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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Southwest Floridians Working on Relational Listening and Unity

Nov 30, 2017 03:36PM ● By Linda Sechrist

Sacred Center of the Circle (table)

A need for relational health and unity as a path to personal and planetary peace is leading some local residents to address the challenge of divided worldviews that will continue to widen until steps are taken to build bridges and extend hands across the aisle. From classes on non-violent communication, a community café coalition, and America Grows Wings, Southwest Florida communities are being given opportunities to create safe spaces where strangers with differing opinions can gather, learn to use non-confrontational and less provocative language, and engage in conversations regarding issues that range from concerns around the aftermath of Hurricane Irma to social justice, clean water, pollution, fracking, climate reality and more.

Non-Violent Communication

Christina Bowman, a licensed Unity teacher, recognized that the time was ripe for presenting transformative material based on Marshall B. Rosenberg’s book, Non-Violent Communication: A Language of Life. “I was excited to get an invitation from Jim Toth to co-facilitate the class in compassionate communications at Unity of Fort Myers. “I’m so grateful that he asked for my help, because what I’ve learned in only two sessions has not only been beyond what I expected, but also what will continue to play a significant role in my life. Marshall’s emphasis on observation, evaluation and resisting the urge to add judgmental comments is causing everyone in the group to think before they speak and to consider the words they choose. While I’m just starting this journey, Jim is seasoned,” advises Bowman.

The principles of non-violent communication (NVC) guide us to connect with everyone in a way that allows our natural compassion to flourish. NVC begins by assuming that we are all compassionate by nature. Violent actions—whether verbal or physical—are learned behaviors taught and supported by the prevailing culture. These behaviors can be unlearned. NVC also assumes that we all share the same basic human needs and that each of our actions are a strategy to meet one or more of these needs.

Toth, a retired electronics engineer and resident of Fort Myers, stumbled upon Rosenberg’s book while he was running his wellness organization in Cleveland, Ohio. “I was impressed with the book and did a successful discussion group with it. Fifteen years later, while co-facilitating a men’s group at Unity, we were looking for a topic and I pulled out the book. By then, there was an abundance of YouTube videos of Marshall’s teaching materials, so I’ve integrated video clips with our discussions. The result is a far deeper understanding of the process for creating heart connections with others,” advises Toth.

“From childhood to adulthood and beyond, we learn dysfunctional patterns of speech. There are bad examples everywhere of the most popular, ‘the blame game’, simply because we’ve learned to fault others for how we feel. So much is inconsiderate, ego-centered expression that makes others feel attacked, wrong, uncomfortable and upset. This class is allowing participants to learn to take responsibility for their feelings and that what they say can be expressed in a more compassionate, non-violent way. People who practice NVC have experienced greater authenticity in their communication, increased understanding, deepening connections and the resolution of conflicts,” says Toth, who invites anyone interested to experience a session after calling for meeting dates and times.

Emotional Hijacking

Peg Walsh, a couples therapist who practices the Gottman Method in Bonita Springs and Fort Myers, explains the inner emotional storm that blaming causes. “When individuals are educated about the physical aspects of their feelings, which result from the ‘emotional hijacking of their rational brain’, they begin to recognize when they flood with a mix of powerful emotions that are the result of their perceptions being dangerously alarmed. The sympathetic nervous system takes over and starts to prepare for self-protection—‘fight, flight or freeze’. The mind is in overdrive and they are listening only for negativity, danger and blame.

“You lose touch with what is actually happening. You feel defensive and often can’t stop yourself from saying mean things. Defensiveness happens when you feel criticized and held in contempt by someone who uses mocking, eye rolling, belittling, mean humor or disparagement. This downward spiral sucks you in,” advises Walsh.

To avoid or abort emotional hijacking when it begins Walsh recommends eliminating criticism and making complaints from an “I” position, rather leading with, “The problem is you.”

“Probably the most important skill is the ability to recognize emotional hijacking in yourself or another,” notes Walsh.

Whenever Lisa Gruenloh, founder and president of Purpose Journey, Inc., in Naples, describes emotional hijacking during a consulting or training session, she notices the same response. “People smile in recognition that it’s happened to them,” advises the certified emotional and social intelligence coach, who offers presentations and workshops on cultivating understanding, civility and collaborative problem-solving competencies through her Seeing Purple ( initiative.

Gruenloh, a proponent of emotional intelligence and individual self-awareness in the context of group dynamics, notes that while emotional competency can be learned and cultivated, an individual must have the awareness that there is something that needs to change, as well as the will and tools to cultivate the change. “Lack of personal accountability can be a huge barrier, because it’s difficult to look at ourselves and our impact honestly and objectively. Start with asking yourself, ‘Am I playing a role in the unhealthy conflict that seems to be all around me,’” she says.

Recognize that the opinions and values of others are based upon their unique life experience, which is very different than our worldview, which is the lens through which we interpret everything. “If we don’t understand that each of us has one or that it’s different and creates conflict, then it’s hard to see other points of view, because we think our view is ‘right’. The way to make progress in personal or business relationships, as well as in public policy and lawmaking, is to understand, appreciate and leverage differing viewpoints. This is a more sophisticated way of perceiving the world than many of us are accustomed to,” says Gruenloh, who also teaches a Purpose Journey workshop through the Blue Zones Project.

No Labels

Gruenloh is involved with No Labels as the citizen leader for the state of Florida. The Washington-based bipartisan citizens’ movement has been working for seven years to build bridges across the congressional aisle. “From a citizen’s perspective, we encourage members of congress to work in bipartisan fashion toward effective problem solving. No Labels (, in which anyone can participate, encourages elected officials to do the jobs they were elected to and work together for the health of democracy, rather than driving a personal partisan agenda,” says Gruenloh.

Community Café Coalition Circle Conversations

The Community Café Coalition (CCC) provides Collier and Lee county citizens a safe place for bipartisan discourse regarding how to create healthy and resilient communities. Citizens of all ages are invited to gather in a circle conversation that uses a simple process. Similar to the World Café, it helps shift participants from small talk to meaningful results, and often leads to heartfelt connections that continue beyond café gatherings. “In conversations about what we want to have happen, every voice is listened to,” says Ann Smith, who helped to facilitate circle conversations at the November gathering. Citizens ranging in age from 20 to 70 focused conversations on their concerns for the environment that were related to the denial of climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. “A question that was frequently posed—are we just going to be bystanders or are we going to be proactive?” advises Smith, who notes that the next café conversation on December 7 will be held at Hummingbird Energy Healing Arts, in Bonita Springs.

A Naples resident who attended the CCC gathering, Dianne Rhodes speaks locally on rights for the next generations that deserve to live on a healthy planet. She made several meaningful connections with individuals interested in learning more about the Children’s Trust and moving from conversation to local actions, which address concerns. “In circle conversations, we not only make heartfelt connections, we become better informed and decide to move forward to organize grassroots efforts around what we can do to be the change we want to see, and educate others on non-violent communication and circle principles that they can use to more effectively speak and communicate with others about the things that are most important to all of us,” explains Rhodes.

America Grows Wings, in Love We Trust. For more information call 239-269-2221 or email [email protected].

Peg Walsh, 9990 Coconut Rd., Bonita Springs. Steven Machlin, M.D., 6820 Porto Fino Circle, Ste. 1, Ft. Myers. For appointments call 718-208-6986 or email [email protected].

Principles for Compassionate Communication, Unity of Ft. Myers, 11120 Ranchette Rd., Ft. Myers. For dates and times, call 278-1511 or visit

Lisa Gruenloh, 239-207-4572.

Hummingbird Energy Healing Arts, 27750 Old 41 Rd., (next to Shangri-La Springs), Bonita Springs. RSVP to [email protected] for 7 to 9 p.m., Dec. 7, Community Café Coalition conversation.

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