Durangoan Rachel Turiel said her children don’t get allowance. She doesn’t punish them when they do something to upset her or others, and she doesn’t reward them when they do something she thinks they should be proud of.
There’s something insulting about using positive and negative reinforcement to change or encourage behavior, Turiel said, and it doesn’t actually work. Studies have found that rewards or punishments do motivate people, but once extrinsic factors are removed, people aren’t motivated any more, Turiel said. So she tried a different approach.
“I don’t want my kids or anybody to live a life that is motivated by what they’re going to get. I want all of us to feel how good it feels to give, to contribute,” Turiel said. “So yeah, it was sort of like a family experiment.”
The family experiment that began when her children were toddlers – they’re teenagers now – has grown into a community effort to encourage people in Southwest Colorado to listen to each other, collaborate and peruse solutions to systemic problems that are most beneficial to everybody, Turiel said.
And she’s been recognized for that effort: The Durango Women’s Resource Center awarded Turiel with the 2019 Extraordinary Woman Award for her work in the community.
Turiel is working to educate the community about nonviolent communication. But it’s more than the name suggests, she said. Nonviolent communication is all about resolving conflict by listening to each other, recognizing the shared human needs that lead to certain behaviors and coming up with solutions that address the most shared needs, Turiel said.
It’s a radical thought, and one that requires a shift of perspective that took Turiel months to integrate into her own life, she said. Turiel said she began to realize the effectiveness of nonviolent communication first in her own life – she had to shift her thinking to try to understand why people acted a certain way, what needs in their lives were they trying to fulfill with such behavior and how can those needs be met in a different way that benefits the most people.
“It actually includes seeing people as basically good,” Turiel said.
She saw a particular need for collaboration after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Turiel said some people in America may feel their rights to equality, safety and choice were threatened by the results of the election. So she decided to do something about it – she and a friend organized a daylong seminar in the Smiley Building offering classes on how to support other people’s need for equality, safety and choice.
Part of that seminar included a free class in nonviolent communication, taught by Turiel. She received lot of positive feedback from those she taught and decided to offer a few more free classes. At her last free session, one student told her she’s interested in digging a bit deeper into the concept, so Turiel’s nonviolent communication classes began.
Turiel began training community members in her home. She had a mailing list from previous free classes she offered and began writing people about her five-session curriculum in nonviolent communication. And, as things happen in a small town, word began to spread.
Organizations started reaching out to her. First was La Plata Youth Services. Then Community Connections called. Ska Brewery Co. managers wanted nonviolent communication training, and so did Yoga Durango. Turiel did trainings with all of them, she said.
Turiel said she encourages people to slow down and address all perspectives before moving forward with a solution. It takes more time than an authority figure deciding what to do about a conflict, but the solution in the end will be more effective at addressing all sides of a problem, therefore making the decision more efficient.
“I think that if we committed to spending the time to hearing each other and working on solutions that attend to the most needs, the trust that would be built from that is a resource that is priceless,” Turiel said.
All this teaching has made Turiel more compassionate, she said. She has become more acutely aware of how people’s behaviors trace to a need that isn’t being fulfilled – many people aren’t skilled at understanding how their own needs impact their behavior, and therefore have trouble recognizing the needs associated with other people’s behavior.
“It’s shown me so clearly how we have so many years of schooling and we do not get trained on how to really hear each other,” Turiel said. “We communicate all kinds of things in our attempt to say what’s important, but we don’t get to the heart of what’s true for us, so we’re not really skilled at getting to the heart of what’s true for other people.”