Tactics to Overcome the Violence of the English Language

Words with accents on a wall in an empty room

By Olivia Comstock 

Post Structuralism theory became prominent with theorists and philosophers beginning in the 60s and continues to influence academics today. Part of this theory is that language shapes the way people view the world. It shapes the world, it shapes human interactions, and it shapes who people are and how they view themselves. The whole human experience is constructed and viewed through the lens of language because this is the only tool available to describe interactions with the world. Experiences and feelings outside of language are not only seen as less valid, but they also seem less real because people have no way to communicate them to others or to themselves. Instead, language is used in order to try to capture those inklings. The English language is, however, an inherently a violent language. This is true through words, their meanings, the grammar of the language, and the common vernacular and way of structuring speech.

English lends itself to placing blame and judgment on others and oneself without understanding the feelings and needs behind those harsh statements. When this is taking place in a communicatory setting, that is meant to be positive, (such as a relationship, friendship, or workplace environment,) it can leave participants feeling annoyed, hurt, and alone. Non-violent communication attempts to consciously overcome this language violence through consciousness of reflecting and processing. There will still have situations of blame and judgment, but people are better equipped to handle them using non-violent communication. It is a strategy of communication based on the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Several books have been written on this topic and there are certified practitioners on college campuses and as counselors all across America. I was introduced to this through a small group here at University of Idaho, and I think that it is a great strategy for those who wish to work on their mindfulness and for anyone who wishes to communicate more successfully.

It is especially important for women and feminists of all genders because it focuses on the expression of feelings and the importance of good communication, which are values that are subdued by our patriarchal system. Typically, the emphasis on violence in action and in language combined with the suppression of emotions discourages all genders from expressing how they feel. Communicating through feelings and needs is seen as feminine and therefore is seen as weak because of the association with women and emotions. By introducing this type of communicating and using it in one’s life, the stereotype of women being equated with emotions and therefore being weak is discouraged, and instead the idea that feelings are important to one’s everyday life and should be expressed is promoted.

The non-violent communication process has four main steps.

  1. OBSERVATION Observe what is happening in the situation. This can either be at the time it is happening or during later reflection. Express what you are observing to the other person. Look at yourself and the person you are communicating with from a detached, third party perspective. You are observing what you said or did and what the other person said or did. Then you are stating what you observed without introducing any judgments onto the observations.
  2. FEELINGS This stage is only the emotions. Identify how you are feeling in relations to what you observed. This is not interpreting other people’s actions or words in the situation; it is merely expressing your own feelings and emotions on the situation to the other person you are communicating with.
  3. NEEDS Identify your needs in this situation. Needs are directly connected your feelings. Therefore, use your feelings to determine your needs. This focuses on what is important to you, what you value, what you desire, and what is creating these feelings. Rosenberg suggests that everyone has needs, some of which are universally shared, and some vary between people, but no one is without need. It is important to communicate your needs to the other person.
  4. REQUESTS A request is an invitation to the other person to meet your need. The request should be reasonable and do-able in that moment. It should be concrete and specific. Let the listener know what needs this request will meet. Make sure they understand your request and what you hope to gain from it. You also need to listen to the other person’s feelings about the request. It is important to be prepared for your request to be declined. Know how to handle someone saying no and continue the non-violent communication after the request is turned down. If you are not willing to hear no, then it becomes a demand, which is very violent. This request does not have to be of another person, it can also be a request of yourself.

This type of communication can go both ways, as you can be the one making the request or the one listening and processing. Most likely, it will be a combination of both within one conversation. Practicing this technique can help you become comfortable communicating this way, even though it seems scary and vulnerable at first. Focus on really listening to yourself and the other person and being present in the moment. After learning about non-violent communication, I have worked toward incorporating it into my own life. I have found that I make fewer judgments of myself and of others. It requires me to be very conscious of what I am saying and how I am saying it, allowing me to be much more positive overall. Additionally, I try to process with other people when they are telling me about their issues. I reflect what they are feeling back to them in an attempt to show the situation in a more constructive, need-based light. By doing this, I feel more empathy and comradery towards other people because all of our needs are similar, such as community, companionship, and support, and our violent expressions are just a way of trying to get these needs filled.



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