Student & intern interview: Nonviolent Communication workshop on campus

The Arava Institute campus in Kibbutz Ketura is home to students and interns from Israel, Palestine, and around the word, even during these difficult times. Our participants study and live together and learn tools to interact with one another even during times of extreme conflict. 

Last week, three of the students – Mariam, Neta, and Jawdat – facilitated a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) workshop for the campus community. NVC is an approach to communication developed by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, aiming at increasing empathy as a tool to coordinate meaningful relationships with others. I talked with the three of them and Josh, another participant of the program, about their workshop and the general experience of living on campus at the moment.  

First of all, how do you feel today? 

Mariam: I have a headache because I haven’t slept enough after last night’s community night where people were encouraged to express their creativity in movement, dancing, singing together. It was very nice. We also did “kudos” – a weekly activity during which we express appreciation for each other. People thanked each other for mutual support or being here together.  

Josh: I feel anxious and nervous today. I was wanting to get out and move, go camping, but feeling that I have to keep in mind my safety, and the responsibility the Campus Life team and the Kibbutz community have for me.  

Neta: I feel confused, vulnerable, and insecure. I just spoke on the phone to a friend, I cried a lot, but I told her she doesn’t need to worry about me, because I’m in the best place I could be. There are people who love me here, it’s safe. This place is so special, and I’m really grateful for being here.  

Jawdat: Today I feel a degree of alienation. At the same time, I feel motivated, content, supported, and inspired. I have a big need for progress, change, and growth. 

I can see you are already applying the principles of Nonviolent Communication to describe your feelings. Please talk a little bit about what NVC is to you. 

Neta: NVC is a practice that gives you the tools to open up, and be true to your needs and feelings, and coordinate meaningful relationships.  

Mariam: It’s a way to connect with oneself, and then be able to communicate it with the outside world.  

Jawdat: It helps people to communicate beyond the realm of opinions and thoughts about right and wrong. It creates a safe space between all individuals in the moment.    

Josh: I had heard of NVC before the workshop, but I didn’t know a lot about it. In Hebrew it’s called “tikshoret mekarevet” (bringing closer/connecting communication) – that seems more apt to me because it’s about connections. This practice allows you to see how two facts can exist at the same time. Recognizing what you’re feeling can help you connect and understand another person. 

How did the idea to run an NVC workshop come up? 

Neta: Both Mariam and I had approached the staff already at the beginning of the semester about using NVC as a tool to create deeper connections within our community. We had both studied it before, and really wanted to pass this along. 

Jawdat: I had also already been interested in NVC for a while, and when the Campus Life team approached us shortly after the war started about doing something for the community, it was obvious to us that NVC would be appropriate content. 

Neta: It’s an important tool to differentiate between what I’m thinking and what I’m feeling, especially in situations like this one where different politics are involved.   

Jawdat: There are thoughts that are associated with feelings, but behind that “programming” there are emotions that are common to all of us. Non-violent Communication helps to bridge that gap.  

Mariam: For example, when you say: “I feel you don’t understand me” you are analyzing the other person, who will feel attacked, like something is wrong with them. When you say instead “I feel cut off because my need to be heard is not being met” you are speaking about yourself, and the other person doesn’t feel attacked, and can then respond appropriately, rather than from a place of defense. 

Describe what happened during the workshop. 

Mariam: We had cards with words for needs and feelings in Arabic, English, and Hebrew spread around the room. Participants studied these words – speaking about feelings is like a new language that needs to be learned. 

Neta: People split into pairs and shared with each other two feelings that stood out to them. Then we did the same thing with needs. Then we went into a deeper practice. We sat in groups of three with a discussion in two rounds, answering the question: What is alive in you? In the first round each person shared their answer, and then the other two people gave them a “gift” – one word in response, without criticism. In the second round we dove deeper into the question, and referred to the “gifts” we got.  

Josh: It was very meaningful. We had done something short with the lists of feelings and needs in another activity before, so seeing them again felt familiar.  

Mariam: It was amazing to see everyone connecting and interested. I was so happy. 

Do you think that the activity changed the atmosphere on campus? 

Mariam: It didn’t change things on campus. We were already arranging a lot of activities together – gardening, movie nights, movement sessions. But after the workshop I felt a very strong connection. 

Josh: I have noticed myself incorporating it in conversations, both for myself – analyzing what am I feeling right now, and in communications with others. 

Mariam: I haven’t had arguments on campus, but I have had disturbed feelings, for example seeing soldiers around. But we haven’t talked about them openly. I’m not afraid to talk about it, but I’m waiting for the moment to express my feelings. In the beginning we were more focused on how to regulate ourselves. I’m confident these conversations will happen. 

Neta: There is no need to dig for arguments. It’s important to have a safe space that we are containing together. This isn’t about normalizing or keeping things unspoken, it’s about first connecting as humans – hey, I love sitting and talking to you – maybe arguments will come up afterwards. 

Josh: It feels non-confrontational at the moment. In the last couple of weeks, it didn’t feel appropriate to open things up. Now it feels like that a bit more. Disagreements have been more within the national groups, not with the “other”. 

Jawdat: I think the people in this semester have acquired tools to be emotionally mature enough to regular their emotions and have made some progress and understanding. The fact that we have no arguments doesn’t mean that we don’t go through challenges, but we have an implied consensus to act from a place of compassion and not from a place of anger. For me it has been very challenging to be around so many triggers, but the space here with its characteristics makes me able to observe and witness each other’s pain without the need to be conflicted a lot. Once you create a safe and secure space for healing, people will be able to reach a compromise. 

Josh: We had a Dialogue Forum session on Zoom yesterday split into native language groups. I was very silent for the entire session. I was the last person to speak about how much I appreciate that we are approaching this only with empathy. One of the things we spoke about was how lenses of focus are important. We can’t hope to cause any type of change on a massive scale. We can only focus on how to interact better within this community, and later use this power to impact some wider change. We have mostly gone through the processing in a very healthy way. We are ready to do something. 

How do you think this community can have an impact on any possible future in this region? 

Josh: We are motivated. We are still constantly experiencing pain, but if the military and the government are acting, we need to act. No one is taking a break. 

Jawdat: I came to the understanding that right now this is all bigger than all of us. We are in an emergency state. What is happening right now is a reaction to certain decisions that happened before I was born. I feel that we need to spread awareness of the type of work we are doing – now is the time to emphasize this to avoid having this kind of emergency situation again. We’ve been in an emergency state for generations and generations. This is the time to get out of survival mode. I think this is the type of work that eventually, with patience and caution, will lead us out of this state. 

Josh: We can’t use what’s been done before to fix this. 

Mariam: This moment is giving us the push for something new. Even though it’s so painful, it pushes us forward to something different. Let’s radically imagine something else than blood and violence. 

Jawdat: We’re acting from a place of trauma, and from here it’s very difficult to imagine something not painful. 

Mariam: The campus environment helps to stay in an optimistic energy of “I can change something”, even throughout the emotional rollercoaster. I hope I will be able to recreate this environment wherever I go afterwards.  

Recorded by Hannah Kadish, Communications Associate 

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