‘….wherever the carcass is, there will the vultures be gathered together’
A radio show, a series which looks at the lives of late prominent people, and which discusses their life’s work and achievement, in a space of a half-hour, was my listening yesterday.
Yesterday the life of Marshall Rosenberg was the topic for celebration. Rosenberg is not well known in conventional circles. He is famous, in as far as he is known, as the originator and promulgator of what he termed Non-Violent Communication.
I don’t want to delve deeply into what this might be when it is being done; I don’t have much more than a surface acquaintance with the idea. I do want to mention its results; as these are testified to by witnesses and in books which have been written about Rosenberg’s work and life.
Although a fringe figure all his life; and glad to be a fringe figure at that; Rosenberg nonetheless was called in by governments around the word from time to time for him to act in the role of mediator at high level political talks; and these included Peace Talks between warring parties. He was mediator at certain Israeli/Palestinian talks; in Northern Ireland; and at other tinderboxes of our times.
One man paying Rosenberg tribute claimed – I believe reliably – that at certain talks where facing one another were two warring parties’ delegations; both of whom had members who had lost children in the conflict which was to be quelled by the Talks.
The man relating this story said that both delegations were violently angry at one another; so much so that no talks could begin because of the utter alienation going on. It is claimed that within half an hour Rosenberg had the two parties around a table discussing to find Peace Terms. Other similar seemingly miraculous, seemingly apocryphal, anecdotes followed – and yet these anecdotes are well documented by parties like the CIA and Mossad who have zero interest in doctoring the history in this direction and every motive to propagandise in the reverse direction.
I do know Rosenberg sought to reveal to people who were angry or violent, their sometimes unacknowledged, unconscious even, but always frustrated needs for the given situation which made them boil over. He saw these frustrated needs in persons as the source of that anxiety and mental suffering which expressed itself in anger and violence.
Now I’d like to talk a bit about anxiety.
The sensation of even moderate anxiety is indeed like one’s head is repeatedly hitting a metaphorical brick wall. Thwarted, is the word I believe.
Out of being thwarted arises frustration and out of frustration anxiety. Now Freud had a concept he termed ‘repetition compulsion’; and which I believe he considered to be more powerful than his more famous ‘pleasure principle’ in men and women.
I recall as a boy trying over and over again to make a broken gramophone I had been looking at to work – simply by switching it off and on repeatedly. I failed. I recall also getting a little fixated on repetitive ‘wishful thinking’ in other respects; and so again repeating simple and basic acts like on/off with a wishful hope of a connection – or maybe miracle? Of course nothing ever happened.
In a cartoon my boys watched as children there was a guy reciting a description of a large local ogre in the district, an ogre who was fearfully dangerous and frightful. Another guy, to whom he was describing the ogre, as the descriptions went on and got ever more graphic and awful was becoming visibly alarmed and starting to shake. The shaking continued until he began calling loud at first then louder to the guy to stop describing the ogre. But the guy was on a roll and heating himself up with words and colours ever more gaudy until the trembling guy roared out violently; ‘STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!!’
It was funny, but also instructive, because believable. The guy getting off on his gaudy descriptive powers was the generator of anxiety in the timid guy shaking. The wordy guy just would not stop but getting himself warmer and warmer about the descriptions, whilst the timid guy was repeatedly saying Stop, Stop! because repeatedly the feelings of anxiety were growing and taking him over. At the last the anxiety is so great that the repeated and cumulative effects of it generated by the ghastly descriptions of the ogre altogether broke the fortitude of the timid guy and he roared in stentorian voice for the talking to stop. He let go and released the expression of his anxiety altogether – and the guy stopped.
It’s a very good analysis of how fears get a grip on us, how we tolerate them (or not) and the process of accumulation by repetition of anxiety in our minds. If you look at the two guys – the one describing the ogre and the one getting ever more agitated – as being a single person, and the whole situation being that single person’s conflicted thought processes in his single mind; the picture of how we get wound up is made clearer.
When we worry we tell ourselves the bad news over and over, even when we are asleep or when we are not conscious of the actual bad news at any moment. Like a steamroller the bad news keeps rolling on in our subconscious or wherever; and the upshots from it going on and on affect our physical body, our senses and sensations, and our conscious concentration on outside objects or other matters of thought.
Eventually we just have to do something – like scream or drink a bottle of spirits or go to confession or just pray – anything which relieves the build up of strain in us.
In short the causes of our anxieties, those unresolved problems in our lives, have to be found answers; so that one is able to claim back some peace of mind. Until they are resolved they are like a bailiff knocking on our doors again and an again and us barricading his entry with ever more materials we might have available.
It’s the repeated trying to deal with, to fend off, anxiety which is the wearying thing about experiencing it. It won’t go away, and the worry comes again and again to assault our minds, causing us again and again to marshal our defences to hold back the pressures.
This I guess is how OCD disorders are grown in our minds? A laying of the demons in perpetuity.
This power of anxiety then does often overcome and quell that power of our ‘pleasure principle’; so that we do not enjoy anxiety and yet it is able to supplant and quell any pleasure in our minds; and our minds now make beelines towards fielding the anxiety rather than towards its customary pleasures.
The causes or sources of the anxiety are the foundational material of our needs (which are to be resolved) as Marshall Rosenberg would have termed them. Rosenberg aimed to draw forth from conflicted minds those problems which underlie their conflictedness and which are their needs to be resolved. Thus he was able to show to prima facie enemies, both of whom had lost children to the other, that at bottom their needs, their sufferings, their anxieties and violent angers were held in common as needs to be fulfilled and which both parties shared in almost identical formats. This was Rosenberg’s gift and power.
Rosenberg never courted fame or celebrity. He even feared his success might cast him in the common mind as being a neo-messianic figure, and this thought really scared him.
Of course however for Rosenberg’s non-violent communication to work it requires a grounding of prima facie faith and goodwill toward the concept from the parties to be helped by it. To use a Freudian term ‘resistance’ to its use by or in a party in any attempt at reconciliation would scupper its potential immediately.
The presenter of the radio show which was celebrating Rosenberg’s life is a man who has been a UK Member of Parliament, a TV highbrow politics show presenter, and is also a London Times columnist. By the passing comments he was making on Rosenberg’s work as the show progressed he showed that he was not convinced of Rosenberg’s approach; but unconvinced perhaps not of its efficacy but of its worthwhileness.
He commented for instance to the effect that those who are angry and who shout a lot are the same persons who advocate Rosenberg’s work; because they see and feel a need for it (for the world) within themselves. This is a bit of a complex argument which I feel was aimed at undermining the integrity of those who would practice or approve Rosenberg’s approaches.
Another comment the same man, the host, made was a response to a comment from a guest on the show who had said that politicians (i.e. referring to the host) naturally were sceptical about such ideas as Rosenberg’s because politicians are wheeler-dealers who enjoy wielding power as leverage in negotiations. This of course implied that anxiety and worry and the needs of others are the very counters in the game which politicians play to do their jobs. The host retorted that politicians become politicians not so much to enjoy wielding power as to obtain applause and public acclaim.
Again another cynical, almost Freudian, answer. The host though did not make denial that the most useful tools politicians have are indeed just these shared anxieties, needs and frustrations of their populaces. He possibly believed it to be self-evidently the case; or maybe I am being jaundiced about him?
Here of course lies the nub of things; and it is a nub which Rosenberg recognised to be the kernel of the problems he dealt with. The way the world is set up, working by way of force and threat of force, nation against nation, interest against interest; and working by way of competition and by a devil take the hindmost; working by way of caveat emptor and by way of buying in the cheapest; selling in the dearest markets; I don’t think I need to go on – the world – no correction – our world, is set up in such a way that what Rosenberg called needs are presented to us from our earliest influences to be our bargaining chips. These needs of ours thus become the causes for us exploiting the needs of others wherever we are able to without comeback or comeuppance. Ours is an ‘all’s fair in business and politics’ kind of free-for-all.
Like Shakespeare’s jealousy we mock the meat we feed on. It makes us look like a despicable race and species: again, as Shakespeare said:
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That dost not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly…
Again and of course, this is nowhere near the whole story: its is a view of politics as she is played and of big business as she is enacted; but dotted around elsewhere in society at various levels and places are those whom Thomas Gray perceived to be of worth and of note:
Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.
As for Rosenberg fearing being hailed as a neo-messiah; let me say this. The Freudian view of religion is that it is a result of sublimations of repressed wishes; born out of and created by us as a source of release from our anxieties arising from our unfulfilled wishes.
Freud I might add also considered civilisation per se a trade off for humans between security, order, safety and communal support on the one side; and our human instincts of hunt fight flight, and self-interest and preservation on the other. Thus he felt the downside of humans being civilised was a truckload of repressed urges and unfulfilled instincts.
Smacks of something ideological to me; it fits too well with the political and the big business mentalities. And of course this view of Freud’s cannot be reconciled to Rosenberg’s gift of allaying and calming fierce destructive pain and anger in people against one another; and fulfilled in a space of half an hour of talking and sifting needs to be addressed.
In The New Testament teachings and in the example of his life, Jesus Christ exemplified non-violence, passive resistance, turning the other cheek, loving one’s enemies, doing good to those who hate you, being condemned to death and executed for his cause, our cause, God’s cause. But with something more than a careful technique or a compassionate largesse of understanding; although he had these
It is the higher purpose, the rationale and the meaning which underpins why we should care for others, why we should attempt reconciliations, as a way to counter and to counteract the terrible straits humankind has allowed itself to fall into; thus offering us an alternative life which is able to reject the tools of the politicians and the wiles of the big business people; and yet remains a working and a fulfilled life – perhaps the only approach to working and fulfilled life?
Of course I am addressing now our most fundamental conflictedness within the human condition; and our most fundamental needs – to live happily with our own selves and with our personal histories, and so be able to cut slack for others to be able to do likewise. St Paul in The Letter to the Romans anatomises us as a race, as a people who are torn and divided within ourselves by our native conflicts; of our inmost self and its powerful gravitations towards self-interest and self-concern; and these armed are set in battle against our sense of what is rightly due to others; against our sense of needing to be right-doing; against our sense that here was a man, Jesus, who exemplified the life we would lead were we not flawed and petty creatures in deep need of such a Saviour.
St Peter was told by his Master:
‘…upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven’
Although this saying might have meant that it is St Peter who is to arbitrate on who gets into or stays out of heaven; one might see Christ’s life and passion and resurrection as our figurative Key to Heaven; and as being the resolutions to eternal human self-conflicts which he provides to his followers on earth.
These might be seen as a foretaste, a preview, a dummy run, of what he promises lies ahead for us in our ultimate futures?