The Movement Needs a Repair Kit

Eva Hamer
August 30, 2023

These blogs are an attempt to put the content of Eva’s NVC trainings online into a readable format. If you missed them, here are previous blogs in this series. 

Part One: why we study nonviolence

Part Two: the practice of empathy

Part Three: the building blocks of empathy, feelings and needs

Part Four: observations and requests

Part Five: beginning a practice in NVC

Part Six: when enemies appear

The Gist:

  • Modeled after the work of Miki Kashtan, I’m going to show you a process you can use to repair a damaged relationship, regardless of who is right or wrong. 
  • The process can be difficult as it demands full focus on the other person’s needs. Self-empathy exercises may be required as a preparation to deal with the emotional weight.
  • Understanding the Impact: The first step in making a repair is to thoroughly understand the other person’s feelings and needs. This involves active listening and reflecting back the content, feelings, and needs that they express. 
  • Expressing Mourning: This stage involves expressing your own feelings about the negative impact of your actions. Three types of mourning are detailed, all of which convey pain, sadness, or regret—without self-flagellation.
  • Offering Explanation (Optional): If the receiver inquires about the reason behind the action, an offer to share what needs were being pursued at the time can be made, but only after the first two steps. This step helps to offer insight into why the event happened without necessarily excusing it.
  • Where We Go From Here: The final stage is to consider any specific requests or offers that can be made to prevent future incidents, repair the harm done, or demonstrate care. This step often involves tailored solutions that are highly dependent on the situation.

In navigating the complex and often strained landscape of movement relationships, empathy is essential. The process outlined in this blog serves not only as a framework for mending the rifts caused by unintended harm but also as a reflection of our own shared values. By taking the time to truly comprehend the impact of our actions, express genuine sorrow, and actively work towards a solution, we foster a movement culture of responsibility, introspection, and constant improvement. In embracing our fallibility without discarding our integrity, we honor not just the relationships we seek to repair but also the very essence of our interdependence.

In the most basic sense, Nonviolent Communication gives us two options in every moment: we can give empathy to someone else’s experience or we can express our own, and we can do either of these silently or out loud. 

Certain exercises can guide us in how we make these choices in certain moments. 

This exercise is for moments when we’ve made an impact on someone else that we don’t enjoy. This process doesn’t require that we believe that we were in the wrong or that we would necessarily make another choice in the future, but is for situations where we care about the impact we’ve made and want to repair the relationship. 

This process can be emotionally difficult because it asks you to focus completely on the needs of the receiver (the person who experienced harm). A self-empathy process, such as described in the last piece in this series, may be helpful in preparing yourself. 

In making a repair, imagine answering three questions that the other person has: 

Do you get why I was hurt?

Does it matter to you that I was hurt?

Where do we go from here? 

In addition to apologizing to and seeking forgiveness from another person, an alternate use for this exercise could be as a role-play when someone else’s actions harmed you. Even role-playing this conversation with someone playing the part of the other person can help us to resolve our hurt. 

  1. Understanding the Impact

This stage comes first. In it, offer empathy. Hear out the other person completely, reflecting back the content of what they’re saying, their feelings, and their needs, and checking for understanding. Questions that might help you in this process include:

  • What are you wanting me to understand about what it was like for you?
  • I’m hearing ____. Am I getting it?
  • Do you feel like I understand now, or is there more you’d like me to hear?

Do you get it? Once it feels like you do—and once the other person reports feeling understood—you’re ready for the next step.

  1. Expressing Mourning

Mourning means expressing your own feelings in relation to the impact of your actions. As you pay remember from the piece on empathy, this involves keeping a metaphorical spotlight on the other person, even while discussing our own feelings and needs in relation to theirs. 

To offer this step, ask something like, “Would you like to hear what it’s like for me to hear you?” 

Consider three types of mourning. Let’s imagine a scenario where I was late to a high-stakes meeting, causing my colleague embarrassment and stress.  

Type 1: When I see your pain, I feel pain. 

When I hear how much stress you’re experiencing, it brings up sadness for me because I want this work to be sustainable for you and I really value your contributions to the work. 

Type 2: When I see the impacts of my actions, I feel pain. 

When I hear how much of an impact my being late to the meeting had, I feel a lot of regret.

Type 3: When I see that my impact didn’t align with my values, I feel pain. 

I want to be someone who others can depend on. When I see that I didn’t live up to that and it had such a negative impact, I feel heartbroken. 

It’s important to note that this stage is not about self-flagellation. We can mourn the impacts of our actions without discarding or disrespecting ourselves. It might be delicate to express mourning without that landing as self-punishment. If the receiver jumps in to defend you, such as by saying, “It’s not that big of a deal, everyone makes mistakes,” you might try something to clarify like, “Of course, I can accept that I make mistakes. I still want you to know that it matters to me that my mistake hurt you.”

To move on from this step, ask something like, “How does it feel for you to hear this?” If the receiver expresses more pain, return to giving them empathy. 

Does it matter? Once you’ve fully mourned with them, the receiver will know that the negative impact matters to you, and that they matter to you.

Offering an Explanation

An optional step to this process is to offer an explanation for your behavior. Someone who experienced an impact from your actions might be asking, “Why did you do it?” This might be a request for empathy, for you to reflect a sense of shock or disgust that the person has with your actions. So keep listening and offering empathy for the receiver’s perspective as much as possible, before in any way explaining your own perspective.

If this kind of question comes again, after some empathy has already landed, it might be a request for information. At that point, you can offer to share what needs you were trying to meet when you did what you did. Offer with something like, “Would it help to hear a bit about what I was thinking in that moment?” 

  1. Where We Go From Here

Finally, consider any requests or offers you can make going forward. These will be extremely specific to the situation, but might be solutions to prevent the same thing from happening in the future, to literally repair the harm done, or to act out the care you’ve spoken by contributing to the other person in some other way. 

For example, I might express a plan to set an alarm or turn on calendar notifications to stop myself from being late in the future. I might offer to share information with some third party so that my colleague is saved from embarrassment. I might even offer to do some piece of unglamorous work that my colleague would otherwise do in order to demonstrate care and make it up to her. 

Moving On

In the process outlined above, we can make better apologies to reach genuine forgiveness and relationship repair, strengthening not only the movement but also ourselves.

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