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Nonviolent Communication: What are needs in NVC?

In the NVC sense, “needs” are those human longings we all have, and all humans have always had. There isn’t a definitive list of needs and it’s often the subject if conversation among NVC people. There are the pretty obvious physical needs like food, water, air and shelter. Then there are more tenuous ones like connection, kindness, love and being heard. We can survive without having all our needs met, and life will be more wonderful the more our needs are satisfied.

Having needs leads us to strategies to satisfy those needs. We can find ourselves focusing on strategies without being aware of the needs we are trying to fulfill. Awareness of needs may lead us to alternative strategies that have a better chance of fulfilling the need.

Sometimes, we can confuse strategies and needs and find ourselves holding tight to a strategy. I might say “I need a car”. Now having a car is clearly not a need — not all humans need a car, so having a car is a strategy. What need might I be wanting to satisfy by owning a car? I might say “I need to get to work”. Again, work isn’t a need it’s a strategy as not all humans have a need for work. If I keep unwrapping the strategy I’ll probably go through the strategy of money and end up with the needs of food & shelter and other needs having money allow me to fulfil.

Here’s a  list of needs from the Centre for Nonviolent Communication.

Nonviolent Communication: Marshall Rosenberg on moralistic judgements

In this 18 minute video, Marshall Rosenberg explains much of the essence of NVC. He covers pretty well everything except the NVC understanding of needs. In particular, he discusses the moralistic judgemental language that leads to violence and disconnection.

The part where he talks about the love is particularly informative.

What we expected and did not receive

Image: Village, inkjet printed 160gsm paper. Each house 5x5x5cm

Using the same paper house design I first created in 2005, I have made the houses for this village. As I have done before, the work is made to be photographed. The finished work presented to the viewer is the photograph. This work is inspired by Francis Weller’s Five Gates of Grief.

The Fourth Gate: What we expected and did not receive

We arrive here as stone age children. We are wired and prepared to participate in everything our deep time ancestors experienced. R. D. Laing.

I have experienced the company of friends I don’t completely trust, people who I might choose to hide some vulnerability from, people who might exploit some weakness for “just a joke”. A “joke” that invites distance, invites the withholding of trust, encourages superficial connection.

Aware of this, for several years I have been wondering about the depth of connection people are able to have when there is deep trust. I have experience radical trust and extraordinary (in my personal experience) connection. I long to live with this every day and I believe it is possible.

It seems to be that our nature invites us to live in communities of around 40 adults plus children. 40 people with close and healthy interdependence, trusting each other with their lives. A village. People who I would hold, people who would hold me in times of grief. People who would share joy and celebration. How would it feel to live with that level of trust & connection? What is it like to live without it? It is one of the experiences we came into the world expecting and did not receive.

Where is my village? How can it be made? How will we make ourselves into villagers?

Llangranog beach

Walking meditation

I’ve been practising walking “meditation” on the beach at Llangranog. I begin with my awareness, in my personal here & now. Staying in awareness of myself, my physical presence and senses, I become aware what is around. The experience is as though I’ve opened my eyes & ears further, more gets in, and what arrives is less “filtered”, without judgement. The experience reminds of me of John O’Donohue: “When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us”. Is this reverence? Is beauty deciding to trust me?

(The “meditation” practice is my own creation, distilled from different things I’ve been taught over many years. I don’t suppose it’s original. It is original to me).

Llangranog beach
Llangranog beach

Personal heroism

I had a moment of inspiration a while ago. It’s been running around my mind ever since. I applied this to gaining understanding of a personal experience, and I think it will be useful to others. Actually, I think it’s such a good idea, someone has probably thought of it already.

If we compare ourselves to others, we could easily miss our finest hour, our moment of personal heroism. If I think I did something brave, my next thoughts might be of someone I saw on TV rescuing a family from a car sinking into a river, or of a firefighter risking her life to bring children from a burning building. Not all acts of heroism will be famous. We won’t all get on TV or into the papers. And yet, for some, leaving the house will take as much courage as it takes for a firefighter to run into a burning building.

I have a suggestion for a way to examine our moments of personal heroism, the times when we act from our values, even knowing there is a risk to ourselves.

The American scholar Joseph Campbell identified a narrative structure that appears in almost all myths, legends and old stories, and a lot of newer stories as well. He called it The Hero’s Journey. I’m going to borrow a simplified version from Erica Sosna’s excellent book Your Life Plan. In this version, the journey has these stages:

  • The invitation to adventure.
  • The commitment: stepping into the unknown.
  • The quest: challenges, obstacles, setbacks, victory (or failure).
  • The return: the hero returns, transformed by the quest.

Here is a way we can tell our stories of heroism to ourselves, and if we choose, to trusted friends. Your story doesn’t have to be a literal journey. It may have taken place in familiar locations, perhaps even in your own home. The difference could have been in your mind, your attitude and perhaps no one noticed any change.

The invitation

How does your story begin? How were you invited to this journey? How did you decide to accept the invitation? How difficult was it? How long did the decision take? Did you consider refusing? What dangers did you anticipate?

The danger could be emotional or physical. For example, if we commit ourselves to a love affair, we open ourselves to heartbreak.

The Commitment

How did you step into the unknown? What did you leave behind? How different was the new? Did you find it frightening, or exciting, or something else? What other emotions arose?

The Quest

What challenges did you face? What obstructions? Did anyone try to discourage you? Were there any allies helping? Any thoughts, books or objects that helped?

Were you victorious?

The Return

How were you transformed by the journey? What did you learn? What did you lose? Are you glad you made the journey? What would things be like if you hadn’t? Do you have any regrets? What feelings arise when you think about your story?

I poem about a conversation that didn’t end when I thought it would


I stand beside my friend, bathed now and wearing a favourite dress, laid on her bed, surrounded by flowers, profoundly still. Without a sound, I hear her gift: “Life is precious”. But I know this already. “No”, she says, silent, insistent, “it’s much more precious than that”. My heart is open and her lesson lands without resistance. Watching her shocking stillness, I understand. Life is precious. “And another thing; you could be a lot more gentle”. I know this is true. But how will I become more gentle? Silence. Stillness. Incomprehensible stillness.

[This is an edited version of the piece I posted in June. I like this better — it’s actually shorter, I have been able to say what I wanted to say using fewer words].

Electro etched copper pipe

Electro etching copper pipe with salt water

This is my second attempt at electro etching copper using salt water. This time I used the Silhouette Portrait to cut vinyl masks which worked very well. I used a saturated salt solution of tap water and table salt. Then a 9v PP3 type battery. The battery drained in 30 minutes and I used a second one to complete the job. If I decide to do this again, I’ll use a mains adaptor.

First attempt at a prose poem

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a prose poem since I first heard of the form. Not sure I’ve understood the concept, I’m having a go anyway. I’m wanting to capture the essence of a moment.

I shared this first with friends in a closed Facebook group. No one said it sucks. Of course, they may be being kind.


I stand beside my friend, bathed now and wearing a favourite dress, laid on her bed, surrounded by flowers, profoundly still. With no sound or movement I hear her gift: “Life is precious”. I know this already. “No”, she tells me, silent, insistent, “it’s much more precious than that”. My heart is open and her lesson lands without resistance. Watching her shocking stillness, I understand. Life is precious. “And another thing”, I hear from the silence, “you could be a lot more gentle”. I know this is true. But how will I become more gentle? Silence. Incomprehensible stillness.