Critical Thinking Meets Critical Empathy: Knowing and Understanding the Intellectual Lens of Non-Violent Communication (NVC)

Author: Richard GroveJuly 10, 2013
Tags:carroll quigley, classical trivium, compassionate, darrell becker, empathetic, history so it doesnt repeat, marshall rosenberg, non-violent communication, NVC, richard grove, strategic, tony myers, tragedy and hope, trivium method, voluntary

Critical Thinking Meets Critical Empathy:

Knowing and Understanding the Intellectual Lens of Non-Violent Communication (NVC)

The Language of Choice, as Juxtaposed to the Ever-Present Language of Obligation

by Darrell Becker

empathy (n.)   the ability to understand and share the feelings of another

1903, from German Einfühlung (from ein “in” + Fühlung “feeling”), coined 1858 by German philosopher Rudolf Lotze (1817-1881) as a translation of Greek empatheia “passion, state of emotion,” from en “in” (see en- (2)) + pathos “feeling” (see pathos). A term from a theory of art appreciation that maintains appreciation depends on the viewer’s ability to project his personality into the viewed object.

choice (n.)    an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities

mid-14c., “that which is choice,” from choice (adj.) blended with earlier chois (n.) “action of selecting” (c.1300); “power of choosing” (early 14c.), “someone or something chosen” (late 14c.), from Old French chois “one’s choice; fact of having a choice” (12c., Modern French choix), from verbchoisir “to choose, distinguish, discern; recognize, perceive, see,” from a Germanic source related to Old English ceosan “to choose, taste, try;” see choose. Late Old English chis “fastidious, choosy,” from or related to ceosan, probably also contributed to the development of choice. Replaced Old English cyre “choice, free will,” from the same base, probably because the imported word was closer to choose [see note in OED].

obligation (n.)    the condition of being morally or legally bound to do something

c.1300, from Old French obligacion “obligation, duty, responsibility” (early 13c.) and directly from Latin obligationem (nominative obligatio) “an engaging or pledging,” literally “a binding” (but rarely used in this sense), noun of action from past participle stem of obligare (see oblige). The notion is of binding with promises or by law or duty.

Definitions from and from .



  1. Darrell      Becker is a professor of oriental medicine at the Hawaii College of      Oriental Medicine (HICOM, found at      ), where he teaches and trains student acupuncturists, and helps them      navigate through a masters program, clinical internship in the HICOM      community healthcare clinic, and each of the four challenging acupuncture      licensure board exams. He teaches Western and Eastern medical classes, as      well as practicing holistic medicine and herbalism in his private clinic.      Darrell has studied and practiced Non-Violent Communication for three      years, and has studied and been finding relevant applications of the      Trivium method of critical thinking for 4 years. His intellectual and      NVC-related work can also be seen at,      and in the private forum of the Tragedy and Hope  community at      .


  1. Introduction      to the Trivium Method of Critical Thinking:

Relevant to the discussion of how NVC fits with the Trivium, it helps to spell out what I mean by the Trivium method:

A. Grammar: the words, the data, answers Who, What, Where, When (often in that order, but not necessarily). This is what a video camera takes in, but it includes all sense and measurable evidence. This is Knowledge, without deeper evaluation, as a child would take it in.

B. Logic: the removal of contradictions, answers the question Why, this includes the use of the informal logical fallacies, a literal mental “virus scan”, keeping contradictions to a minimum.

This is also the rational methods of an individual, used to divine a course of action, reason and purpose.

This is Understanding.

C. Rhetoric: the practical applications of Grammar and Logic, this answers How. A very important aspect of Rhetoric is the Rhetorical Triangle (RT), where the Author, the Message of the Author, and the intended Audience who receives the Message are analyzed, as well as the Context surrounding the RT. This becomes important when understanding NVC. This is also known as Wisdom, so long as it is describing practical applications and/or actions (including the use of words for such purposes). “If it’s not practical, it’s not Wisdom.”

D. The Trivium Method is an intellectual lens, used to focus the adult mind of reason, and from my experience, to go through these steps while learning, doing and teaching produces vastly more predictable and wonderful results, as well as helping to learn the arts of intellectual consistency and cognitive liberty.


  1. NVC-      History and Applications:

Discovered by Marshall Rosenberg, himself a student of the methods of Carl Rogers, Rosenberg began codifying the foundational aspects of Non-Violent Communication in 1972, using the format of observations, feelings, and action-oriented wants. Dr. Rosenberg connected the relevance of the emotion being felt by an individual to the values and desires (motivating factors) which that person possessed. By 1992, this had been made into the main format: O-F-N-R, Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests.

A. Observations: without evaluation, as a video camera sees it. These are relatively tangible.

B. Feelings: the names of the emotions, such as frustration, sadness, anxiety, excitement, joy. These are relatively intangible and are abstract concepts that are attempts at describing very palpable subjectively felt emotions.

C. “Needs”: these are the intangible values, desires and motivating factors that create feelings

within an individual. There are useful lists of both feelings and “needs” which demonstrate the lack of general or proper nouns or tangible strategies, and show instead a word list which leads to a literacy of feelings and “needs”. “Needs” are abstract concepts.

D. “Requests”: This refers to Actions, whether kinetic (spoken/written words usually) or potential (plans of action spoken silently to one’s self).

If this is as much NVC as someone learns, it might be that they first learn to speak like this:


“When you do __(Observation)__, I feel ___(Feeling)___, because my need for __(“Need”)__ is not being met. Would you be willing to ___(insert Request)___, so that my need for __(“Need”)__ can be met?”

From my experience, speaking in this way can be off-putting, to say the least. Many people have been learning “Street NVC”, which is when NVC practitioners creatively use words that essentially aim to understand the Feelings and “Needs” of all individuals who are communicating.


Marshall Rosenberg has also codified the 4 D’s of Disconnected Communication (4D’s), specific methods of creating disconnected feelings such as hostility, anxiety, shame and grief, feelings which could be simultaneously generated internally within both the Author of the Message and the Audience. The 4D’s are:

  1. Demands:      as opposed to making requests. Requests allow for the respect of each      individual to choose to accept or decline the invitation. “Admit you are      wrong for spanking your child!”
  2. Diagnoses      (Unrequested): these are un-asked-for labels, adjectives, and      diagnoses, and often are interpreted as deeply and undesirably critical in      a less-than helpful way. “You’re a Statist!”
  3. Deserve-Oriented      Language: these are words designed to imply or describe extrinsic      motivating factors such as punishments and rewards, and demonstrate the      abdication of personal responsibility, as well as emphasizing obligations      of the individual or others. “You oughta be locked up!” and “You’ve been a      good boy, here’s your reward!”
  4. Denial      of Responsibility: this is the use of words to openly declare the      abdication of responsibility (responsibility in this setting meaning the      Ability to Respond, specifically identified as an opportunity, rather than      an obligation). “You made me feel so mad I had to yell at you, so it was      your fault!”

The use of the 4D’s in one’s speech or writing is called “Jackal Language” in NVC jargon. Some word lists expand the 4D’s into an evaluative word list, which helps to flesh out the potential feelings and motives of individuals who employ such words.

(and for T&H members)


The NVC practitioner then can incorporate the knowledge and understanding of the internal environment (their own O-F-N-R, Observations, Feelings, Needs, and Requests, or Actionable Strategies). The person is using the perspective of Abundance: Issues are viewed through the lens of “And/Also”, and a Win-Win Scenario is being envisioned and engineered. (This is juxtaposed to the perspective of Scarcity: Either/Or, usually a Win-Lose or Lose-Lose Scenario is being envisioned and engineered.) As part of the Abundance Perspective, this person assumes 100% responsibility of all of their own feelings and the values and desires that create those feelings, while still remaining as cognizant as they can of the actualities of cause and effect taking place in the tangible world. Part of this responsibility is involved in the forming of explicit boundaries of desired situations and less preferable situations, communicated to all relevant individuals. The person using NVC also understands and finds acceptance of the fact that, unless explicitly spelled-out by someone, most other people do not take 100% responsibility for their own feelings, as evidenced in the 4th D, Denial of Responsibility.The person notes the use of the 4D’s in the other person, and sees these as ways that the other person is attempting to communicate what they are feeling and what they are motivated by, in terms of their personal values, desires and physical needs. They then attempt to see what the other person sees (Observations from the other person’s perspective), to know what the other person Feels, to understand what values and desires are motivating the relevant feelings of the other person (“Needs”) and to hear what it is the other person may actually be Requesting.


OFNR is now being “run” like a computer program, internally, externally, and continues to run throughout the communication. Coupling this with the Trivium Method described above, the missing Grammar often not known and understood are the Feelings and Motivating Factors (causing those feelings) of the Author and the Audience, adding to the Grammar of the Rhetorical Triangle. OFNR is added to both Grammar and Logic for analysis, as is the knowledge of the use of the 4D’s. The method of one’s own and the other person’s procedure for establishing what is logical is ascertained and understood, using questions that help to isolate how a person makes decisions which are relevant to the communication which is going on. This method being referred to is the other person’s method of making decisions. Knowing and understanding this method is the first goal, finding ways to communicate without touching upon any “cognitive dissonance” related to the method of decision-making is the second goal. As an example, if I prefer to employ the Trivium method mostly, for making decisions, and someone I communicate with prefers to appeal to a particular authority to proclaim the usefulness of their decisions, or if there are certain claims made that seem circular (“The Bible’s true because it says in the Bible that it’s true!”) these methods are identified as part of the other person’s method of thinking. This is important to emphasize: Attempts are made to respect the perspective of the other person, and to demonstrate an accepting and permissive attitude toward the autonomy of the other person to chose as they wish.


There is usually a series of attempts made to create a palpable connection of caring/respect between each of the individuals. O-F-N-R is used to make a guess as to finding a way to connect to any specific individual. In order of potential likelihood of effectively forming a connection, here is a demonstration of the use of the knowledge and understanding of the Feelings and “Needs” of two people who are communicating:

A. Speak specifically in reference to the other persons “Needs” (motivating factors, values  & desires). This means the abstract concepts (see: literacy of “needs”), with no nouns or proper nouns.

B. Speak of your own Feelings, as a method of being vulnerable, unless you would think this could be confused with an attempt to solicit pity or some other emotion, in reference to the discussion.       C. Speak of your own “Needs” (motivating factors stated in the abstract), unless you would think this could be confused with an attempt to beg or persuade, and if it seems such attempts would not serve to create connection.

D. Speak of the other person’s Feelings, unless you think this could be confused with some Diagnosing of the other person, or some other psychological “intrusion” into unwanted emotional territory.

Also open to discussion, for the purposes of connecting empathetically and potentially creating intellectual harmony, is communicating about the Observations and Strategies (a.k.a. “Requests” or Actions). It is here that specific acceptable boundaries of each individual, as well as all motivations for continuing the attempts at communication, can be revealed to each other, after a solid connection of empathy has been established. This is a vaguely described situation, due to the nature of the subjective and internally verified situation of people respecting each other, and this implies a practiced skill in applying these tactics.

A. Speak to how the other person Observed the situation (from their perspective).

B. Speak to how you Observed the situation, unless you think this could be confused with an attempt to persuade or imply some inaccuracy on the part of the other person.
C. Speak to how you wish to respond with Requests which could lead to enhanced levels of connection and empathy, unless you see such requests being confused with Demands.

D. Speak to how the other person choses to respond (their “Requests” or actions), unless it seems that speaking about the other person’s choice of response is being confused for a Diagnosis.


After establishing an empathetic connection (to whatever degree you deem sufficient for having some meaningful form of communication) the personal limits and boundaries of each individual can be established, if it seems necessary or prudent. The motivations of each individual can be revealed, as far as each individual’s purpose for having any particular discussion, including the ostensible and desired goals of the discussion.


  1. Relevant      Metaphors:

A. Splinters in the Mind. Mental Splinters are composed of the dependance and exclusive use of the informal logical fallacies as methods of making important decisions. Emotional Splinters are composed of emotional “wounds” or emotions that indicate values and desires that are not adequately being tended to, and are often used to create decisions that are based upon the “Stimulus-Emotion-Pre-Programmed Response” pattern of the choice of action.

B. Bridge of Empathy. This refers to the connection of caring between individuals, a perceptible and subjectively felt quality of mutual compassion between communicating individuals. The properties of this “Bridge” include the qualities of this bridge only being crossable by the voluntary action of each person to each other person. One cannot push or pull one’s own self or someone else across this bridge, only a voluntary decision to care about each other can constitute the construction of a solid “Bridge of Empathy”.

C. 18-Wheeler’s of Logic: This refers to the delivery system of each individual’s information and the method of interpretation that is intended for such information. Picture a “Bridge of Empathy” as providing the terrain required to support the “18-Wheeler” truck carrying the logic cargo from one individual to another. A “Manifest” is included in this cargo, listing all of the included information and the relevant rationales being employed and utilized. Each individual is encouraged to voluntarily choose which items are being desired to “unload” off of the truck and utilize, and which are not being valued (at that time) by an individual, and are left on the “truck”.

  1. Examples      of the Language of Obligation and the Language of Choice:

OBLIGATION                                                 CHOICE

Should                                                             Prefer to

Must/Need to                                                  Decide to

Ought to                                                          Shall choose to

Right (moral)/Wrong   (immoral)                     Individually preferable/less preferable

Extrinsically created “Rights”                        Intrinsically generated respect of individual choices

Either/Or (Debate)                                          And/Also (Discussion)

Scarcity Perspective                                        Abundance Perspective

Win/Lose or Lose/Lose Engineering               Win/Win Engineering

Extrinsic Motivations                                      Intrinsic Motivations

Punishments/Rewards received/given            External/Internal Cause & Effect known/used

Coercive Situations                                         Voluntary Situations

      6.   Identifying the Ramifications of Using the Trivium with NVC Methods: Testing the tactics.

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