Roberta's Facilitation of Public Conversations
What a unique opportunity to learn a new way of talking about such a fraught, complex issue. Generally speaking, when talking with others about the situation in Israel, Palestine, and Gaza, the conversation usually takes one of two turns: either it quickly becomes a shouting match, or one person gets on a speaking platform while the other person waits their turn to talk.
Roberta's workshop was nothing like this. Instead, it was an incredible opportunity for me, as a younger Jewish member of the community, to explore how to be more fully present in actually listening to others when they talk.
What I got out of this was priceless. For example, I have heard many times the argument that we need to support Israel because "we" (a/k/a World Jewry) will very likely be threatened without its existence. Hearing that argument with my usual ears, it is so easy to dismiss that sentiment as pure paranoia, having absolutely no relevance for assimilated, American Jews of today.
What I learned in Roberta's workshop was huge around this. Through the simple process of listening and reflecting back, I connected with a much deeper truth when hearing that same old argument For the first time, I really listened to the feelings behind what the person was saying. I learned that it is not paranoia. There is real concern, caring and deep desire to learn from our mistakes that is at the heart of that argument. I really resonated with that on a deep level. Not only will I take these new listening skills into my personal life, but it also made me feel a lot more deeply connected with the folks in my local community, and with the issue at hand. I would welcome this opportunity again, and I think the world—especially Jews, Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians - need much more of this kind of practice in deep listening.
Roberta's Work in Jewish Community, by Rabbi Jonathan Kligler, Woodstock Jewish Congregation
With clarity and compassion, Roberta Wall brings the fruits of her practice and teaching of Nonviolent Communication to all manner of groups in the Israeli and Palestinian communities. I have asked Roberta on several occasions to share with us at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation stories of some of her successes and struggles teaching NVC in Israel/Palestine, and I am always moved by her courage, humility, clarity and skill.
When she speaks with us, Roberta models the principles she teaches, and it becomes clear that she is offering a rare gift: a truly non-judgmental and open-ended forum in which participants, Israelis and Palestinians in this case, can open themselves to the possibility of transforming their relationship with their adversaries, one person and one heart at a time.
I am impressed and encouraged by Roberta’s work. My mother’s favorite quote is “There is no solution; seek it lovingly.” Certainly in the Middle East it appears that there is no “solution”, but Roberta teaches us to nonetheless seek that solution lovingly, and each life she touches is richer for it.
Roberta's Organizational Work in the Mideast
Roberta Wall is an extraordinarily talented, passionate and dedicated practitioner and teacher of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and her contribution to the launching of the EcoME Centre has been significant.
The EcoME Centre is a unique model for social and environmental sustainability across divides; it is located adjacent to the Jericho -Almog junction. In the first month of its formation, Roberta generously offered to run a 2-day NVC training for the EcoME community.
This was an extremely necessary and valuable experience for us. One activity that was especially helpful were the Fish Bowel exercises, where the core group, and the wider circle of EcoME - that were experiencing some separation - where given the opportunity to hear each other’s feelings and needs in a safe and supportive way. In addition we learnt to look at the needs of the organization and individuals from the NVC-needs perspective; this contributed to creative solutions and helped us move EcoME forward, distilling strategies and needs.
More so, two 3-day workshops in NVC and the Building of Inclusive Community were facilitated by Roberta in partnership with Hagit Lifshitz and Hilia Zedaka. In total 120 participants of varying ages (from 15-70 yrs) and backgrounds came to EcoME from across the West Bank and Israel for trainings which included NVC workshops, practice groups, social activities, movement, prayers, and experiences in the desert.
We are extremely happy and grateful for Roberta's work, not only in EcoME but across Palestine and Israel. She is an inspiration to us all, and her capacity to combine such a big compassionate heart with so much skill and wisdom is a special gift. EcoME looks forward to working with Roberta this coming year in co-creating a more sustained NVC training process. We are excited both to be students ourselves, and help others learn this transformative tool, bringing us back the power to choose peace over violence in all levels of our lives.
Ilana Meallem, Co-founder EcoME Centre
“Roberta created a safe place and supportively guided us to be honest and loving and I am happy to report it sent us down a path of closeness again...”
At retreats and workshops...
"As I watched Roberta roll with the different flows of the retreat, I was inspired to let go of the controls a little bit in my own life.”
"Roberta's skillful coaching helped me to understand the interplay between the thoughts and feelings arising out of my needs and how the choices I make are always attempts to meet those needs."
Roberta Wall: Cultivating Peace with Compassionate Communication, by Polly Medlicott
Roberta Wall is the first Asheville resident certified as an NVC trainer by the International Center for Nonviolent Communication. She is also an ordained member of Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing, and an active participant in the Asheville Jewish community. Wall moved to Asheville last year from Woodstock, NY to join four generations of family here. In the same year, she gave empowerment, advocacy, and communication trainings on five continents to – parents in Botswana, women in the Guatemala City garbage dump, Israeli and Palestinian activists, HIV health providers in Southern Africa, and Buddhist practitioners in Europe. She also led trainings for NGOs in North and Central America, Africa, and the Mideast.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (845) 246-5935.For more information about NVC, see www.cnvc.org.