How Anarchists Can Communicate more Compassionately

in anarchism •  3 years ago  (edited)


Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.
-Rollo May, Existential Psychologist
I want to emphasize the power of therapeutic and compassionate communication to anarchists. Both online and offline, we often rely on rhetoric lined with insults and hate instead of peaceful dialogue. Employing this language is not persuasive, but I am not suggesting that we should be perfect or that we cannot react defensively when provoked.

These tendencies are natural.

But the mark of the psychologically minded anarchist is his ability to employ empathetic understanding and active listening. I know that it is difficult because we are dealing with fellow humans who are complicit in violence and tyranny, but we must try to remain steadfast and patient if we are to help them understand the beauty of individual anarchism.

Even when we maintain control and marshal arguments in an artful manner, most people's natural response is to feel judged and criticized, leading to an emotionally charged argument, characterized by both parties speaking past one another. This is where being a psychologic-anarchist shines.

If we can reign in the lizard brain (fight-or-flight mechanisms), we can make the argument more fruitful by inserting true communication rather than knee-jerk reactions. I have realized that the compassionate approach has garnered more support. Aimlessly spatting hate and nastiness, however, does not win a lot of friends.


These are a Few Compassionate Communication Tips

Here are multiple communication tips that I recommend:

0) Be conscious of the three axioms of communication:

A: One cannot not communicate

Even if a person is quiet, she is still saying something. Body language and other non-verbals are always being transferred from one person to the next. We are communicative creatures by nature, even if we do not speak a word.

B: The message sent is not always the message received

When we convey verbal or nonverbal messages, it is possible the receiver will interpret the message inaccurately. Even when we say what we intend to say, its meaning can be transmogrified. Thus, it is always important to strive for clarification, and check our own feelings about the messages we receive.

C: Nonverbal communication is always more powerful than verbal communication

Nonverbal communication can tell you a lot about somebody, even if their verbal communication does not. It can provide clues as to an individual's state of mind. If you are debating or speaking with someone in person about anarchism, always observe their body language to help determine how they feel about the debate or conversation. You will know whether to back off or continue debating.

These axioms play into the importance of all subsequent techniques.

1) Try not to blame or judge the other person. This does not mean you have to sidestep or omit truth. It is just that judging, blaming, condemning, or trying to control the person is a surefire way to thwart communication and understanding. In Choice Theory psychology, this negative communication method is referred to as external control psychology. External control psychology occurs when we pathologically try to get what we think we need out of another person, rather than helping them understand and empathize with us.

2) Show empathy by reflecting feeling and understanding. Repeat emotions and thought patterns back to people so that they know you are connected with them; try to use similar words or language so they do not misunderstand. And if you make a habit of empathizing with the other party, communication becomes a de facto interpersonal connection rather than two people battling over who is right. In counseling psychology, the empathy techniques are called basic communication skills, and they are the bare bones of compassionate interaction. Never leave home without them.

3) Actually listen. Listen deeply and intently. It will surprise you how much a person may already agree with you. Make observations based on your listening, and if you are in person, make sure you're body language says that you are there with them. Listening also proves that you are not a cult leader who is trying to recruit people into your Jim Jones world of sex orgies and Kool-Aid drinking. Active listening is indispensable.

4) Be psychologically minded: understand why you react the way you do to statements or behavior. There is often a subconscious reason why you respond to other people in hostile ways. If you can pinpoint these reasons, you can grow as a person and learn to communicate better, because you know why you become emotionally volatile. Self-growth is thus a priority in order to get in touch with other people on a fundamentally humanitarian level. See the psychological literature on self-actualization by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.

5) If someone is outnumbered by anarchists in the debate, such as in a forum or social media, tell them how courageous they are for taking the time to argue with you and your friends. This is important for creating a lasting relationship, possible friendship, and allowing them the time to internalize anarchism without getting annoyed about being attacked. This is also an act of kindness and call for mutual valuing.

6) Confrontation is also important. Confrontation does not mean be aggressive toward people, though. It just means point out inconsistencies thinking process, or between emotions and thinking.

In counseling psychology, confrontation usually implies showing people discrepancies between their body language and verbal communication. In everyday debate, it means pointing out logical fallacies and errors in thinking. However, anarchists should confront in a compassionate and non-spiteful way while employing empathy and listening techniques. If done appropriately and with finesse, it will not put the other person into fight-or-flight mode and compromise the efficacy of the interaction. We do not want want scare people away from the philosophy.


You Have "Lost" if They Block You; Leveraging Neurology

Also: regardless of popular opinion, if someone blocks you on social media, it is not always because you won the argument. You likely lost if they blocked you, because that person is no longer listening or valuing what you say.

Matter of fact, they probably insulated themselves from you and your views altogether. This likely happened because you abused confrontation or acted in hateful ways. Some anarchists do this as part of their routine or desire to express machismo, but experience has told me that it is detrimental to the process.

As a side consideration: arguing with people, especially random strangers, is a stressful. It causes our brains to release cortisol, which is a hormone responsible for setting off the fight or flight response. However, high levels of this hormone can damage protein synthesis and dampen brain growth. So we never want to argue to the point of causing harm to the brain. This is more likely to occur if a person is so volatile that it leaks over into intimate relationships as well as activist confrontation.)

On the other side of the coin, if anarchists can create medium levels of arousal in themselves and the people they are arguing with, these medium levels of arousal can actually be beneficial to brain growth, and everyone involved can grow their brain connections. In other words, their frontal cortex does not get overwhelmed by cortisol, but they are still stimulated for intellectual and emotional work. For more information on this, see Louis Cozolino's book The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain)

Communication is a super important skill to master for anarchists. As connoisseurs of the nonviolent mentality, we are trying to use words rather than guns to change people's minds. This is important. It underpins everything that voluntaryism stands for; it underlies the idea that relationships and human interpersonal expression are the most desired traits in society. There is no reason why anarchists should reject compassionate communication. There is no reason why they should use hateful language. It is my belief talent in communication will inevitably bring more people into anarchism, and create a tipping point for a paradigm shift.

Below is an introductory video by Marshall Rosenberg, the founder of nonviolent communication. The internet is replete with information on this topic. Also feel free to contact me for more on the therapeutic aspects of compassionate communication and active listening.


compassionate communication
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I think a lot of anarchists tend to forget that they too were once "enslaved" by the propaganda of statism. A few years ago I would have scoffed at the brash, rude, overly confident and condescending way that many anarchists make their points.

This is a great article. A lot of good stuff to keep in mind. Numbers 1 and 2 especially.

It's useful if you can remember how you used to think. I was enslaved until less than a year ago, lol.

Nice. Very complementary to the piece I put out last week.

Awesome. Thanks Joe. What is your piece?

I almost feel as if I am sometimes afraid to engage the other party in a genuine fashion, as when we connect human-to-human, floodgates of emotion can open up that we are not quite sure how to deal with. Insults, etc., are a way to hide from this. There is no false pride in real connection. It renders one "naked" and vulnerable in the same way that children show emotion freely. Not that we should let our guard down completely all the time, as it does serve a purpose, but true human connection can be painful for those who have suppressed their emotive energies, and I think working with being comfortable with vulnerability and one's self are the critical point of successful anarchist to statist communication. Thanks as always, Sterlin.

The world can't have enough NVC. Thanks for spreading the good word, Sterlin.

No problem. NVC is of vital importance. And you know what, I love how you implement it in your own conversations, Luke. You are a role model.

Most of what passes for compassion these days is statist carebears who take something from one person at gunpoint, give it to another, then feel good about themselves.

Yep. I can see that. It is pseudo-compassion, but maybe we can continue to help promote authentic compassion and get them out of that mindset.

Great article. I'm a big believer in reaching out in genuine kindness and people usually appreciate
and respond in kind. However, if they react differently I feel that I have done my part and can move on with a clear conscience.

I truly believe that this approach to communicating is the only possible way anarchists will ever achieve a peaceful "revolution". Thank you, Sterlin.

100%. I think the way we communicate runs side by side with the content of our message. Both are important in terms of spreading liberty, and communication style might actually make people more willing to consider the ideas.

We want a nonviolent society, so yes, it is love.

If you love your fellow human being, you don't want to tax him and steal his money, you want to help him succeed.

I was just listening to a new podcast that goes right along these lines. And it's cleverly titled "The Argument Ninja". I'm thinking people will find it as helpful as your suggestions. You can find it here.

I spend a lot of time thinking about #1 (not judging or blaming). It can be really difficult to listen to someone who seems extremely limited in her worldview and not start to think "Wow, this person is so limited. I wonder what it's like to live with all those assumptions." But at the same time, I hate egotism and the idea of comparing "myself" with other "selves" because THAT seems so petty and limited.

#6, confrontation, is tricky. It's just hard to do with finesse. Some people respond with so much emotion when I disagree with them, as if it's a personal thing.

That part about medium arousal is fascinating. I'd never heard that, but it makes intuitive sense.

Thanks for the article!

Perfect! This video explains my personal battle and your post is really part of the antidote. Give it a minute, you're going to laugh if you know someone like this. Send them to @sterlinluxan's post...

@jamesc, I am super glad that it helped. Thanks so much for supporting my work and this community. And by all means, send them my way. ;)

In watching the video, I see very clearly the possibility that using some of these communication tips can help with individuals with "mindblindness." The Axioms of communication are especially powerful concepts to keep in mind when dealing with individuals with neurodevelopmental issues, because it allows for clarification. Of course, there are many other ways my post can tie into this, as well as help individuals deal with their on communications issues.

Thanks again, James.

Love speech definitely draws more statist to the light of anarchy with consistency and consideration for one another.

@sterlinluxan Words cannot describe how important this post has made me view the idea of non violent communication. I have always tried to achieve it but the video you included really hit it home for me. Thank you for sharing a very important topic not just for anarchism but for humanity as whole. I posted it on my facebook feed to hopefully touch some of my friends hearts and reveal a different way of perceiving the universe around them.

  ·  3 years ago (edited)


You are probably the most sensationalist person I know here on Steemist. Most of what you say is downright contradictory rhetorics. Also. There is no such thing as "compassion" as I explain here.

The very way you describe compassion shows that is just filler words aimed to make someone completely politically correct. Example:

You say at the beginning,

Both online and offline, we often rely on rhetoric lined...

and then you say later on in your "steps"

Repeat emotions and thought patterns back to people so that they know you are connected with them; try to use similar words or language so they do not misunderstand.

You actively adivising people to be rhetorical and fake to each other by using common manipulative techniques like copying body language.

Hey @kyriacos, how's it going? I think you're a little mistaken there... Sterlin didn't advise people to be rhetorical - That was a description, not a prescription, and you can see that when you read the sentence in context.

Both online and offline, we often rely on rhetoric lined with insults and hate instead of peaceful dialogue. Employing this language is not persuasive, but I am not suggesting that we should be perfect or that we cannot react defensively when provoked.

Besides, "rhetoric" in the broadest sense doesn't necessarily mean being deceitful. One definition of "rhetoric" is: "the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing".

I hope that helps clarify things. Have a good one

I often find myself avoiding any kind of sincere dialogue with people. It's very wearing when you're honestly questioning someone and exploring their perspective, and they can only respond with insults and sarcasm and avoidance. I try, but it can be mentally exhausting. I suspect I'm just not very good at identifying people who want to do anything other than defend their ideologies.


lol anarcho-capitalist is not anarchist? This whole platform is built by two anarcho-capitalists. :D

ol anarcho-capitalist is not anarchist?

No, I don't think it is. Anarcho-capitalism is rather about making power and governance dependent on money (in very very short), not about doing away with power and governance completely. (Which perhaps makes it somewhat more realistic, but that's another story)

This whole platform is built by two anarcho-capitalists. :D

So what? Is it anarchist? Does it do away with power and governance? No, it does not, owners decide rules, change them at their will and so on. (I'm not saying it's bad BTW)

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I wholeheartedly agree. In the politically correct world people get offended so quickly when you challenge their opinion or what they see as the norm. Good old fashioned debate seems to have been kicked into a corner.

This is so true.
It seems like everyone is a robot spitting out socially and politically normal views when really, if people took the time to understand these things in a deeper way, then they would more likely be willing to entertain views that actually make more sense.

I have a couple of questions and comments. First, what are your thoughts on Tony Robbins and the way he communicates?
Second, why do you get to set the rules of communications? I am particularly perturbed when I read statements like:

There is no reason why anarchists should reject compassionate communication. There is no reason why they should use hateful language.

Really, no reason? To me that is being passive aggressive. Just like when people say "there is no reason to hit a woman" or " no reason to confront a cop". To say that there is no reason, is being passive aggressive and is a popular technique to control the dialog and narrative. There are reasons, some good, some bad, some positive, and some negative. You may not believe that there are good or positive reasons to enjoin in certain styles of communications, but to say that there is no reason is a lie and manipulative. Also, why do you get to determine what language is hateful and what language is not? Do you know what my intent is when I use certain words?
Finally, I would try to steer clear of NVC and Mr. Rosenburg. From what I have read on both sides, NVC at best is passive aggressive at worst it is a moralizing, aggressive and manipulative use of language that tends toward psychic terror.
While it claims to encourage "active listening" it more often encourages repetitive attempts to diagnose the feelings and needs of the speaker, which I and others like to call "apparent listening". This was glaringly obvious to me in your first rebuttal to an article written by kyriacos. Instead of "actively listening" to what kyriacos was saying you kept trying to bully him into speaking in your "giraffe" language instead of his "wolf" language, wondering where all the "wolf" language comes from and gloating to others in your prediction that he would use "wolf" language when he did. I figured out where the misunderstanding was in the first few comments because I was actually listening to what he said and not how he said it.
In my opinion, NVC is nothing more than feminism language, a passive aggressive way to bully the narrative. It uses guilt, shame, fear, and manipulation to steer the argument instead of actual critical thinking and listening. NVC is reductionism and a rejection of the wholeness of human beings.
Before you reply to this comment just take a moment and ask yourself, "Would you rather be right , than happy?"
I do appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, I just disagree with certain aspects of how you are doing it.

Hey there, friend. I appreciate your perspective, but I also disagree. Thanks for having the courage to post your disagreements. I will try to address a few of your concerns here.

I did not continue to continue engage in Kyriacos, because I am not personally interested in being insulted and attacked in a conversation. I never denied that he may have good points, but I won't communicate with someone who believes that being hostile and insulting others represents the truth. All it actually does is turn off any potential receiver, which is exactly what happened to me. Sometimes people just have to realize that their communication strategies may not be working to persuade anyone of their ideas, which is why I educate people on the above techniques.

Needless to say, I didn't "bully" him. But I did draw a line in the sand by saying that I will not subject myself to his attacks in lieu of a civil discussion. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. By virtue of advocating the methods above, I am not also mandating that people must wade through abusive language with every online person they meet. They can if they so choose, but that is certainly not a requirement.

I slightly agree with your position on nonviolent communication, which is why I have modified it in the form of compassionate communication and have applied it to my conception of relational anarchism. And I certainly do not suggest that people should be passive-aggressive with their use of these techniques. If that is the case, they likely need to look at their motivations for wanting to use this material in the first place. Furthermore, in NVC and other forms of compassionate communication, there is no need to "diagnose" needs. But it is good ascertain the needs of the other person and try to meet them if possible. It is through that conduit that mutual understanding can be achieved.

Thanks for the time you took to write out your critique. I hope I was able to respond in a straightforward way that makes sense.