For example, I was working recently with a woman who was concerned about something her teenage daughter didn’t do. So I said, “What was it that your teenage daughter didn’t do?” And she said, “She’s lazy.” Can you hear a difference between the question I asked and the answer she gave? I asked what the daughter does and she told me what she thought the daughter was. I pointed out to this person that labeling people—diagnosing them as lazy—leads to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Any words we use that imply wrongness of others are tragic, suicidal expressions of what’s alive in us. They’re tragic and suicidal because they don’t lead to people enjoying contributing to our well-being. They provoke defensiveness and counter-aggression.

When I first learned this lesson, it was very frightening to me because I saw how much my head was filled with moralistic judgements. I’d been taught throughout my education to think in terms of moralistic judgments. As I mentioned, the reason is this theory of human beings we have been inflicted with—that human beings are basically selfish and evil. Therefore, the prevailing educational process is one of making people hate themselves for what they’ve done. The idea is, you have to get them to see how terrible they are, and then they will be penitent and change the error or their ways!

The language I was educated to speak growing up in Detroit was like that. When I was driving, if somebody was driving in a way I didn’t like and I wanted to educate them, I would open up the window and yell something like, “Idiot.” The theory is they’re supposed to feel guilty and repent, and they’re supposed to say, “I’m sorry. I see that I was wrong. I’ve seen the error of my ways.”

That’s quite a theory, but it never worked.

Marshall Rosenberg, Speak Peace in a World of Conflict
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