‘The wisdom of presence and NVR – building bridges in uncertain times’
With contributions from Jill Lubienski, Julie Oates, Jackie Lindeck and Rosalind McCormick
Systemic parent coaching and NVR (new authority) over 20 years.
Osnabruck University of Applied Science (Northern Germany).
Hosted by Systemiches Institut Fur Neue Autoritat, Bruno Korner, Martin Lemme and Arist von Schlippe.
The 7th International NVR Conference was the first opportunity since 2018 for the worldwide NVR community to congregate in person and, over 3 days, to share the personal connection, the vibrancy of our ideas and also our worries for the very difficult problems facing us in a world where conflict, war and division are so prevalent. Around 300 delegates and speakers arrived in Osnabruck from the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Ukraine, Russia, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. We also benefited from the technology available to Osnabruck University of Applied Sciences to offer the conference in a ‘hybrid’ form, and so were joined for keynote presentations and some workshops, by colleagues online from all over the world. A truly international gathering of people concerned to think about peaceful, caring, connecting dialogue and practices, even when alliance building may seem like an insurmountable task.
The focus of the converence was beautifully captured in this pre-conference information:
‘The topic of “bridge building” will occupy us at the 7th international conference. Twenty years after New Authority and Nonviolent Resistance were popularized in systemic parent coaching in Germany, we want to deal with questions such as:
- How can threatened and broken relationships be revived instead of being further compromised by practices of power?
- What obligations arise for the people who feel committed to this approach not only personally but also professionally?
- What bridges do we ourselves need to realize the NVR-Charter together and then build bridges that are based on the foundation of trust and joint development on our part?
- Into which fields can nonviolence thinking and acting develop beyond parent coaching, which topics, contents, and perspectives inspire us?
- And looking back on the developments of the last 20 years, how can the potential of this approach be assessed in the future?
It was inspiring from the start to appreciate the ambitions of the organisers in exploring deep and important questions of conflict resolution, power and control, both in parent coaching and in wider contexts. We also had the benefit of hearing from hosts with rich experience of the development and history of NVR and NA who were therefore able to offer us a long view of the history of NVR and NA since the first conference over 20 years ago (also in Osnabruck). Being rooted in this history and on home soil, Bruno, Martin and Arist were able to further connect us to place and history by sharing with us something of the history of Osnabruck as a ‘City of Peace’ dating back to the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 and the signing of The Treaty of Westphalia. Osnabruck holds a significant place in this history as the treaty terms were negotiated between rival factions based in Osnabruck and Munster, about 25 km away. We were told that this diplomatic effort, using a horse and rider to shuttle between the 2 camps, was the first-ever mediation in action. Surely a fitting frame in which to think and talk about conflict resolution in our relationships today. The organisers timed the conference to coincide with ‘Peace Day’ in Osnabruck and this meant we would all be together as well to experience ‘Peace Week’. Festivals and parties were held all over the city throughout the time we visited giving a fun and energetic atmosphere to the city as a whole and a wider context for the conference themes we deliberated together.
The starting point of the conference was, fittingly, a review of the NVR charter, reorientating us to our central purpose in this work:
“We commit to the principles of NVR in our life and work. In the spirit of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others we support each other in the promotion and dissemination of the NVR attitude in ourselves, in families, schools, communities, organizations and in the political sphere. We raise our voice and take a stand for responsible leadership in an open and transparent manner.”
To be reminded of what we stand for together was very powerful and connecting in itself and was held in mind by contributors throughout the conference. The UK was represented by staff and associates from PartnershipProjects UK. Jackie Lindeck, Jill Lubienski, Julie Oates, Peter Jakob, Kerry Shoesmith, Erica Castle and Rosalind McCormick all took an active role in participating in bringing their work and ideas to the wider community through keynote presentations (Peter and Rosalind) and workshops on various topics (Julie, Jackie, Jill, Kerry, Erica, Peter and Rosalind).
There were so many highlights that it is hard to capture it all, but here is a round-up of memorable moments from the perspective of a few of us from PartnershipProjects.
This was a wonderful (and busily intense!) few days with colleagues in a vibrant city which gave me a great deal of inspiration and a feeling of belonging to a community. I felt firsthand the importance of a sense of belonging and connection. This resonated with me as it became more apparent over the 3 days that an emerging theme was how NVR and NA provide methods for resisting disconnection and alienation. In our modern societies, there is a loosening of bonds and, as Haim Omer said in his keynote on Teen Suicide Prevention, an increasing ‘disintegration of belonging’ and a sense of ‘anomie’ amongst our young people. This concept can be understood as a breakdown of any social standards, morals or guidance which then results in social instability. Haim proposed that the ‘anchoring function’ in NVR is an antidote to this, allowing connection and belonging to blossom via the support system. A support system providing stability, structure, resistance, protection and support are all antidotes to anomie. Positive attempts by people in the child’s life to connect and offer activities as well as to stand firmly on the side of life, not giving in to the forces of annihilation, brings a sense of agency and purpose to the system around the child.
Similar themes were present in Uri Weinblatts keynote presentation ‘Contactivity: NVR Interventions for Overcoming Avoidance’. Uri provided conference delegates with an example of group ‘contactivity’ by having us sing along to the Karaoke standard ‘Winds of Change’ by The Scorpions. Singing in a group as connection, fun and a demonstration of how, for Uri, ‘the means is the goal’. Uri talked of creating contact to solve the problem of avoidance and embedded in this is the notion that parents have to find ways to make themselves (as he says) ‘more attractive to the avoidant child’. Uri explained his ideas that avoidance is primarily the result of dysregulated shame and high anxiety is correlated with this. He has identified 3 levels of connection: with the self, with others and with the group. Uri advocates playing games (he has a gaming room in his clinic these days for this purpose), avoiding problem-solving conversations, and developing connecting conversations instead. He demonstrated how a sit-in could be adapted to utilize connecting conversations. It gave me much to consider adding into my own work and training.
I also attended a workshop called ‘Connecting Authority: Navigating Complex Family Situations’ by Eliane Wiebenga and Hans Bom. They have built on the work of Haim Omer and Nahi Alon (2006) on ‘The Psychology of Demonization’ to develop a ‘compass’ of attitudes and influencing strategies. It is a visual aid which can help practitioners in working with families to choose a course in the work together. The are 4 positions with much potential for moving around and flexibility is built in. It helped me to consider a case I am involved in and to move into a position where I increase my personal presence more and move away from too much acceptance that their situation is ‘stuck’, so resisting being complicit to narratives of hopelessness and despair.
There is much more I could say about my time in Osnabruck, but instead, I will leave you with a conference photo of me (on the right) with my valued colleagues, taken after the end of day 1 – reinforcing our bonds and creating more of the good times together helps avoid disconnection!
Building on what Jill has said, I particularly appreciated having the opportunity to ‘build bridges’ between the wisdom of all we have learned through the practice of NVR and New Authority, and other sources of wisdom, such as facilitation techniques described as Deep Democracy and the Poverty Truth Commission work I have been a part of here in the UK. It was deeply encouraging to feel connected with souls all over the world who are evolving more imaginative, more creative, more meaningful ways to dismantle the artificial barriers we create between people, and connect to other humans by ‘lowering the water line of the iceberg’ (Christiane Leiste). The iceberg in this metaphor refers to what we show to others of who we are (above the water line) and the more vulnerable parts of ourselves that are hidden (below the water line). In NVR we seek to resist the violent and harmful behaviours that can be above the water line (visible) so that we can connect with the less visible parts of the other in closer and more caring relationships. This idea works across many divides, such as those who are wealthy, and those who struggle against poverty, humans living on either side of ideological factions, and differences of culture and belief systems. Marieke van Rijn and Aarti Sarabdjitsingh, from the Netherlands, brought their learning on ways to deepen cultural sensitivity in NVR. They shared their thinking that questions about culture and ‘where someone is from’ have less relevance in a multiversal society. More useful is the concept of sub-diversity – where would each of us place ourselves on a spectrum between a system which is collectively oriented (we) and one which is individually oriented (I)? Individually oriented systems tend to value individual independence, letting go and separating, whilst collectively oriented systems derive strength and identity from the contribution made to the system, and ensuring the family/system survives.
Father Michael Lapsley, who has personal experience of the benefits of ‘untying the knot’ of hatred that can trap someone who has been deeply hurt by another, left us with a question of how we repay what has been stolen – that forgiveness itself is not enough as a concept if debts remain unpaid. Father Michael, through his gentle storytelling, left me in no doubt that this is a relevant question for me, as a white, middle-class member of British society. As a coloniser, the British imposed the English language on vast swathes of the world, and as a result, I am rarely disadvantaged by only speaking English. However, during the conference, I had to listen to interpreters through headphones, miss the punchline whilst German speakers clapped loudly over the English interpretation of the point, and not be able to attend the workshops I had originally chosen as they were not being interpreted into English. It was so good for me to be able to experience being disadvantaged. In these ways, the conference created a powerful interweaving of the personal and the professional, and there is much to reflect on in the coming days.
My experiences of the conference, my first NVR Conference, very much resonate with my colleagues. The opportunity to connect with others who share the same passion for the philosophy of NVR, to hear how NVR is being applied in other settings, other countries and other cultures and to hear how it resonates with other approaches, for example, Deep Democracy and Contextual work has re-ignited my passion for the work that we all do.
There were three moments that I particularly connected with. The first, was from the keynote presentation and later, the workshop on Deep Democracy led by Christiane Leiste that Julie has already mentioned. The idea of transparency in communication that allows everyone to speak and encourages individuals to speak ‘the unspeakable’ in order to bring about authenticity in decision-making felt very powerful. Seeing this process in action in the afternoon workshop brought up many questions for me about how we create safety in our different contexts in order to be able to communicate with such honesty without fear of punishment or retribution.
The second was in Uri Weinblatt’s keynote presentation about Avoidance being the product of unregulated shame and the importance of prioritising connection in our relationships in order to create authentic contact, which in turn can bring about change in the experience of relationship by the one that is avoidant.
Finally, the closing keynote by Father Michael Lapsley in which he reframed forgiveness as the opportunity for reparation, essential if we are to move on from trauma. For me, he encapsulated the idea of authentic communication and connection as he asked us to reflect on how we might ‘give back the stolen bike’ rather than just apologising for taking it. This idea, for me, encompasses the responsibility that each of us has, to take action, rather than relying on words.
It was a privilege to have the opportunity on the final day of the conference to facilitate, alongside my colleagues Jill Lubienski and Peter Jakob, a forum about the development of an Outcome Star to capture the changes that families make as they undertake the NVR Journey. As there are currently no outcome measures that enable practitioners and parents to collaboratively map this journey of change, it feels like an exciting development for the NVR community. The forum was well received and the feedback from participants was very affirming.
I certainly came home from Osnabruck with plenty to reflect on and to absorb, while feeling newly inspired to take things forward. I also feel incredibly proud to be part of the PartnershipProjects team who all contributed to the richness of the conference through sharing their work and their ideas.
I will tell you of the conference memories that are still swimming around in my head. “We love the people who take away our shame” (Uri Weinblatt).
The connecting and healing that happens when we are seen without repulsion or rejection.
The challenge for our hearts to stay open to peacefulness.
And, how great it was to connect with others in the NVR community!
We hope that many more UK NVR practitioners will feel inspired to join us at the next International NVR Conference scheduled for 2 years time in the Netherlands.
Jill Lubienski, Highly Specialist Systemic Psychotherapist & Registered Social Worker
Senior Clinician, Supervisor and Trainer
NVR Association (NVRA) Accredited Practitioner and Supervisor
Julie Oates, Highly Specialist Family & Systemic Psychotherapist / Systemic Supervisor
NVR Association (NVRA) Accredited Practitioner and Supervisor
Jackie Lindeck, Highly Specialist Music Therapist, PartnershipProjects Director
NVR Association (NVRA) Accredited Practitioner and Supervisor
Rosalind McCormick, Organisational Consultant
NVR Association (NVRA) Accredited Practitioner