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Roberta in the News!

Woodstock Times, March 15, 2007

      When psychologist and philosopher Marshall Rosenberg was nine years old, he was beaten by anti-Semitic classmates during a period of race riots in Detroit in 1943. His response to this incident was not revenge but a life-long investigation into what makes people compassionate or violent. He discovered a language of compassion that led him to develop a method called Nonviolent Communication (NVC), now being taught to Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, to social and political activists, and to people in communities, schools, and businesses around the world. Roberta Wall, an attorney and Buddhist practitioner, has been leading NVC classes locally and offering mediation services from her home in West Saugerties.

      At a workshop in a yoga studio in Stone Ridge, Wall explained, “We are far, in our society, from seeing our needs as positive. As a Buddhist, when I think of needs, I think ‘unenlightened’.”

      “Needs make you pathetic and weak,” agreed a student.

      “In NVC, we see needs as positive life energies that give us the opportunity to connect to other people,” said Wall. “We don’t see our needs as being in opposition to others—only the strategy we may have adopted to meet those needs put us in opposition.”

      In the essay “Compassionate Communication”, Rosenberg describes a potentially devastating incident: “At a meeting I attended at a mosque in a refugee camp near Jerusalem, a man suddenly stood up and cried, "Murderer!" As a [practitioner of NVC], all I heard was "Please!" - that is, I heard the pain, the need that wasn't being met. That is where I focused my attention. After about 40 minutes of speaking, he did what most of us do when we sense we have been accurately heard and listened to: he changed. The situation was immediately defused of all tension. He later invited me to dinner.” --posted at www.loveandcommunity.com/marshall.htm

      Rosenberg found that most modern societies teach a language of judgments and demands, which involves “mentally classifying people into varying shades of good and bad, right and wrong. Ultimately, it provokes defensiveness, resistance, and counterattack.” His investigation led him to the conclusion that truly compassionate people “are aware that they cannot change others. They are not even interested in changing people; rather, they are interested in providing opportunities for them to be willing to change [italics in original]. One way of providing such an opportunity, I decided, would be to approach the other person with a message such as: ‘Please do this, but only if you can do it willingly - in a total absence of fear, guilt, or shame. If you are motivated by fear, guilt, or shame, I lose.’”

      Although the concepts of NVC are simple, the techniques of observation, empathy, self-understanding, and making judgment-free requests take a good deal of practice, which is offered in workshops through exercises and role-playing. Wall, who has studied extensively with Rosenberg and other NVC trainers, is committed to teaching the technique to others with the goal of “changing the world, one person at a time,” she says, adding, “Teaching also gives me a lot of practice. The main way it’s helped me is with my mother and daughters--big time! I started being able to hear them in ways I’ve never heard them before.”

      She is in the process of getting certified as a trainer and will attend a nine-day workshop on conflict resolution taught by Rosenberg in Albuquerque in February. She’ll be teaching a course herself in Santa Fe, with the assistance of one of her students, Rosendale illustrator Barbara Bash. Then Wall heads to Mexico City to run another workshop. In addition to teaching various classes locally over the past four years, she has been leading an ongoing weekly NVC practice via webcam for employees of a start-up company in Mysore, India.

      The first NVC workshop Wall ever conducted took place in Bearsville and was attended by peace demonstrators from Women in Black and by members of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation. To her surprise, seventeen people showed up to discuss the situation in the Middle East.

      Wall comments, “They really wanted to be heard about why they love Israel and about what need of theirs isn’t being met by the actions taken by Israel and the U.S. In the Middle East, everyone needs to feel safe and to have lifestyle choices. They need autonomy and to feel that others value their need to live safely and in peace. When you get people together and set up a structure of communication and agree on their needs, then you can talk about strategies. There has to be a way different people can worship and live on the same plot of land. But it takes trust.”

      A follower of Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Wall has also facilitated groups at Buddhist retreat centers and finds that NVC complements her spiritual practice. “It’s so much about how you stay present and be aware. I’ve listened to all these teachers talk about getting out of the projections in my head, staying with an open heart, but how do I do that when my emotions are triggered? Now I have a method.”

      NVC is also transforming her work life. In New York City, she worked for six years as a law assistant to Supreme Court justices and presided over hundreds of settlement conferences. “The model we follow is that if everyone walks away unhappy, you did a good job. NVC is the opposite. Everyone should feel their needs are being met. That’s part of why I stopped working there. I want to be part of creating the energy of satisfaction and happiness in the world.”

      In the past year, she has been a law guardian to teens and children in the Ulster County Family Court, where she finds there is no venue for people to sit down and process issues within the family. “There are some great violence prevention programs being run by Family of Woodstock and the Mental Health Association, but as far as I know, there’s no model for getting families and children together to talk about the fundamental needs people are trying to meet when engaging in behavior that’s harmful. I find that young people have a huge unmet need for choice and autonomy and to be seen as who they are.” She has plans to fill this need by setting up a mediation center in Kingston for court referrals.

      Wall will be offering NVC trainings in the Woodstock area in March and April, including a group for couples. She also hopes to start a teen group and would like to teach in local schools. Inquiries about NVC training my be directed to robertaindia@yahoo.com or (845) 246-5935.For more information about NVC, see www.cnvc.org.

--Violet Snow





POOJA IN INDIA Roberta coaches a start up company in Mysore, India.  Click on the arrow on the left to join in the celebration of the groundbreaking for the company's new building; the construction agreement was stalled until  the company representatives used their NVC consciousness and skills to negotiate and connect with the builder.