Choosing Partnership over Domination

Guest blog by Shona Cameron, Certified Trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication.


I have recently revisited the work of Riane Esler and her view of humanity as being divided into two lenses through which we can view the world:

  1. Partnership: Life is interconnected and is a web of relatedness.
  2. Domination: Life is a pile with some people the top and the aim in life is to overpower them and reach the top.

If you believe that the world is there to be conquered and that your job is to be the best — to come out on top — this will permeate how you think about yourself, how you work and live with others.

I suggest that a misreading of Darwin has amplified this world view; his survival of the fittest theory being interpreted as a call for us humans to see the world as a battle and the earth as our battlefield.

It is no surprise that at this moment in time, I find myself reflecting on this again… it seems that we are caught right in the middle of a battle between these different world views at present or that something is amplifying in this long tussle.

I see Domination Systems and Partnership Systems at every level of being. I have grown up in Domination Systems and even the way I am with myself can be a Domination. For example, I favor my thinking and brain over the rest of my body at times and don’t listen to my body’s signs that I need rest, water or not to have that bar of chocolate — I can override or dominate the natural signs of my body and push on.

It will come as no surprise that as an NVC trainer, I have made it my life’s work to explore and live in the Partnership System. Ever since I met Marshall Rosenberg in 2004, I have taken the work of Nonviolent Communication and applied it as best I can in my daily life — personally and professionally as a psychologist and now I see NVC as the most valuable tool I have to disrupt the Domination System.

Shona Cameron (Scotland), the author of this post, is a Certified Trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

If I truly want to disrupt, then my work is to strengthen the Partnership System and weaken Domination Systems at every opportunity. That includes my inner work and reclaiming a natural way of being which is in tune with the flow of life.

If I am not careful, I very quickly and subtly fall into default patterns of Domination… because by definition they dominate! If I am stressed, tired, or in need of an empathic ear myself — maybe my little brain is full of my own stuff — I will slip into Domination.

When the world appears harsh and I have a story that it is crazy out there…. This is when I may need to slow down and check inside. Like the mediation teachers say: When I have time, I meditate for 20 minutes a day and when I don’t have time, I meditate for 40 minutes. It’s time to double our efforts to practice.

One subtlety I want to pay even closer attention to and crucially: If I have enemy images of the entire idea of the Domination System, as in:

  • “It’s wrong.”
  • “We should live differently.”
  • “Everyone should see that it’s better to be in the Partnership System…”

…then I am myself in the Domination patterns.

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher, so I’ll say it again in a different way: I must do the inner work to ensure I am not ‘pushing’ the Partnership System and suggesting in any way it is better than the Domination System. “MY WAY IS BEST!” can and will creep in.

For example, I see plenty of criticism of right-wing politicians at the moment and a maelstrom of back-and-forth. My heart sinks at any progressive thinker who claims to want to build a world based on partnership, equality and care for all, who then diagnoses a right-wing politician as a narcissist… seemingly blind to the contradiction and the slip into a language which disconnects. Those whose politics sit on the right are then justified to come back and say “Hold on… you claim to be kind and caring, yet you are calling me names…!!??

It’s important then to keep practicing; to continue to choose Partnership: how I bank, where I shop, and the food I chose to buy, for example. It is crucial for me to remember — and I urge us all to remember — that we are not the judge of how large or small an action is. I am just beginning to explore fractals and am fascinated by how each of us, with our own view, our own actions can be part of a whole.

All I can do is get up each morning and hold an intention, letting go of any destination; this is warrior work. It requires discipline and training. No matter how many times the Domination Patterns in me think “I’ve got it! Now – I’ve understood how to do this thing called Nonviolent Communication (NVC)”… here comes another opportunity to show me how much I have to learn. For example, someone else will come into my life who I am challenged to dig even deeper within myself in order to build a connection.

If you practice NVC, one thing you can choose is to offer one more empathic response in your family, in a board meeting, on the bus… whenever you have the chance. I see empathy as a disruptor of the Domination System… we can all find someplace to find the power to act. I believe if we can do one thing differently something different will happen.

Some things to do

Here are some things that I do to support myself in living partnership in my own life:

  1. Journal
  2. Do a role play
  3. Attend a retreat
  4. Listen to my Domination Patterns inside.
  5. Take great care of myself
  6. Call on community: spend time with others who are also digging deep and want to do things differently.
  7. Spend time with others who have an opposing world view from you (although I advise you to start small here and build up)
Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash

And remember, if we don’t choose the Partnership Pattern, the Dominant Pattern will choose us. It’s embedded in our institutions, justice system, school system, and political system to name just a few, and it takes a force of nature to not fall back into these patterns.


The decision to be a disruptor of the Domination Pattern and a commitment to build partnership within ourselves and between each other and our planet needs to be a wholehearted warrior-like stance.

These are not the times for half-heartedly going to the gym; this is the time for full immersion in a training program!

7 thoughts on “Choosing Partnership over Domination

  1. How about high regard for make stereotypical values? Or simply, so much less divisive, so much more unifying: high regard for stereotypical values. Period. For all humans.

  2. Wow. There’s a lot here. And, yes, I, too, have to watch that I don’t “push” partnership thinking. I can “go bigger“ than that.

  3. Dear Dian,
    I am your participant in the Coaching program “let’s work collaboratively”. I am reading articles on your page and I find them are helpful. May I translate them into Vietnamese so that I can promote NVC in our local languages. I will credit the author and add the reference link.

  4. Thank you for taking time to read and reflect with me. I wrote this piece pre COVID-19 times and am struck as I read again how much I am longing for the language we use around these Pandemic times to shift from Domination and especially war like references… hearing the politicians at times just now – my body goes into alert… I’m noticing a reach for comfort in the form of food and ‘switching’ off.

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