Balance purpose, relationships, and self-care

Empathy works. It always does.

My appreciation for the life and contribution of Marshall Rosenberg

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Today I learned of the passing away of Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication.

“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.”

It is the ability to postpone judgment, interpretation, and evaluation, so you can be with someone’s observations, feelings, needs, and desires. It is the willingness to be vulnerable and accept their perspective, to understand the world through their eyes.

Image thanks to thomas.theo.kuleuven.beMarshall Rosenberg’s teachings helped me to acknowledge the fact that I had needs, a fact that was unknown to me at that time. Yep, I always thought that I didn’t need anything or anyone. Never considered I wanted acceptance, belonging, respect. After the first revelation that I had needs, I learned that my feelings arose from my needs…. Du-uh?!… Aren’t others responsible for my feelings? I can’t blame them? Or thank them? Don’t I make people happy? (or sad, angry, lonely, scared) Am I not responsible for what they are feeling?

After a few years of calibrating the ideas that I have needs, and that my feelings are a result from my needs being met or unmet, I started to experiment with Marshall Rosenberg’s insights on requests. Making requests that are an invitation to collaboration and connection. Different from a demand, isn’t it?

Six years later I can tell that I think I am getting it. Maybe not completely, and I am getting there. Even better, last night I taught a class on collaboration. I used all my understanding of Nonviolent Communication. The assistant professor thought it was a phenomenal session that exemplified collaboration.

I want to share one precious memory I have of him. I participated in a training that he led. I was invited for a healing session with him. He impersonated my three-day old sister, who died when I was two. I had always seen her in my mind’s eye as an incapacitated person. Then he started empathizing with me, as her. And while I was talking with him -Marshall Rosenberg impersonating my younger sister- I clearly saw her aura around him.

I cried tender and much needed tears. After the session I realized that the younger sister that I always held as handicapped, had transformed into a mature woman, who was there whenever I needed her. This transformation was so profound that my life opened up, and I made choices I would never have dreamed of making.

Not everyone was happy with my choices. For me they were an expression of my autonomy and authenticity. I am deeply grateful for Marshall’s contribution to my courage to be honest with others and following my dream.

Marshall, you didn’t die January 7, 2015. You continue to live in my heart and through your contributions to this world. Thank you.

Author: Elly van Laar

I am a coach. I specialize in helping professionals schedule time for relationships and self-care. I have a Master's degree in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands. I love meditation, walking, gardening, biking, and hanging out with family and friends.

2 thoughts on “My appreciation for the life and contribution of Marshall Rosenberg

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences Elly. I had just heard about the news and came to your site to see if you had posted any words about it — of course you were on cue, and on point, as always. I hold it so dear that once I started to learn about Rosenberg’s ideas through podcasts and videos that there were actual people in my community who were practitioners of NVC. A true testament to his value, and I got to witness the exponential value he created by seeing people dive deep and dare to own their needs and approach their feelings and relationships differently. Certainly the man in spirit continues to live and thrive! A true mensch. Much peace to you.

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    • Dear Conor, I feel so happy to read a comment from you! I am sorry it took me so long to respond. Your response landed in the middle of my preparation for a NVC Mediation training, and I focused on that instead.

      I hold Marshall’s gift as a human and a teacher with so much appreciation and respect. He dedicated his life to only one goal, and that was to support authentic, empathic, and honest connections. He was a true mensch in the deepest sense of the word. For me, he is a source of inspiration and I place him on my altar as my ancestor and teacher.

      Much peace to you too.

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