Tributes to Marshall have been pouring out in the weeks since his death in February. So many people, in addition to mourning our huge loss, are expressing their deep gratitude for the incredible gift Marshall gave us all in his teaching, living and modeling of Nonviolent Communication. I am one of them.
If it weren’t for Marshall there would be no Freedom Project today. In 1998 I invited Marshall to Twin Rivers, the men’s prison in Monroe where I was facilitating Alternatives to Violence workshops and asked him to conduct a one-day workshop for the men. They loved it! Rusty Thomas went up to Lucy Leu, who had come with us, and exclaimed, “You must come back!” And that’s how Lucy and a few others began facilitating NVC workshops at the prison. In the process Lucy and Rusty came up with the idea of Freedom Project. Within a few years a core team had formed and an organization All of us at Freedom Project owe him a big debt of gratitude for that gift and its promise. Thank you, Marshall! You’ve made this world a better place.
When I first met Marshall in 1998 he was traveling on an insane schedule. After a couple of days conducting nonstop workshops in Seattle, for example, he would be flying to Europe to visit 12 countries in 14 days. He would leave as abruptly as he came, a car waiting outside the workshop to whisk him off to the airport and to his next destination.
It was between and after workshops that he would answer our questions on how to begin a prison program. I remember once sitting behind him in the car as we were driving him to his hotel at midnight and I was literally holding his head up so he would stay awake, and he was still answering our questions with depth and wisdom.
Marshall had a fondness for working in prisons. He went twice to the prison in Monroe and made instant connections with the inmates. I don’t think it was just because of the warmth of his heart, his endearing guitar strumming, or his message of hope.
His chiseled face, the stubborn cowlick at the back of his full head of hair, and his lumberjack shirts compelled some inmates to say, “Hey, he looks like one of us!” Because of his tight travel schedule, Marshall rarely stayed long enough to fully hear and celebrate the difference Nonviolent Communication was making in the prisoners’ lives. However, he loved Seattle and the Freedom Project, and whenever he returned he met privately with the Freedom Project community. He would be so moved by the returnees’ stories that he would cry from the depth of his belly. He could not contain the celebration he felt. I once remember him so inspired by a returnee that he cried out through tears, “I would walk 500 miles just to hear your story.”
Then he looked over to Freedom Project founder Lucy Leu and shouted, “We are doing it! We are doing it!”
Now, so many years later, I am proud to say that Freedom Project is still doing it. Thank you, Marshall Rosenberg, for your vision and showing us the way. We will carry the torch, along with thousands around the globe who share in your dream of a world that works for everyone.
When I left my first NVC workshop in 1999, I took away a deep longing to experience more of the way Lucy Leu shared NVC in that Monroe prison. Lucy possessed an enormous capacity to just be with us and to see each of us as beautiful human beings. That absence of judgment and the acceptance of our intrinsic humanness came through loud and strong. It was a way of being with other people that I had never previously experienced.
Throughout my years of learning NVC, Marshall was “the guy who wrote the book” – a kind of mythical person. As understanding grew, I slowly came to appreciate the enormous gift that man I’d never met had given me. As my learning deepened, I became increasingly aware of the place Marshall points us toward: the consciousness of connection that all human beings share in a web that holds
After being released from prison in February 2001 I was able to work directly with people Marshall had trained: Lucy Leu, Janice Eng, and other founders of Freedom Project. Later that year, when Marshall came to Seattle, I finally met “the man who wrote the book.” Along with Rusty Thomas and other returnees, I repeatedly participated in everything Marshall offered. Each time Marshall returned in the early 2000s he offered his time and energy, sometimes over several days, to work directly with the Freedom Project core team.
Marshall’s gift to the world and to my life has been immeasurable. He showed me a path to having a life I never imagined possible. A life full of friendship, community, love, kindness, learning, and all the other things humans value in their heart. While my spiritual practice opened my heart and my awareness, it was Marshall’s opening and illuminating that path to connection that finally led to my learning how to live fully and authentically. I can live in harmony with myself and others, the way my heart yearns to manifest itself in our world.