Monday, January 24, 2011

Write with Passion

     I returned last week from the annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in Miami. It was a great conference with plenty of agents,editors, and successful writers to meet and learn from. 

     One of the best sessions was taught by Sarah Davies, an agent with the Greenhouse Literary Agency. She emphasized writing stories that take your breath away, that make the reader contemplate the human condition and to think--What if...?

     She absolutely sold me. My goal is to write with passion and to write stories that make one pause, that make one see in a new way, that make one feel a connection to the characters. Not an easy task, and I know it won't be easy for me; but I want to do this. So there it is--my goal for this year. 

     Have you read any stories lately that took your breath away? I would love to hear about them.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Communication Without Evaluation

     Nonviolent communication requires that we learn to separate our observations from evaluations. While this may seem easy, it is not. For most of us, when we observe others and their behavior, we too frequently add our evaluation to the observation.
     For example, suppose while walking along a city street I see a man sitting on the sidewalk. His clothes are disheveled and dirty, his hair a mess, and he sports several days growth of beard. I most likely would think that he is homeless and has a drug and/or alcohol problem. I have added my evaluation of him to my observation.

     Or, my teenage child has not cleaned her room in months. In trying to get her to clean the room, I might tell her, among other things, "You are lazy."

     Here, again, I have added my evaluation to my observation. The problem is that all she is going to hear from me is the criticism-"you are lazy." This will lead to hurt feelings and, possibly, an argument. If I had just kept to an observation without the evaluation by saying, "You have not cleaned your room in months" we would have a better chance of discussing the situation and working out a solution. 

     Also, claiming she is lazy does not take into account other areas where she shows effort, perhaps school or sports.

     Other examples of how to omit the evaluation:
--With evaluation: Tom is a poor baseball player.
   Without evaluation: Tom hasn't had a hit in the last five games.

--With evaluation: You are always too busy for me.
  Without evaluation: The last three times I have asked to speak with  you, you said you didn't have time. 

--With evaluation: _____ (name your group of people) are lazy.
   Without: The _______ family at 213 Main Street haven't cut their grass in two months.

To avoid evaluations in conversation be specific as to the behavior and the situation. By avoiding evaluation we learn to speak more accurately and with less criticism, thereby increasing the likelyhood that the other person will hear us and not respond angrily to our being critical.

What do you think?  Using evaluation in our conversation seems to be ingrained in our culture. For me, it is difficult to stop evaluating. Difficult, but something worth doing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Communication That Blocks Compassion and Alienates People

     "She is soooo lazy."

     "He is the most selfish person I know."

     Language such as this "traps us in  a world of ideas about rightness and wrongness-a world of judgements." So says Marshall Rosenberg in his works on nonviolent communication. I agree. When we judge others, we cut ourselves off from a compassionate relationship with that person.
     We also become preoccupied with who's right or wrong, good or bad, smart or ignorant. Not a helpful way to look at others. I know. I have been plenty judgemental in my life. Trying to change to a more compassionate outlook is not easy because we are taught to think and talk in a judgemental manner early in life.  

     We should not confuse value judgements with moralistic judgements. Value judgements are those qualities we hold dear in our lives; we make moralistic judgements of those people who fail to live up to our values.

     Other forms of communication that blocks compassion include: comparing others or ourselves; denial of responsibility-we are each responsibility for our own thoughts and feelings; making demands of others; and the concept that certain actions deserve rewards and others deserve punishment. Concerning this last concept-it is in our society's interest that people change not to avoid punishment,but because they see the change as benefiting themselves.
     Rather than being judgemental, Dr. Rosenberg believes that we would be better served if we focused on what our needs are and what others needs are and whether or not those needs are being met. When we are in contact with our feelings and needs, we open ourselves up to compassionate relationships with others.

     How can we begin to communicate and think in a more compassionate manner? That is the topic of the next blog.

     Do you see yourself as being judgemental? Tell me about it. I would love to hear from you.