Let me tell you a story about the power of Nonviolent Communication that comes from my own family.
I came home once at 7 p.m. after a long and busy day. I was very tired and tense, because I had to leave at 7:20 to lead a workshop. In 20 minutes I needed to change my clothes, maybe take a shower, prepare supper for the kids, see that everything’s OK with them, and prepare my notes for the workshop… and then run.
When I came in, I saw everything upside down: My children’s friends were in the room, the TV was working, there were three different kinds of music playing, the radio was blaring, and there were piles of laundry in the living-room… I looked at all this and went straight into the yard, where there were the remains of the sukkah (the small “huts” that Jewish people build every year in remembrance of the wandering of the Jewish people in the desert some thousand years ago…) I sat there trying to have some quiet and focus on what looked to me to be the most urgent thing to do, and started to write my notes, as quickly as I could.
Suddenly I realized my daughter (9 years old) was standing near me. She was silent, just standing there, so I raised my eyes to her while still writing my notes, and asked:
"Do you need anything sweetie?"
She stayed silent. I looked up again, and I noticed her face expression. I waited a little for her response, and then she said:
"You’re going again!"
Now, my first impulse was to explain, justify, tell her it’s not so bad, and so on, and act from my automatic pattern of feeling guilty and shame, leaving my children like this, for the whole day… But I was lucky, because my energy was focused on compassion and being with the other, since the notes I was writing were about Non Violent Communication. This focus helped me remember that – especially in times of hurry and tense – using it, trusting it, will be the quickest and most efficient way to resolve the situation in harmony with the other person. So I asked my daughter:
"Are you sad because you would’ve liked me to stay home and be with you this evening?"
She was still silent, and I saw two tears running down her cheeks. I got the answer. She was sad. She really did want me to stay with her that evening.
I waited a little longer to see if she wanted to say more, focusing on her feelings and needs of that moment. After a while I said:
"Is there anything else you want to tell me about it?"
She stayed silent and the tears were still running down her cheeks… After a while I said:
"Listen, Sweetie, I really want to listen to you if you want to tell me more, because you and what you have to say are so important to me. Because I am in a hurry, I will go back now to write my notes. Now I have a request: would you be willing to give me a sign if you want to say anything more to me? Then I will stop and I will listen to you?"
She nodded affirmatively, still with tears running, still silent… I went back to my notes. After a few moments of silence I noticed her going around the table to the sukkah’s walls and taking down the decorations. I raised my eyes to her, still writing my notes, and said:
"I see that you are taking care of these decorations"
And she said: "Yes, mommy. There are some things here we need to throw away, and some things I want to keep for next year, so I am putting everything in order."
Then I said:
"I’m so happy you are doing that, because I wanted it to be done for some days now."
I went back to my notes. After a few more minutes I finished writing and stood up gathering my books and papers. She came all the way from the other side of the table, gave me a big hug, kissed me and said:
"Mommy, good luck in your lecture tonight."
Thinking of that precious episode, I realize that what she really needed, at that particular moment, was my presence with her. A presence with another person can be very significant and strong, regardless of its length, if we focus all our attention, heart and will on trying to understand one's feeling and needs at the moment. When I asked her: "Are you sad, because you would have liked me to stay home tonight?" – this was the moment of being present with her, because I didn’t explain anything to her, didn't judge her, I didn’t blame her, and I didn’t blame myself, either. I was meeting her needs by being with her, once I heard her first sentence, realized her sadness and need to have my presence. Her tears and silence confirmed to me her feeling and needs. Eventually, my presence with her helped her to reconnect with her own inner power. She became cheerful and happy, having the energy and joy to do something beneficial to the home, to the family and to me.
It also reconnected me to my own inner strength and confidence, and I felt so moved and happy. That evening in my workshop I felt powerful and energized to share with others my confidence and trust in this process.