The first component of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) model is observations. In his book “A Language of Life” Marshall Rosenberg quotes Krishnamurti, “The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” In this blog post, I will explore observations from an I-NVC* perspective. I-NVC (Integral Nonviolent Communication) is an approach that integrates diverse perspectives of human experience to enable compassionate communication and sustainable relationships.

In NVC we try to create a shared reality by making observations. In my opinion, it is impossible to perceive the world objectively. Jacques Dubochet, the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize in chemistry, once said, “The world is large, very large. My head is small, quite small. There is no way I can put the world in my head.” Since the world is so vast and complex, our minds have to simplify it for us to comprehend it. Therefore, our minds attempt to create a good enough representation of the objective world, so we can navigate through it.

What we perceive as reality is a simplification our mind creates. From this awareness, we know it is not possible to have an accurate view of the world. At the same time, the knowledge of our fragmentary abilities in making objective observations is a support for us as NVC practitioners. In other words, the awareness of our limitations to observe supports us in communicating in connection with others.

Our Inability to Perceive Reality

As Dubochet claims, the world is too complex to be fully understood. The brain’s conscious and unconscious mental functions consume a significant amount of energy. Hence, the brain needs to save and conserve energy for situations in which opportunities or threats are present. To save energy, the brain takes shortcuts. It only selects certain parts of the information flowing through our senses, compares it with past experiences, adds some probable data and draws conclusions to create a plausible representation of reality.

When the mind does not perceive any immediate dangers or opportunities, it does not waste energy to accurately process information. Instead, it takes a break and relies on previous experiences and familiar patterns. Our cognition kicks in only when there is enough novel and contradictory information present

Humans are unable to perceive reality objectively. Interpretation is an inherent and necessary part of our existence. By default, we interpret the world around us, and we are not capable of observing things objectively. Without interpretation, humans would not have evolved and managed to survive. It takes too long to explore and consciously process every possible threat. In short, interpretation is an essential aspect of our nature.

The Benefit of Gut Feelings

Our unconscious mind makes quick decisions based on our interpretation of reality. Many of our daily decisions are made without our conscious awareness. And most of the decisions we are aware of are still influenced by our unconscious mind. This ability enables us to respond quickly to many urgent and dangerous situations. However, sometimes our brain can jump to hasty and incorrect conclusions – we overreact to protect ourselves more times than necessary. For example, by mistaking a harmless dead tree branch for a dangerous snake.

If our brains did not interpret our surroundings, we would constantly have to analyse every situation. This would require infinite energy and prevent us from accomplishing anything. As a comparison, individuals who lack emotions cannot make rational decisions because feelings help us differentiate between what we like and don’t like. Without gut feelings, we would have to constantly weigh the pros and cons of every decision, taking an infinite number of parameters into account. We would not be able to function properly.

Many of us currently live in societies that are relatively safe and predictable. In our day-to-day interactions with others, we rarely encounter dangerous situations that threaten our lives and well-being. Despite this, our unconscious brain still operates in much the same way as when we were exposed to threats in the savannah. Whenever we find ourselves in stressful situations, we tend to instinctively react by either fighting, fleeing, freezing, or even fainting. Unfortunately, this innate trait of ours causes us to react and say things that do not contribute to building connections and lasting relationships.

Sensory Filters Between Us and Reality

There are several filters through which information from the external world must pass before our minds create a representation of reality. The first filter is our biological capacity to receive information. Our senses are only capable of detecting a fraction of all the information present in the environment.

One example of this is light waves that vary in length, ranging from very long to very short. Humans are only able to see a fraction of these wavelengths, known as visible light. Other animals possess the ability to see various ranges of wavelengths. For instance, some animals like butterflies, reindeer and certain birds, can see ultraviolet light. Whereas animals such as snakes, fish and frogs, can see infrared light.

Another aspect of our world is sounds. Humans can hear sounds that are within specific wavelengths. When sounds get too high or too low we are unable to hear it. As with light, other animals have different ranges. Dogs and cats can hear ultrasound, which is a higher frequency of sound. Giraffes, elephants and whales can hear low-frequency sounds, also known as infrasound. Both ultrasound and infrasound are beyond the capabilities of the human ear.

To a various degree, these limitations are shared by all humans. Our unique individual perceptions of reality are shaped by additional filters that I describe below.

Genetic Politics

The second filter that affects our perception of the world is biological and genetic differences between individuals. For instance, our political beliefs have a genetic basis. To demonstrate this point, consider a research experiment that measured eye movement. Participants were shown an image of a spider crawling over a face and their eye movements were tracked. Based on what people focused on, different conclusions could be drawn. The study revealed that individuals on the political right tended to focus more on the spider, while those on the political left tended to focus more on the eye.

Individuals with a heightened level of threat response typically hold more conservative or right-wing political beliefs. Conversely, those who are more receptive to novel experiences tend to have more liberal or left-leaning views. As a result, conservatives tend to pay more attention to the spider, while left-wing participants are more inclined to be curious about connection and focused on the eye. Due to differing biological setups, people tend to perceive reality in distinct ways, resulting in varying representations of reality.

Evolution of Disgust

The third filter that influences our ability to observe is our cultural background. For example, pandas have a highly specific diet and consume only bamboo. This limits their food choices and makes them dependent on a particular climate where bamboo can grow. They stay in their familiar territory which results in panda culture being less diverse compared to human cultures.

On the other hand, humans are omnivores, which means we can consume a wide range of food. This is a huge advantage when we need to adapt to different environments. The disadvantage is that when we are faced with novel food choices, we might ingest potentially harmful food that can be fatal. As a result, evolution has provided us with the ability to feel disgust, which helps us avoid foods that may harm us.

As humanity spread across the surface of the earth, we gained access to a wide variety of plant and animal species. This access has led to the development of diverse food cultures, each with unique norms and beliefs about what is acceptable to consume or not. These food cultures are based on avoiding foods that can be harmful to us, as well as those that are culturally unacceptable to eat for some reasons.

Individual vs. Group Identity Influence Perception

Cultural psychology research highlights another example of cultural differences. Individualistic cultures, such as those in Western societies, tend to focus on individuals and specific details. People in these cultures often define themselves by their personal interests, goals, and expressions of self. On the contrary, in collectivist cultures, prevalent in many other parts of the world, there is a stronger emphasis on the group and the surrounding context. Individuals from these cultures tend to define themselves in terms of their roles within the family and their relationships within society.

As with food, each culture has its own set of accepted and unacceptable behaviours. We are so accustomed to our own culture that we often view it as the only natural way of being and acting. We regard other cultural expressions with curiosity, surprise or even hostility. When people from different cultures view the same scenario, they tend to draw different conclusions and make different judgments based on their cultural lens. These cultural differences affect what we observe.

(It’s important to note that there is a wide range of individuals within each culture, and not every person necessarily conforms to the tendencies of their cultural norm.)

Individual Experience Shapes Our World

A fourth filter that affects how we perceive the world is our experiences and personal preferences. Our life experiences, the people we associate with, and our areas of interest all contribute to shaping our perception of the world.

For instance, I have a friend who enjoys fishing, while I prefer swimming. Whenever we are overlooking a lake, we pay attention to different things. He looks for the best spots to catch fish, while I search for the perfect spot to take a dip. If I am afraid of dogs, my mind will focus on different information than my co-worker who loves dogs. Regardless of our personal preferences and experiences, we will observe the world in different ways than other people.

Values and Worldviews

How we view the world has a significant effect on what we observe. Different scientific theories and spiritual traditions have diverse ways of viewing reality. Some perceive the world in terms of what is quantifiable and measurable, while others claim that objective reality does not exist and all we see is nothing but mental constructs. Some view people as autonomous individuals with responsibility for all their actions, while others see people as part of hierarchical social structures that cannot be held responsible for the consequences of macroeconomic and political decisions.

Regardless of our perspective of the world, we tend to notice and observe different things.

States of consciousness

Our ability to observe is also influenced by our state of consciousness. We experience the world differently when we are awake, dreaming or in meditative states. When we are tired or low on energy, we are not as attentive as usual. We can also be affected by various mind-altering substances, such as coffee, alcohol or other drugs. Our level of stress also affects what we are able to observe. When we are very stressed, our attention span decreases and we develop tunnel vision.

The Deceiving Nature of Memories

The component of observations involves creating a shared understanding of reality with other people. In doing so, we often rely on our memory of past events. The process of remembering is complex and every time we recall something, our brain adds and removes information. Despite experiencing memories as factual, they are not fixed truths. Instead, memories are constantly being shaped and reinterpreted over time. And still, we believe them to be accurate representations of what happened.

I have a vivid memory of an event that occurred in the mid-90s. My ex-girlfriend was at a party and I suspected she was going to break up with me. As I recall, we were living in separate apartments in a community. Throughout the night, I kept going outside and looking up at her window to see if the light was on. However, when I talked to her about this memory a couple of years ago, she told me that she had already moved out of the house by then. My brain had constructed a memory using bits of what actually happened, as well as adding other information that was not part of this particular event.

Our Biased Mind

In addition to all I have written, from our limitations in perceiving reality to how we construct memories, we are facing still another challenge. Our minds are biased towards confirming our version of reality, making it difficult to be objective and consider other perspectives. Despite attempts to be objective, we are likely to be biased towards our own beliefs. Research has shown that it is harder to convince someone of their misconception when they are knowledgeable. Our minds do not like to admit that we are wrong, so we tend to seek alternative explanations that support our point of view.

The Polish philosopher Leszek Kołakowski is known for “The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia”. This law states that “for any given doctrine that one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which one can support it.” He proposed this idea in the 1970s, long before the internet became publicly accessible. Since then we have been overflooded by a vast amount of information and according to statistics, the world’s data volume doubles continuously every few years. So his statement from 50 years ago has become even more valid now.


Although we have limitations in observing reality, our ability to differentiate between observation and interpretation is still a powerful source for building connections. The reality we live in exists regardless of our awareness or presence in it. Being conscious of our limitations in making objective observations and our minds’ tendency for confirmation biases, supports us in creating shared representations of reality with others. Even though we are unable to construct an accurate version of the external world, we can be conscious that our biased mind presents a personal and unique representation of it.

By not clinging to our version of reality, we open up to understanding the perspectives of those around us. Rather than arguing about who is right or wrong, we can focus on what is alive in each other. By working together to create our shared reality, we can build long-lasting and sustainable relationships, contribute to each other’s needs, and enjoy life to the fullest.

If you’re interested in learning about the basics of NVC, I recommend checking out this blog post.


* Integral Nonviolent Communication (I-NVC) is the term I use to describe the concept that combines the all-inclusive framework of Integral Theory with the connection-building approach of Nonviolent Communication (NVC). It emphasises understanding and acknowledging the interconnectedness of various perspectives and domains of knowledge while fostering empathy, curiosity, and cooperation in interactions. By integrating multiple dimensions of human experience and promoting compassionate communication, I-NVC supports personal and collective development, facilitating sustainable relationships, problem-solving and conflict resolution in diverse contexts.

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