I would like to see these practice groups for Nonviolent or Conscious Communication become as common as twelve-step groups* – found in any church basement, any day of the week, where you can find people to help with a challenging conversation or issue. The beauty of these “self-help” groups is that they grow like mushrooms – people may belong to a group for awhile and then leave town and start or join a new group in their new location. All it takes is two or more people who want to support one another or in our case, practice and learn together, using basic materials and guidelines that support a common purpose.
While I think of 12-step groups as a model for practice groups in terms of availability (you can find one anywhere you go) and accessibility (anyone can start one using a few written materials and guidelines provided by national organizations and there is no charge) there are some differences with our groups I’d like to mention:
- First, 12-step groups are support groups for specific issues. The intention of a Conscious Communication practice group is the learning and practice of specific skills and we have a curriculum for that. We are not a support group; we are a learning community.
- 12-step groups are open to anyone seeking recovery and we have groups that are open to anyone, regardless of skill level. Because we are a learning community, we also have intermediate or advanced (continuing) groups which ask for prerequisite knowledge and practice before you join. One thing I appreciate about our local groups is that continuing practitioners attend the beginner meetings and their presence and experience makes it easier for everyone to advance.
- There are no teachers or leaders in 12-step programs and facilitation is shared by all. I have discovered that it makes a difference to have someone in a practice group who “gets it” and has the skill to clear the path for others to “get it” too – an experienced teacher or facilitator with some training. This doesn’t mean that a group of people could not get together and learn this on their own (that’s how we got started,) it does mean that having people with some training in the group is helpful. Several people in our groups attend trainings** on a regular basis and bring what we learn back to our community. That makes a difference. We do share facilitation in the continuing groups. The beginning groups generally have a regular lead facilitator and a number of continuing members who work with beginners one-on-one or in small groups. We enjoy presenting introductions together in local organizations with one or two lead facilitators and several table facilitators for small groups.
One of the things I am inspired by in the 12-step model is that everyone is welcome. The groups are self-supporting, and people make a small contribution to support the space in which they meet. There is no charge and no formal leadership, though there are people who open the building and do what needs to be done. There is an emphasis on ‘self-responsibility’ and clarity that we are there to ‘work our own program’ and not each other’s. We are all responsible for the shared container. I have come to think of our communities as ‘leader-full’ where we all contribute various expertise, learning and understanding for the betterment of the community. Not everyone is comfortable or skilled as a facilitator, and not everyone can build a website – between us, we get the job done. We meet our needs, together. This is what conscious communication is all about. This is what we practice.
*For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the “12-step” concept, it was developed by a fellow known only as Bill W. when he was trying to recover from debilitating alcoholism and his original model, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is perhaps the best known. Using the principle of “attraction rather than promotion” (one of the steps), they have grown into a world-wide phenomenon offering support groups to people dealing with most any addiction. The groups are self-supporting. If you type AA or Al-anon (a support group for friends and relatives of people dealing with addiction) into a search engine in any town in the world, a list of meeting locations and times open to anyone on the path to recovery will pop up. There are 12-step programs for people dealing with drug addiction, debt, overeating and so on.
** I am sometimes asked about the difference between a community of practice or practice group and working with certified NVC trainers. Both are valuable and support one another. To attend a residential or weekend training, or a class in NVC with a teacher, is perhaps the quickest way to get a start in this practice. And when the retreat or class is over, a learning community in which you can find support for a regular practice is invaluable in continuing to deepen your understanding and embody the skills. Some people only have access to one or the other – and that can work, too. I would love to see both available for everyone. And I love that in our communities, members attend different workshops and share what we learn with one another.