NVC and liberty

NVC = non-violent communication.  Some people prefer the term “compassionate communication”.

I want to talk about NVC and liberty — because as I see it, the two are related in are highly interesting way, that I’d like to share with you.

The man behind NVC is Marshall Rosenberg, he developed it and came up with the terms and definitions. There are other schools withing communication or psychology that have similar ideas and principles. This is the one I’m familiar with and possibly also the most famous one.

The Basics

Most people think that negative feelings are caused by other people, but they’re actually not. That is an underlying premise in NVC. From this perspective, conflicts are caused when people blame their negative feelings on other people.

A very crude model of the human brain suggests that we have two main parts — there’s the lizard brain and there’s the rest. The lizard brain is fast, it’s pure instinct, it’s about fight or flight and it doesn’t waste time on logic. When you feel threatened — i.e. you feel danger or fear — you must decide whether to fight or to run away. The rest of the brain is slower and it has the capacity for reason and logic. I will get back to that understanding of the brain later on. First to the 4 steps of NVC:

4 steps of NVC

  1. Observations
  2. Feelings
  3. Needs
  4. Requests

You start out by observing something that happens, then you describe your feelings in response to that, then you figure out which needs are not met and finally you make a request.

I am by no means a master of this method, although I try to get better every day. When you master it, you can avoid or calm down conflicts and achieve more peaceful solutions or win-win solutions rather than win-lose solutions.

There will be specific examples later on — first to the general perspective. If I were to get angry at someone else, this is what happens: I first observe that person do something, with the result that some of my needs are not met. That leads to me feeling sad, frustrated, lonely, scared, insecure or similar — there’s a long range of possible negative feelings that I could feel. And I end up blaming the other person for those feelings — the person who’s behaviour I observed. I blame the person for my negative feelings and I get angry at that person.

First Example

A girlfriend sees her boyfriend scratch his groin. Her need for neatness and hygiene is not met — or perhaps it’s her need for social acceptance by those who see her with her boyfriend. She feels disgusted and embarrassed and she blames those negative feelings on her boyfriend’s actions. She directs her anger towards him and says “Stop scratching your dick, it’s disgusting!”.

The NVC approach in this case could be:

  1. When I see you scratch your groin [observation]
  2. I feel embarrassed and disgusted [feelings]
  3. because my need for hygiene and social acceptance is not being met [need]
  4. would you be willing to try and stop that? [request]

The next step of the conversation is the boyfriend’s response. What if he says no? What if he even responds with kindness and compassion, not with anger and hostility — e.g. “I understand, I’m sorry for you. It’s unconscious / very important to me, so I will keep doing it. I wish I could help you.”. That leads to an important distinction, which is …:

Request vs Command

Now, if she gets angry or passive aggressive towards him for not fulfilling her request — then it wasn’t in fact a request but a command. This is a crucial distinction between the two. A command is when you ask someone to do something and if they choose not to do it, you go ahead and punish them, e.g with anger or some other type of hostility. A request is when you ask something from someone else, they choose not to do it, and you accept it — which doesn’t mean that you don’t feel sad or disappointed, but you don’t blame and punish the other person.

Second Example

Here’s another example. Tom says he’s against the welfare state and public healthcare. This could typically be on social media, but could also be face to face. Mike hears it and his need to feel safe in case of illness and his need for social justice is not met, so he feels scared and appalled and he blames those negative feelings on Tom’s statement or Tom’s attitude and Mike gets angry and calls Tom a selfish moron!

Now, Tom’s need to be taken seriously and understood is not met when he hears Mike’s response. Toms feels lonely and misunderstood so he blames Mike’s statement or attitude for those negative feelings. He gets angry at Mike and calls him an authoritarian socialist prick!

What could be the NVC approach?

Let’s say we’re at the point where Mike called Tom a selfish moron. Tom could say:

  1. When I hear your response [observation]
  2. I feel sad [feelings]
  3. because my need to be understood is not met [need]
  4. are you willing to try to understand my reasoning? [request]

Perhaps it’s not very likely in this particular case to calm Mike down and have a quiet dialog — you never know, sometimes it works, sometimes the other person remains upset. The approach above is one where you explore your own feelings and needs when facing hostility. You can also take an approach where you explore the other person’s feelings and needs. It could look like this:

  1. Tom says to Mike “Do you feel appalled / upset /  scared when you hear that I’m against the welfare state?” [feelings]
  2. “Is your need for social justice or safety not being met?” [need]
  3. Mike might say “No, not at all.”
  4. Tom says “Would you tell me what you feel then?”

So, there’s these 2 different approaches — focus on your own observations, feelings, needs and requests — or you can explore the other person’s ditto. It can be very beneficial to do that, particularly if the other person is very upset.

“Do you feel upset, because when you see me do ###, your needs for ### are not being met?”

That can turn a hostile situation in to a more constructive one.

Can I achieve liberty with NVC?

To answer that question, I want to define two types of liberty — personal liberty and societal liberty.

Personal liberty

Personal liberty is the ability to not be controlled by your own feelings or by the feelings of people around you. The objective is, that I accept my feelings and know that they are important. They’re possibly the most important thing in life except food and shelter. Yet I want to prevent my lizard brain from taking control, I want to use logic and reason to make decisions, while at the same time not ignoring or suppressing my feelings. I take my feelings in to account and use reason to make decisions. When I achieve that, I have achieved personal liberty, rather than being constantly ridden by fear or envy or other strong negative feelings and make quick irrational decisions based on those feelings.

Societal liberty

Societal liberty is the freedom from aggression or coercion.  If you’re familiar with philosophy of liberty, you probably know what that means. Some of the results (not objectives) of this type of liberty are:

  • Free trade
  • Freedom of expression
  • Freedom of association
  • Economic freedom
  • Different minorities’ freedom from oppression

The bottom line is — the freedom to be yourself without hurting other people. Do what you want without other people violently interfering — by either preventing you from doing something, or by forcing you to do something, or by taking your stuff.

NVC and Statism

There’s an interesting connection between the two, as I see it. My perspective is that government or the state doesn’t exist, it’s a mental construct. To prove that point, imagine a person who’s never heard of it — to that person it doesn’t exist. Only real physical objects or processes exist even if you haven’t heard of them.

In reality, government is just some people that dominate other people — and in addition there’s millions of bystanders that are willing to let them do it and even call for them to use force against other groups in society. These bystanders are willing to let a small group of people boss around millions of others and take their stuff. If those millions of bystanders stop accepting the aggression, it won’t be able to continue on such a large scale.

When millions of people call for government aggression towards others, it’s because they have unmet needs that result in negative feelings such as fear, envy, shame, despair etc — and then they blame other groups in society for those feelings. People that strive for power can therefor use the “divide and conquer” technique by encouraging the population to identify with different groups that blame each other for their difficulties and want to use aggression against the other groups.

Examples of such are e.g. that the young want to force the older to pay for their education, the old want to force the younger to pay for their retirement — ethnic groups want to use force against each other for protection or punishment — the poor want to punish the rich, the rich want protection from the poor — original population wants forced protection from immigrants and vice versa — or consumers want forced protection from producers, who in turn want forced privileges over other producers — the list of groups that want special treatment by use of force is endless …

Either way, it’s always about groups that blame other groups for their negative feelings, and they then call for government aggression to punish the other group or for protection against them.

In other words, government is the manifestation of millions of people letting their feelings get away with them — rather than those people bypassing their lizard brain and making calm rational decisions while having enough empathy to not use force against other people.

As advocates of liberty, I and others like me can use NVC to basically convince one statist at the time to let go of their fear and use reason and logic.

NVC and Negotiation

NVC and similar tools can be very useful in negotiation because you are more likely to get what you want from other people when they feel understood. When you acknowledge their feelings, when you avoid provoking their lizard brain, you can instead reach their capacity for empathy, reason and logic.

People are less likely to accept aggression towards people that they understand and have empathy for, rather than people that they don’t know and don’t understand. That’s the role of NVC when arguing for liberty — to make people feel that they understand and have empathy for other groups in society, rather than put them in a category and feel that they are to blame for their misery.

Rounding off

I came across a great quote recently by Viktor Frankl. I first heard it in a podcast called The Voluntary Life podcast (ep 197) by Jake Desyllas**, and it goes like this:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Let that sink in. When an observation hits your senses and is passed on to your brain — before the brain comes up with a response and turns it in to action — that’s the space we’re talking about. If you can intervene there and prevent the lizard brain from making its quick irrational decisions based on fear or other negative feelings, that’s when you have the opportunity to find freedom and grow.

That’s all for now. Please share your thoughts on this topic in the comments.

Have a great day!

** I strongly recommend The Voluntary Life podcast by the way!

Welfare – With and Without Democracy

Most countries that I know of in The West have developed some sort of a welfare state, where the majority of the residents in the country are entitled to various welfare programs.

When I argue against that and for a free voluntary society, I often come across the misconception that in such a society, there will be no welfare – there will be no programs that take care of people that are disadvantaged. Below, I’m going to make the case that there will be. And those will be even better welfare programs!

In any given society there’s of course a number of people that are completely unable to take care of themselves – i.e. disabled, orphans and elderly. Additionally, there will also be people that have ended up in an unfortunate situation in life and need a helping hand to move on – i.e. unemployed, victims to crime and accident, people that suffered a great loss and were uninsured — to name a few.

Welfare in a democracy

The word democracy can be perceived in many ways, here meant as a representative democracy where people vote for representatives. Those representatives pass laws and tax people and may choose to redistribute their wealth in a welfare state.

It’s my impression that most middle class and wealthy people think like this: “Well, I’m a resourceful person, I can take care of myself in a free voluntary society, I would be fine. But there are all these other groups that would be miserable and exploited or neglected in such a society! And that’s why I vote for redistribution of wealth!”. The majority of people I know, think along those lines.

Now, in a democracy like that, why do we have welfare? The way democracy supposedly works is, that what the majority votes for, is what people are going to get. So, if the majority votes for a situation where it’s downright illegal to be charitable and you are forced to only help yourself, or they vote for some sort of terror regime or an authoritarian fascist hell hole, then that’s what they’re going to get.

In other words, if you live in a welfare state, it is because the majority of people in your society have already voted for a welfare system. That happened because most people have such values – they want to help those that can’t take care of themselves – plus a great deal of other people who are in an unfortunate situation and could use a helping hand. The majority of people in your society have voted for that because those are their values.

Welfare without democracy

Now imagine for a moment that you take that representative democracy away in your given society – say in Denmark, The Netherlands or any other welfare state. The majority of people in that society would still want welfare programs for the needy – that’s why they voted for it; those are their core values. A 100 or 200 years ago the majority may not have cared much about welfare programs for others because they were too busy providing for themselves and their loved ones. In the meantime, society has become so productive and prosperous that most people feel that they wanna take care of a lot of other people than themselves. Without the option to vote for redistribution of wealth – without the democracy, without government – they would still have those values and they would act on them.

In that scenario, you would have a choice between different programs. Right now, the government takes away perhaps 40 or 60 percent of what you produce and give a lot of it to other people. They probably prioritize in a way that you don’t like and quality is not as good as you’d want it — yet you still vote for it because you think it’s the right thing to do. Instead you’d find yourself in a society where you have other options. Now you get to keep a 100 percent of what you produce and you can donate and even buy services that give welfare to the needy. To people such as unemployed or elderly, disabled, orphans or whatever people in society that you think need the best or most help, you can shop between different options and you can choose the one that you think gives the best results for the lowest price.

Welfare monopoly versus diversity

With the current system, you have a de facto monopoly on welfare — and with a monopoly there’s no guarantee that it couldn’t have been done better or cheaper by someone else – in a way that you find satisfactory. In other words, there’s no competition on welfare services. Instead, you and all the other millions of people in your nation are forced to donate to one specific welfare solution.

Another advantage of buying such services voluntarily is, that the agreement between you and the organization you buy it from is mutually binding – if they don’t live up the requirements, you can hold them accountable the way you’d do with e.g. an insurance, a restaurant etc. You can withdraw your subscription — or you can even get reimbursed and give the money to another provider that does a better job at helping the needy. Government welfare systems routinely fail at delivering the results that they promise to those that pay for them – and you cannot hold them individually accountable for the their failures.

Imagine that: In a free voluntary society, you would have welfare programs that yield ever better results at ever lower costs! Doesn’t that sound more appealing than your current sluggish, expensive system with poor results?

Peace, EU and The Legacy of The West

Have you perhaps seen me post anti EU and anti US stuff in the past? Did that make you think that I’m conservative, nationalist, reactionary? Or perhaps you thought that I’m a left-wing “Social Justice Warrior”? Nothing could be further from the truth.

Philosophy and Science

My focus is primarily a philosophical one – the notion that authority doesn’t exist, it’s an illusion.

Now, I don’t expect you to agree with me. Just thought I’d give you the full picture; keep in mind that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” (Aristotle).

I encourage you to try that perspective on like a pair of glasses – feel free to take them off again later: Authority is a mental construct – you cannot touch it or measure it. It only exists inside the head of the people that have heard of it and believe in it. The same is the case for derived concepts like “a nation” or “a state” or a “federation” or a “union” like the EU.

In the real physical world, only people exist – not institutions. Looking through those glasses, the people that enforce authority are just people that believe that they have special rights that other people don’t have – the right to initiate force. Any initiation of force towards a person is a violation of his/her self-ownership. And in turn, self-ownership is a fact of the real physical world – not a mental construct.

Consequently, I don’t vote at elections*. As I see it, voting is an attempt to delegate a right that I don’t have – the right to initiate force on other people.

* At a referendum, I may choose to vote ‘no’ to a project as an act of self defense.

This perspective is an exercise in self-constraint; to resist the urge to change other people through coercion; to refrain from inflicting my subjective values on other people by force. It is the closest you can get to be a pacifist without being one (pacifists will also argue that self defense is wrong).


Historically, this is the legacy of the western world, conceived in Europe and developed through thousands of years – resulting in ever increasing individual freedom such as free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to choose occupation and to live where you want, freedom of religion and much more. Generation after generation fought for freedom from oppression to gain more individual freedom, ie the freedom to be yourself.

Europe was in a unique position when the Roman Empire collapsed. There was no power big enough to take over after the Roman one, only thousands of small autonomous states that effectively competed to provide the best living conditions – none of them strong enough to become an empire. People in Europe inherited a common language (Latin), a numeric system, calendar and other standards from the Roman Empire.

As a result, ideas, goods and services could flow freely between people allover Europe without any super power being able to restrict them. That lead to huge advances in philosophy and science and consequently to the the renaissance and later the industrial revolution which lifted hundreds of millions out of misery and poverty in Europe. These values have later been implemented in ‘The Western World’ and to even more societies around the world and has lifted billions out of poverty on a global scale.

All empires in human history have ended up collapsing from within when people running the system began serving themselves rather than regular people. That is what is happening to EU and US now. The biggest scientific and economic progressions of Europe happened before the EC/EU was created. I am sure that many people that supported first EC (later EU) in its early days represented a movement for peace and prosperity – that is, millions of individuals that wanted more interaction and interdependence between people living within European communities.

EU and the US have become empires that will collapse like all other empires have. I’d like to see the opposite movement back to what made Europe spawn the greatest achievements in human history; a movement towards ever smaller autonomous communities. In effect, such communities will compete to create the best living conditions for its people.