(This article presents a chapter from my book “Butterfly Communities – the Heroes of a new Metaphysics)
A revolution in our way of communication requires the awareness of our metaphysical, emotional and social conditioning, of our biased way of perception & communication. In a word, of our self-centeredness. If we manage to understand this, we have great chances to overcome it and really improve our communication.
As long as we aren’t aware, our communication goes on automatic pilot, remaining deeply rooted in our pre-conditionings. Therefore, being self-centered, we are necessarily biased. As long as we take our way of speaking as granted, we unconsciously follow the same developmental goals, established by our social and biological past: to dominate, to take preeminence over others, to outrank or “outsmart” others etc. Also, we tend to impose our views, to control the outcome of conversation – as we see in our hierarchical way of relationship that makes the fabric of our social conditioning. Rarely do we manage to truly communicate, to maintain an open bidirectional channel between us, to truly exchange something between us or, as Marshal Rosenberg says, to connect at the level of what is alive in us.
Though, at a theoretical level, we can understand that we can not expect others to listen to us and receive something from us as long as we aren’t listening to them and aren’t receiving their perspectives and proposals, we still engage our communication rather unidirectional, trying to present only our perspective and, eventually, to impose it on others. We simply don’t want to or we are not able to listen to others anymore. It is the logical outcome of our metaphysics of hierarchy deeply ingrained in our conditionings. It is impossible for a hierarchy to allow or sustain bidirectional communication, where we speak from equipotential positions, ready to listen to each other, ready to learn from each other.
This is the revolution in communication we need: to start to see ourselves as equipotential partners of the dialogue, to manage to create a bidirectional communication able to bring forth an emergent space of meaning for all of us, a space of communication where we listen to each other and learn from each other.
The “winer” is not who imposes its perspectives upon others, but who learns more from the others; not who proves to others that “she is right”, but who proves that she is able to improve her perspective constantly, through dialog and listening. It is not anymore about predict-and-control but sense-and-respond. Our goal is no longer to “outrank” each other, but to participate in enriching each other’s lives, in bringing out the best in each other. It is about coming up with other adaptive goals, conducive to cooperation and synergy between us.
For this, a completely different understanding of others is needed (see “the story we tell ourselves about others”), in which we see ourselves: 1) as equal participants in the dialogue, equally gifted co-creators of the world in which we live together and 2) as alive, having needs and feelings (see Nonviolent Communication concept). It requests 1) mutual respect, trust that the gift of Life is expressed through everyone (not only through us), willingness to listen to others, openness to new perspectives and readiness to constantly enrich our worldview and 2) willingness to make life more wonderful for us and for others.
In the beginning, it takes a lot of discipline and some tools are needed. It might seem a bit “artificial” at first if we consciously use some “formats” of communication. Each such format can be considered a spiritual practice or be engaged as a ritual. It is a tool that helps us engage in communication consciously, thus overcoming our unconscious, inherently aggressive and biased mode of communication (which follows the old adaptive goals of competition and outranking of others).
It is a spiritual practice if we manage to understand that each person is a numinous presence and thus, in the presence of the other we are in the presence of divinity.
The deepest level at which we can connect to each other – but also the most hidden and defended – where we are alive but at the same time most vulnerable – is the level of our needs and feelings. Every living being has needs and feelings. At this level we are all the same. But we are not used to showing ourselves – to show what is alive in us – what are our feelings and needs – because too many times we were hit and betrayed, precisely because we showed ourselves openly.
The communication between us is not limited only to talking and listening, but also is about invoking “a numinous reality beyond us” to inspire it and help it bear fruit. This invocation may seem a bit strange, but this is the quality of any spiritual practice – it involves something more than meets the eye.
It’s necessary for everyone to understand the different communication formats, their purpose and rules. Over time, the interlocutors (members of a family/ a community/ an economic organization, etc.) learn a certain discipline of communication and, with it, an awareness of how that communication is carried out. They become more than “blind actors”, fighting for their supremacy in the arena (following our pre-existing adaptive goals), but “kind observers” of the process and even “wise creators”, influencing and enriching each other in wise ways, shaping the result of their communication in the direction desired by all its participants: the co-creation of an emergent space of meaning and potentiality, of trust, empathy and security.
The two years of the rite of passage and especially the 6-week initiation period (see Appendix 8) can be dedicated to the development of nonviolent communication, symbiotic communication (bringing out the best in others), stigmergic correlation and symbiotic behavior in general. Every activity, especially communication, is seen as a ritual. We are aware that we are in the presence of divinity (in ourselves and in others) and act with love, reverence and wisdom.
We have already made the choice for love and generosity, but we lack good practice and wisdom. Too often the old way of communication unfolds unconsciously and its result is not the desired one. When we realize it, it may already be too late, the interlocutors being already dominated by emotions of rejection and devaluation of the other, defensiveness and aggression towards each other: it is a point where the discussion can hardly be useful.
We gain wisdom along the way, by seeing what works and our mistakes. Therefore, in the next discussion, we can avoid what doesn’t work and maximize what does.
1. The Format of Dialogue
Normally, in a healthy discussion, everyone communicates its opinion and everyone else listens, after which, in response, the others propose their own perspective. We do it without being aggressive, imposing or denigrating other possible perspectives. Ideally, everyone listens to the others and allows themselves to be inspired, thus able to constantly improve their own perspective. That would be dialogue and communication in the true sense of the word. But this rarely happens by itself, spiritually evolved people are needed for such an achievement. However, with a little discipline, goodwill and some tools, anyone else can achieve a fruitful dialogue.
1) The metaphysical rooting of the Dialogue Format is similar to all other formats and was described above: the understanding of communication as bidirectional, of the dialogue participants as equipotentials and of the purpose of communication as communication. The word is coming from the latin comunicatio that basically means to share, to make common. The word common comes from Latin communis – “belonging to all, owned or used jointly, shared by all”. Com – “together” + munis – “public duties, functions,” related to munia “office.”
What we create first of all is an emergent space of meaning, where each of us is an equal endowed co-creator. The purpose of communication is not to outrank, outsmart or outcompete others, but to communicate, to better understand each other’s needs, aspirations and perspectives, to help us better cohere and synergize etc. This is what communication should be about.
2. The benefits of dialogue format: everyone listens to others’ perspectives and has an opportunity to make their point of view heard, thus an emerging space of meaning, connections and potential is created. We try to be non-aggressive, non-derogatory toward other possible perspectives. We listen openly, being aware that the perspectives of others may not resonate with ours, but also being aware that our different perspectives could be complementary.
3. The goal of dialogue format isn’t to convince the other of the rightness of our vision, but to enrich our perspective with that of others. The one who manages to enrich its perspective “wins”. Each person is treated with due respect.
4. Round 1 of discussion: Everyone proposes their perspective for some minutes. (we can agree together on the time; it should not be too long). The others listen.
5. Round 2 of discussions: Everyone presents their improved perspective with at least one idea from the others. Don’t forget: you can’t convey an idea/opinion if you’re not ready to receive something from the other person. We try to keep the communication space bidirectional. We do not try to show why we disagree with the other. This does not help in any way. We are not trying to suggest to anyone “how it is better to see or believe” etc. All we want to achieve through the dialogue format is: 1) to present our point of view to others in order to inspire them (but not imposing it upon them!) and 2) to be inspired by the perspectives of others/ to know and understand them better and to constantly enrich our perspective .
2. The Format of Nonviolent Communication
1. The metaphysical rooting is similar. NVC is a language of life. It integrates the type of language, the kind of thinking and the forms of communication that strengthen our ability to willingly contribute to our own well-being and the well-being of others. Through NVC we express how we are and what is alive in us – without any criticism and without any analysis of others that implies wrongness. It assumes that anything that people hear from us that sounds like an analysis or a criticism, or that implies wrongness on their part, prevents us from connecting with them in a way that allows everyone to contribute willingly and joyfully to one another’s well-being. This approach to communication emphasizes empathy and compassion – rather than fear, guilt, shame, blame, coercion – as the motivation for action.
NVC focuses attention on whether people’s needs are being fulfilled and (if they’re not) on what can be done to fulfill these needs. It shows us how to express ourselves in ways that increase the likelihood that others will willingly contribute to our well-being. It also shows us how to receive the messages of others in ways that will increase the likelihood that we will willingly contribute to their well-being.
Part of the process is to say clearly, without analysis, criticism, or blame, what is alive in us. Another part is to say clearly what would make life more wonderful for us and to present this information to others as a request (not as a demand). To practice this process of communication, we have to abandon the goal of getting people to do what we want. Instead, we focus on creating the conditions whereby everyone’s needs will be met.
To further clarify this difference in focus (between getting what we want and getting what everyone wants), let’s imagine that someone is behaving in a way that’s not fulfilling a need of ours, and we make a request that the person behave differently. In my experience, that person will resist what we request if they see us as only interested in getting our own needs met and if they don’t trust that we are equally concerned with meeting their needs. Genuine cooperation is inspired when participants trust that their own needs and values will be respectfully addressed.
2. The benefits of nonviolent communication format: As Marshall Rosenberg clearly showed, behind any violent communication is an unfulfilled need. Very often in everyday life, someone opposes (by what he does, intentionally or unintentionally) the fulfillment of a need of ours. At that moment we feel endangered in one way or another. At this level of needs, we all feel very vulnerable and easily threatened. A lot of emotions ensue – trying to trigger on our part a behavior that will ensure our wellbeing. Most of the time our strategy is not to communicate to the other, clearly and simply, the state we are in – our need and feelings – and our clear request of what the other could do “to make our life more wonderful” (Marshall Rosenberg). Unfortunately, our strategy is rather to criticize and blame the other. A vicious circle of blame and violence almost inevitably ensues.
The format of Nonviolent Communication helps us to avoid this vicious circle of violence and mutual blaming and, instead, to adequately communicate our needs and desires. This way of communication can trigger our natural empathy. In this way our needs are finally heard, received with empathy and sought to be fulfilled in response to our request.
3. The purpose of the nonviolent communication format: to trigger mutual empathy (natural to human beings) and to communicate our needs and desires as clearly and unambiguously as possible and, of course, nonviolently.
4. This format can be proposed whenever someone feels that the communication is sliding towards the vicious circle of violence and mutual blaming. The format of nonviolent communication suggests that everyone stops, finds inner peace and clarity and thinks about 1) the reasons for my irritation/annoyance/frustration, etc. What did the other person do to create this irritation? 2) What needs of mine are impaired/undermined by the actions of the other? 3) What are my feelings and emotions about the other’s actions? (Attention, we are aware that the real cause of our emotions and feelings is not the action of the other, but the way we interpret his action regarding our present and future well-being. Therefore, I express my emotions in the format “I feel …., because I…”. What the other does is just the stimulus that triggers my assessment/perception (that causes my emotions and feelings). and 4) What could the other person do to meet my needs?
Both parties rephrase in nonviolent language the message they wish to convey, clarifying the needs they wish to satisfy in clear, direct, unambiguous wording. Communication will continue with an increased level of awareness of possible linguistic aggression as well as increased empathic listening.
3) The Format of Symbiotic Communication (bring out the best in others)
1. The metaphysical rooting is similar. Here I want to bring a very important clarification. As long as we are in conflict with someone, we cannot really begin to best her or him. So, in order to succeed in bringing out the best in others, first of all we ourselves have to get out of the “game” of competition. Only then will we be able to perceive the other not as an enemy to be outcompeted or outranked, but empathically, with due attention. Only then will we be able to create a connection with her/him at that level where we are both alive. Being connected at this level where we feel what is alive in the other (not only her needs and feelings, but also her aspirations and hopes and especially that numinous flame that makes us human beings) we are able to see the pain in the other and relieve it; to see the beauty in the other and nurture it, to see the needs of the other and fulfill them willingly.
2. The benefits of symbiotic communication format: We don’t think too often about bringing out the best in others. But even when we want this – and even if we love others and want their prosperity (as parents, teachers, lovers or managers) – if we go on automatic pilot, all we can do is impose our perspective and our strategies on others (action that is far from being symbiotic). It fails to bring out the best in them, but rather an attitude of self-defense, opposition and closure toward us. The Symbiotic Communication Format helps us overcome this shortcoming of our automatic and self-centered communication. As I have expressed many times, the revolution in communication involves looking at others as equipotent participants. They must be given the opportunity to choose. They must be allowed to bring their own participation in communication. They cannot be seen and treated as passive actors who only receive information from us and execute it. If you want to teach someone something, you have to learn something from her in return.
3. The purpose of the symbiotic communication format: This format helps people to get to know each other better, to support each other, to bring out the best in others.
4. It proposes several rounds/types of communication: It’s very similar to NVC except now we extend our self-expression to many other aspects of ourselves: 1) We could tell each other what we appreciate in the other. 2) We could share each other’s needs/aspirations/hopes. Knowing them, we can help each other in fulfilling them. 3) We could tell each other how we can be provoked (to bring out the best in the other), how we can be motivated, how we can be encouraged, how we can be corrected, how we can be inspired, etc. Then everyone acts accordingly. 4) We could tell each other what potentially bothers us – both in general and in each other’s way of communicating, what annoys us, etc. 5) We might confess to each other what we do not understand about the other, in the sense that this action eliminates the possibility of incongruous communication.
Personally, being myself at the beginning of this spiritual journey of symbiotic behavior development, I want to bring out the best in others, but many times I don’t find the way in everyday communication. In any symbiotic communication both parties are involved. So “bringing out the best in others” depends both on me – on my attitude and words – and on the other’s attitude – on the way she/he receives my word and responds to it.
I try to understand how I can provoke the flame in each one – so that this flame can be triggered to express itself. I try to understand what motivates someone and what is important to them – to nourish them accordingly. I try to believe that everyone has its own inner calling and everyone is trying to fulfill it in its own way. Anyway, rooted in the metaphysics of the Living Universe, that helps us to perceive others as equally endowed co-creators, being aware of our biases and old preconditions, I am sure that, step by step, we all are able to develop a new way of communication, conducive to our common well-being.
4) The Format of Holarchic Decision
Another important need of a group is to make decisions together. This format helps Butterfly members harmonize in their joint decisions. It is not fundamentally different from what the Sociocracy or Holacracy methods offer. However, its different quality is brought by the very metaphysical rooting of Butterfly members and their symbiotic and nonviolent way of communication.
Moreover, the decision-making activity is perceived and engaged as a spiritual practice (we are in the numinous presence of others). Butterfly members are determined to harmonize with each other, having a certain practical experience in open-ended dialogue, nonviolent language or symbiotic communication. They are not just work colleagues who now make a joint decision, but they are members of the same big family. What unites us encourages us to make decisions that are truly for the benefit of the community. We are no longer in the “game” of competition, but of cooperation, synergy and solidarity.
We start with the practice of dialogue, we continue with the practice of nonviolent communication, we develop the practice of symbiotic communication and then we engage in the holarchic practice of decision-making.
Passionate about Edward de Bono and his writings, I did not understand why he is so marginalized. The format of holarchic decision I propose (I won’t go into its details now, it will be presented during the 6-week initiation period of the rite of passage) will integrate the “Six Thinking Hats” method. It is very useful that, when we talk about something and make joint decisions, to look in the same direction and speak from the same perspective (what de Bono’s method offers).