Have you had any special experiences like that?
One thing that immediately comes to mind, because it is quite recent, is what a client said to me, actually I intended to kill myself shortly before my birthday. Then I asked her what had made her not do it? She replied that she had learnt in our joint sessions to understand better what lay behind her feelings and what she needed in life and what needs she had. I was very moved by that.
Non-violent communication is a key to learning to understand yourself better and to care for yourself better and to be in much better contact with other people. I hear people saying oh I wish I had learnt that 60 years ago, then my life would have been quite different, less painful.
Let’s return to the start of our conversation and talk about peace. What does it mean in relation to your work?
Peace is the ability to talk to each other, to be able to live together, in a way that takes everyone into account and gives them space. Big people and small people, men and women, those with majority opinions and those with minority opinions, everyone.
There will always be misunderstandings and conflicts – it’s just a matter of how we deal with them. A peaceful society can be measured by the way in which people deal with each other, by the fact that people don’t feel ignored.