Warning: ‘Oh but I had to, I had no choice’

Loren Mielke
4 min readSep 17, 2017

NVC Challenge: Episode10 (45–50 minutes)

Continued from Episode 9.

There’s more…

Not only does NVC suggest avoiding the use of:

  • Criticism, blame, shame and guilt;
  • Rewards;
  • Punishment.

NVC also suggests the danger of using a language that denies choice.

Marshall refers to this language style as ‘amtssprache. It’s a German word that he started using when he read about Jerusalem war crimes trial of Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann.

At the trial, when Eichmann was asked if it was difficult for him to send thousands of people to their deaths, he replied very honestly, ‘To tell you the truth is was easy. Our language made it easy.’

Shocked, the interviewer responded, ‘What language?’

Eichmann explained, ‘My fellow Nazi officers and I we came up with a name for the language we were taught in school and instructed to especially use in our positions as offices in the military. We called this language amtssprache.’

Translated this means official language, Eichmann was referring to a language of bureaucracy.

The interviewer asked for examples.

Eichmann elaborated, ‘It’s a language where you deny responsibility for your actions. So when you use a language like this, when you don’t feel responsible, you don’t feel so bad when you send people to their deaths. For example, if someone asked you why you did it, you would reply,

‘I had to, I had no choice.’

If people would question further, ‘ What do you mean you had no choice?’, you would reply,

‘Superiors orders, company policy, it’s the law.’

NVC teaches a language of choice.

NVC is designed to help us remain conscious of choice in every moment. To nurture the belief that we are responsible for each action we choose to take, even those we don’t necessarily like doing. That there is nothing we do that we haven’t chosen to do.

This idea is often not well received!

Marshall shared a story to clarify.

He was working with a group of teachers and parents in a US city. When he suggested that words like, ‘have to, must, should, can’t’ are all dangerous*, an attending mom got very upset.

*Marshall’s definition of dangerous words being those that turn out people who don’t feel responsible for their actions.

This particular mom gave passionate voice to her objection, ‘But there are some things you HAVE to do, that you have NO CHOICE over! There are things that I do every day that I HAVE to do, that I hate to do, and it is our job as parents and teachers to see that our children do what they HAVE to do.’

Marshall asked her to share an example of something she does that she feels she has no choice over.

After reflecting for a moment she said, ‘There so many things! But OK here’s one, when I go home this evening I have to cook, I hate to cook, I hate it with a passion, but I have to do it, and I’ve done it every day for 20 years, even when I’m sick. There are just some things that you just have to do!’

Marshall shared how sad he was to hear of anyone doing something, even one time, from a thinking that denies choice. He hoped that if he was able to make clear the value of NVC, that through practical application this mom would see the many options available to her in her life.

This particular mom was a fast willing student and started her NVC application that very evening when she arrived home, announcing to her family that she no longer wanted to cook.

About three weeks later, Marshall received feedback from her family.

Personal insights from Loren: I found it deeply significant just how massive the impact of a language style can be, comparing the effect of a language that denies responsibility to one that focuses on conscious choice. And how this distinction in language style is to profound, yet this level of understanding is not part and parcel of the school curriculum of language education, yet so fundamental to living a full, engaged, responsible and meaningful life.

To be continued here Episode 11.

This is the online training program I’m listening to as I journey through this challenge:



Loren Mielke

Passionate about living consciously, connecting and contributing meaningfully