Jamil Popatia was an established family counselor in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, when he discovered Nonviolent Communication (NVC) in 2015. Someone had loaned him the seminal book, Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life, by NVC founder, Marshall Rosenberg. Jamil read it once, then read it again, then went in search of more. He came across a video by Marshall Rosenberg that moved him deeply. In the video, the NVC founder talks about the impetus for connection with people, and what prevents connection. “And he said one sentence that I couldn't get out of my mind”. He said, ‘There is nothing we as human beings want more than to contribute to one another’s well-being.’”
An Intellectual Beginning
Marshall’s words gripped Jamil. Feeling frustrated at the escalating polarization in North America, and pained to witness divisions “that are so vehemently against those that differ in perspective,” he signed up for formal NVC training. He set out on this path, in his words, to “right the wrongs of the world.”
Jamil confesses that when he began his NVC training, “it started out very intellectual for me.” Responding to the Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) recommendation that he allow three to five years to learn NVC, he said to himself, There’s no way it’s going to take me that long. I get things quickly, and I can roll through. “And I was very headstrong and head-dominant,” he reflects, laughing quietly and adding with more than a hint of self-deprecation, “until I realized this NVC business is not very head-oriented. It’s far more southward than that.”
The understanding that he couldn’t fast-track this process settled in. “Recognizing emotions in all of their complexity, being able to do that for others, learning the language of needs, which was fairly new to me, takes time.” His interest transitioned from a way to create change in the world around him to creating change within himself. “And so Nonviolent Communication for me is really a path, not only in the way we interact with others, but more importantly for me, the way we interact with ourselves.”
So while Jamil came into NVC to “right the wrongs of the world,” today, he says, NVC is “far less an agent of social change or social justice for me now, than it is an agent of personal awareness and thus growth and development. And that’s how I do the work of NVC with my clients, with myself, and with my family.”
Connecting Through Differences
Jamil grew up on Canada’s west coast, the son of immigrant parents. As a child, he writes, “I struggled to find my purpose, identity and sense of belonging.” It is easy, he says, to fall into the trap of labels (both being labeled and assigning labels) and to form, in the words of Marshall Rosenberg, “enemy images” of people who are different from ourselves. “And in the NVC process itself–what am I feeling, what am I needing–supported me through getting past my own enemy images and helping me to dissolve them,” he says, continuing candidly, “with a lot of difficulty. It was very difficult.” We strive so hard to find innumerable ways to confirm how right and justified we are.
Today, he places great value in connecting with people who are fundamentally different from himself. “I think anyone can connect with like-minded people,” he says. “That’s fairly easy. But to connect with people who seem utterly different from you, I think that’s the gift that NVC has given me.” A self-described, “fiery, passionate person” with strong, moralistic values, he has also felt the pressure to surrender that part of himself. Through the practice of NVC, he reflects, “I’ve come to the conclusion that I indeed do not need to do that. That I can hold onto the core of myself while still connecting with someone, without imposing or assigning my moral compass to them.” Such is the delicate balance between being simultaneously authentic and empathic. Suppression only pushes the symptoms to another place where they will inevitably reappear.
Through this inner work, Jamil helps people connect across seemingly insurmountable chasms of foundational conflict. Through NVC, he says, vastly different people can achieve connections through “dignified dialogue.”
Dignity, and dialogue, Jamil says, are the “two difficult things to balance in any interaction, whether it be interaction with ourselves or interaction with others.” NVC, he continues, offers a depth and richness of knowledge and practice around the pursuit of dignity. “We are bound to differ,” he says, and we can still connect amid those differences, “if we can differ with dignity and care, and hopefully even compassion, choiceful compassion.” That way, he says, human connection can ensue, “one individual with another, one soul with another.”
Jamil knows, from personal experience, the possibilities for connections across differences. “It’s rich. It is so rich. And that’s why I keep saying, “connection need not require concurrence.”
The practice of differing with dignity serves as the foundational concept of his private practice, Dignified Dialogue. A Certified Mediator with Family Mediation Canada, he offers counseling, coaching, and conflict resolution for individuals, couples, and families.