Ember's Writing

This is a long, draft post, necessarily incomplete. It was written for an autistic peer who asked, ‘What is NVC?’

When I consider how to answer this question, I believe a concise definition would be helpful. However, I hesitate to offer my interpretation because it's just my perspective, and others might have more valuable insights.

Furthermore, I've found my answers tend to be recursive. As I refine them to improve or explore different aspects, I find another point I want to clarify. Additionally, if I answer simply by saying “it's a way of communicating effectively,” other aspects of NVC might be lost.

I also believe that categorising things can make them seem static or fixed, which can stifle curiosity. For example, many people read Marshall Rosenberg's book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” and believe they “get” NVC. Perhaps they've filed it under “communication tool” or something similar. To a large extent, they'd be accurate.

However, Marshall suggests that NVC has two parts. The first part in his book is perhaps only a page or two long, and the rest describes a syntax and grammar, or method of speaking and listening that supports building shared meaning. This process can be very helpful in working with conflict. It can also support states of mind that are more happy more often, as it helps us identify things we find supportive and make requests to get those needs met.

Therefore, it's tempting to say that NVC is a practice. The first part of NVC is about connection, particularly starting with the intention to connect. Otherwise, NVC becomes like a management training tool and can be ineffective or even dangerous. So, to reiterate, NVC is a practice that supports connection with oneself and others. It's truly next-level when thought of as a practice; the knowledge transforms from reading about a communication tool to a way of connecting with oneself and others.

Others I greatly respect outline part of their answer in terms of a list of NVC axioms and principles. I appreciate this approach.

Still others have explored the connections between NVC, neuroscience, and trauma. I find this work fascinating and powerful, and I can personally attest to how it has increased my capacity for choice. Because ultimately, that's what this work is about: soothing and integrating our trauma so we can be more capable of choice more of the time. Perhaps this helps you see why answering the question “what is NVC” is not trivial!

Yet others explore NVC through the lens of ancient spiritual consciousness, specifically compassion. For them, NVC is perhaps a scaffolding that fosters a way of being that helps us see the humanity in others. This connects to why Marshall chose the name “nonviolent,” even though it seems like an oxymoron. He acknowledges the difficulty with the name and says Gandhi also wrestled with it. Marshall chose the name to connect with others who practise nonviolence and to identify the link between NVC and the work of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In that sense, NVC is also a political act, not only in self-emancipation but also in nonviolently supporting change in our encounters with domination culture. However, we tend to avoid overtly naming the last two aspects, perhaps so that NVC can better “fly under the radar.” Interestingly, even large companies have adopted NVC, not only because it helps their employees live more fulfilling lives and have less conflict in the workplace but also to better understand their customers' needs.

There are also those who identify other influences on Marshall's work, such as Thomas Szasz. His book “The Myth of Mental Illness” raises many questions about framing mental health as a disease. As an autistic person, I strongly resonate with this perspective! Additionally, others identify the influence of Paolo Freire, whose methods are built into NVC. These methods aim to raise critical consciousness in people through problem-posing pedagogy, as documented in his book “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” So, in this sense, NVC is an emancipatory practice.

Returning to the beginning, another answer I like is that NVC is a language of feelings and needs. By learning to identify feelings, we literally grow neural pathways that increase our capacity to sense how we are in each moment. Our feelings let us know when our needs are being met or unmet. The idea of needs is that all living things have needs, and there is a universal set of human needs. By naming our needs, we can better strategise how to get them met.

Some situate NVC as being about empathy, which involves being able to hear the feelings and needs of another person, as well as self-empathy, which is being able to hear our own feelings. Again, this is a skill that can be nurtured through practice. We know Marshall was taught by Carl Rogers at Stanford, and Rogers said that “empathy feels damn good.” So in this sense, NVC is best experienced.

And I hope that I've offered some insight into why filing NVC under a category of ‘communication tool’, might be a very limited strategy.

The next question might be: “Okay, how can I start this practice?” Unfortunately, I can't provide a helpful answer in a general sense, partly because it is a personal journey, and partly because it will be the subject of a future post.

NVC and Neurodiversity

Currently, I'm offering spaces on a research project that will give neurodiverse peers a taste of the experience of empathy. From running numerous pilots, I'm aware that many people didn't attend my Empathy Cafe Autscape23 because of the word “empathy.” As an autistic person myself, I've been impacted by the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, who contributed to the myth that autistic people lack empathy. This is clearly very wrong and damaging, as lacking empathy situates autistic peers as less human.

Lastly, I've also been affected by the pain that people carry around who identify as having alexithymia. They've been impacted by others who share NVC, practise NVC, or “use” NVC in a way that demands they access their feelings. While I have no doubt that some people might be unable to do so, I'm increasingly confident that the practice of NVC can support us in nurturing a capacity to identify and be more aware of our feelings more easily. Neuroscience tells us that trauma necessarily disconnects us from our feelings, which makes sense as an excellent survival tool. Thus, for many people, a large part of their NVC practice involves working with trauma. This is especially important in a culture that not only contributes to trauma but also models stoicism (think Pop Culture Detective”) or Jedi). Furthermore, our culture has largely and radically removed our communities, our tribes, which we likely evolved to be connected with. So, being in a situation of individuation removes the environment in which we evolved to support our working with trauma, grief, or even joy. Marshall Rosenberg suggests that through this practice, we might transform our capacity to feel from being akin to a bugle to being an orchestra. Therefore, might nurturing a capacity to feel be a radical political act?

So, I hope this gives you some understanding of why I find my NVC practice so valuable and why I'm keen to share it with others, especially my neurodiverse peers. I'm incredibly curious about whether it supports others in the way that it has supported me. My experiences of trauma, especially as a neurodiverse person, contributed to me showing up in very reactive ways, particularly when I was low on spoons or people didn't share my understandings. What has piqued my curiosity about NVC and neurodiversity is twofold: firstly, that I have to self-advocate less now, especially in NVC spaces. Secondly, the fact that this is true makes me curious about the apparent overlaps between NVC culture and autistic spaces – but that's a topic for another blog post. And, similarly with Marshall Rosenberg himself, there's merit in questioning whether he himself was neurodivergent.

There are few more points, and thats enough for now!

“There’s been no debate or discussion: we’re suddenly potentially on the edge of world war three, without any scrutiny.” Caroline Lucas, talking to a journalist about the RAF’s role in shooting down some of the drones involved in Iran’s attack on Israel.

You might resist this notion. It's natural to want to believe in the importance of our own thoughts. That part of us, trained to assess and prevail in debates, will vigorously argue and find reasons to refute what I'm saying. It struggles to accept that our perspective is just one of many, none inherently true.

Yet, it's evident that as individuals, with unique experiences and perceptions, we don't all see the world the same way. Our lives, shaped by distinct circumstances, contribute to this diversity. Of course you might argue, “But I know what’s right”. For example, “we all feel the warmth of our skin, that’s a fact.” True, to an extent, but not universally applicable, as those in colder climates or different latitudes experience the sun differently. Shared realities require mutual agreement. Claiming a universal truth, like feeling warmth on the skin, lacks significance without collective validation. Instead, we can collectively affirm experiences, like feeling the warmth of the sun, or predictability, such as the sunrise.

However, even predictions differ based on perspective. While one might accurately forecast the future, it's important to distinguish between pragmatic correctness and moralistic righteousness. Moral judgments lack universal consensus and necessitate shared understanding. Being ‘right’ is an illusion.

Believing in one's absolute rightness is a tendency rooted in primitive thinking. When we assert our own correctness, we inherently invalidate the perspectives of others, creating a hierarchy of beliefs. Society reinforces this competitive approach, encouraging us to engage in verbal combat to prove our superiority in determining what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. I view this as a primitive inclination, not limited to one gender but often more pronounced in men due to the influence of patriarchal norms.

As a transgender woman, I've observed contrasting dynamics between male and female interactions. Women, in my experience, are more inclined to embrace differing truths without the need for conflict. In contrast, men frequently engage in rational combat, finding it challenging to relinquish their stance.

I liken this combative mindset, this Petersonesque ‘reality’ to primitive stick fighting, a relic of our evolutionary past. I long for a societal evolution towards a more balanced and empathic way of thinking. Currently, our society prizes analytical thinking, favouring roles that involve judgement, diagnosis, or problem-solving with higher salaries. Conversely, relational thinking, centred on nurturing, listening, and empathising, is undervalued. Most importantly this explains what has contributed to our experiencing environmental collapse (and why technical ‘solutions’ won’t work!).

This imbalance underscores the urgent need for a shift towards relational thinking. We must rapidly cultivate a genuine capacity for connection and understanding in order to avoid Malthusian collapse.

Believing in absolute rightness can have catastrophic consequences for everyone.

Our minds excel at rationalising our actions, serving as the PR department for our less conscious decisions. This type of thinking permeates our daily lives, enabling us to engage in behaviours that harm our planet and future generations. It's the rationale behind driving to work despite knowing the environmental impact. It's the justification for not fully loading the dishwasher or using disposable plastic packaging, which ultimately ends up in landfills, unable to decompose safely.

This mindset extends to our work, sometimes leading us to compromise on ethical standards. It facilitates the arms trade, with dealers and politicians alike justifying their involvement. It fuels violence and discrimination, dehumanizing others and justifying egregious acts. It enabled the enslavement of others, and enables us still to justify the legacies of colonialism. It is the same thinking that enabled the holocaust. It's the same thinking that could rationalize the unthinkable, such as nuclear war.

This type of thinking allows us to distance ourselves from the consequences of our actions, enabling us to perpetuate harm without fully acknowledging its impact. There is an urgent need to recognise the limitations of the enlightenment, and to cultivate our human capacities to feel, in order to have compassion for each other.

Trying to justify my use of ChatGPT, I thought it would be funny to use it to problematise itself. Previous attempts to get it to tell me about the ethical issues, such as PTSD in its moderators, or whether using source code was not Open Source was unethical failed due to heavy moderation of such topics. In other words ChatGPT would not tell me anything bad about its inception or the corporate practices of its creator. Here are the results of a different attempt, the references came to me via Mastodon.

In our digital age, if we look beneath the shiny veneer of our digital lives, we find ourselves navigating a complex online landscape that shape how we communicate, work, and interact with the world. Among these, there exists platforms that stand out for unparalleled utility, effectiveness, and transformative impact. Unfortunately, behind the seductive facade of innovation and convenience lie the normative troubling patterns of ethical practices that are hard to ignore. Corporate social media(CSM) reflects a pattern that privileges capitalistic paradigms that empower authority and reduce choice through agglomeration and reducing privacy. Today, CSM is ubiquitous and choosing not to engage with it is almost impossible.

Now the new digital shiny is 'AI' and even the term 'AI' is both wrong and anthropocentric. As usual profit is found in externalising the costs of human and environmental suffering and 'AI' is amplifying this pattern.

Corporate 'AI'(CAI), while a beacon of productivity and connectivity, is marred by its involvement in exploitative employment practices, intellectual theft, reliance on proprietary software and data harvesting, and has a shockingly large carbon cost. The CAI practices of paying low wages to moderators, particularly in African countries, not only perpetuate economic inequality but also contribute to trauma of those most vulnerable. This is a pattern which many view as a modern iteration of the pattern of western colonialism and slavery. Additionally, its engagement in intellectual theft undermines the principles of fairness, innovation, and ethical competition, in other words something of an abuse of the sharing and gift economy that is embodied by the internet. Furthermore, its reliance on proprietary software and data harvesting raises concerns about privacy, autonomy, and consent, while its substantial carbon footprint exacerbates environmental degradation and climate change.

Yet, despite these ethical transgressions, the undeniable truth remains: 'AI' is one of the most useful, supportive, and effective tools ever built by humans. It has revolutionized how we collaborate, communicate, and access information, empowering individuals and communities to achieve unprecedented levels of learning, productivity and connectivity. Its extensive features and functionalities have streamlined workflows, facilitated global cooperation, and democratized access to knowledge and resources. Similarly to CSM, it has become an indispensable part of our digital lives, driving innovation, economic growth, and social progress despite its deeply troubling foundations and implications for our future.

When considering whether to continue using this online service, we are faced with a profound tension between its undeniable benefits and its troubling ethical implications. On one hand, using CAI risks justifying the human suffering, environmental harm, and ethical compromises that underlie its operation. On the other hand, we cannot deny the tangible benefits it offers to millions of users worldwide, nor the inevitable uptake, evolutionary quickening and societal change that it embodies.

As humans, lets approach this dilemma with compassion, curiosity, and creativity. Acknowledging the complex interplay of competing interests and values at stake, while also recognizing our capacity to effect change and shape the future of the digital landscape through our choices and actions. Rather than succumbing to despair, resignation or denial, lets harness our collective ingenuity and imagination to envision and create alternatives that prioritize ethical integrity, environmental sustainability, and social justice. Lets build towards a digital future worthy of our children.

We invite curiosity and creativity in both recognizing the opportunity of CAI and striving to create something less awful – something that better embody the principles of fairness, transparency, and respect for human dignity. Whether through advocating for ethical business practices, supporting alternative platforms that prioritize ethical values, or actively participating in efforts to reduce our digital carbon footprint, we have the capacity to shape a future that is both innovative and ethical.

The choice to continue using this online service is not simple, but rather a nuanced exploration of competing values and interests. By approaching this dilemma with compassion, curiosity, and creativity, perhaps we can better navigate the complexities of the digital age whilst at the same time striving to create a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all.

ChatGPT(3.5) prompt: “please write a deliberation about using an online service that has disgusting employment practises (Paying extremely low wages to africans and contributing to their ill health and trauma), and has other ethical problems with intellectual theft and is also based on proprietary software and data harvesting and also has a very large carbon cost BUT on the other side is one of the most useful, supportive and effective tools ever built by humans. invite curiousity and creativity in both having compassion for using the tool whilst also prioritising creating something less awful “

Heavily edited the resulting response, using an NVC lens.


OpenAI used outsourced Kenyan workers earning less than $2 per hour to make ChatGPT less toxic, my investigation found:





Today I woke up.

Today I woke up, with gratitude.

And I thought of you,

thank you

Thank you for all that you are

Thank you for all that you brought me.



Cosmic joker, the key revealed,

just beyond the curtain of my daze,

gasp – always there!



in this moment,

all that is behind me,


all that is with me,


and starting from now,


at every moment





A playful gift,

an inviting,

magical future,


thank you.

(after Marshall Rosenberg solstice 23.)

From now on, I choose to dream my own dreams so that I can fully taste the mystical excitement of being human.

From now on, I choose to empathically connect so that I can fully respect the unique and holy experience to be found in every moment.

From now on, I choose to have my actions flow from connection and to direct my attention where it supports this flow.

From now on, I choose to be aware of unchosen thoughts within me, and to develop more choice in each moment.

From now on, I choose to openly reveal what is alive within me, even though others may not appreciate the gift.

From now on, when wearing a title of authority, I choose to be aware that reaching frontiers before others never justifies punitive means to influence them to join me.

From now on, I choose to remember that the failure of our needs to be fulfilled results from insufficient dialogue and creativity rather than scarcity.

From now on, I choose to accompany what I carry of the worlds trauma in love.


10 Minute Read.

As an early adopter of digital things I was delighted to support Signal since its early days. I no longer think it is a viable platform, this is my departure eulogy.

I first came across Signal just after being badly stung by the Telegram snake oil fiasco. I was excited by Telegram and promoted it to my peers and friends who also care about the future of digital security. Then I found myself ashamed of having ‘called it’ before having done sufficient due diligence because shortly after my recommendation came a security analysis that exposed the weakness of Telegram encryption.

This led to me being much more cautious about Signal. But when Edward Snowden famously offered his testimony of assurance, I felt more willing to once again invite my peers to use something that might, like him, help us navigate to a future that is less based on surveillance capitalism and included Signal in my ‘eat my own dogfood’ recommended best practise.

Aside from a few glitches over the years Signal has provided me and my peers a great service. I love so much about it that it is almost perfect. I love the apps and where I can install them. I love that they take donations and that they are constantly developing features. I respect the passion and dedication of its founder, who shares that they once sat in the rain supporting the network.

But dedication and passion can only go so far, we get old and things change, even the most benevolent dictator has to entrust their opus at some stage to the next leader, who will have their own visions and goals. There are other issues with Signal too. Their server code is proprietary, which means I can’t run a server or inspect the code. They are centralised, which means that users must trust the company to stay in business and keep all its infrastructure working. And lastly Signal, as yet, still requires a phone number, with all the impact on privacy that entails.

A few indicators let me know that Signal is dying. Although almost all of my older security digital peers still use it, over the last six months many, perhaps most of my activist and not activist friends have stopped using it. I have been curious why, and there have been a range of reasons, from ‘my old phone no longer supports it’, through to ‘Telegram is more flexible’ to the usual, ‘all my contacts are on Whatsapp’.

There are only so many glitches and direction changes that users will take before they start to leave. Signal originally handled both SMS and its own encrypted messages, and for a while this was great. It was great for months until glitches started and occasionally and without any alerts I missed some important SMS’s – not fun. I loved that it did two sorts of messages because it is so much more convenient having one less app! But a change of direction to focus on privacy led to it no longer supporting SMS.

In a similar fashion to Telegram I was an early adopter of Whatsapp. Like many others I was cautious to use it to start and I wondered if it was trustworthy. As the best app by far in the game at the time, it seemed too good to be true. But when in 2009 the founders blogged, ‘We have not, we do not and we will not ever sell your personal information to anyone. Period. End of story’, my trust was sufficiently assured and I took to Whatsapp with verve. At least four years before it became mainstream I was happily using its pioneering cross platform multimedia no cost calling with delight. I put aside my preference for libre licencing because nothing else came close to its functionality and ease. Even an officer in the military shared with me how they were shocked to find it being used, albeit unofficially, on exercise to share prescient intelligence in the field! Now almost everyone uses it, even my mother!

But then in 2014 Mark Zuckerberg bought Whatsapp and my heart sank and I uninstalled. The amount of money alone should have been a bright red warning light to everyone, in my not so humble opinion. Of course the assurances that users privacy would be maintained were paper thin, so it was just a question of time before Facebook would rip into the rich information contained in platform and privacy would once again become an illusion for the user product. To be honest I was surprised that it took so long for Meta to change the terms and conditions and start their assimilation. I guess that they wanted to wait till they were absolutely dominant in the market and that most had forgotten, or didn’t prioritise privacy in the first place, the assurances made by the Whatsapp founders and Meta.

And now I have a sense that it is time for me to mourn and depreciate my use of Signal and reinvest energy on building something better. I have moved back to the joy of IRC, and like a familiar old pair of well worn slippers, its a bit ragged but familiar and very comfy. I do this despite the sense that it is a backwards step, the work to make it less clunky and limitations of using IRC. Yet IRC remains one of the few places where it is possible to meet my needs for the assurances I enjoy.

I will of course checkout XMPP yet again, but I know of few communities that use it.

I still don’t fully trust Telegram, largely for similar reasons to the reasons that I outlined for Signal. They claim ‘trust us’, it is proprietary and centralised, and it really stung to have got it ‘wrong’ in the past. Now Telegram is used by people who care about security, and, one would assume, be impacted by any lack of security, for instance I know people who buy illicit substances using it. Another such example is the range and types of activists using it even in the more repressive societies. But the main change I notice is an uptake in ‘normal’ (non techie friends) on Telegram. It offers the huge assurance of not needing a phone number, and it is now used by not only my more conspiracy/’right wing’ peers. Also I observe that it is designed with automation/botting in mind, so with the exception that I want to minimise my investment of energy in things that do not contribute to a libre future, Telegram is appealing.

For a while I ran a Matrix server, before the balance of lack of peer uptake and some personal politics contributed to me to take a break. As a user Matrix is a good match, with the single exception of its paradigm of preserving history. I want to be in a digital space where people have the freedom to be vulnerable with affect or sensitive information or just change their mind! But this is the only problem with it, on almost every other measure Matrix is awesome and over the last year I built some wonderful things with it. Most wonderfully, I built a room with both Signal and Whatsapp users in it! And in many senses it is achieving its aim of being the one app from which a user can connect to many services, e.g. Beeper. I so love choice and freedom, and my matrix server worked for me for over a year, where I was able to use less apps because I connected my Matrix to most other services. At one point I even had a room with its own email account!

I am looking forward to when Matrix implements its voice call plans! Whether or not I will build another Matrix server in the next year, I will keep exploring and deploying services that might contribute in some way towards a future founded on a digital life that better meets needs than what we have now. Till we chat again,

yours with hope and love,


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