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Empathy Tent A Hit At Saturday Market

On June 20, about 16 people visited the new “empathy tent” at Saturday Market for a simple reason: to be heard. In honor of the late Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication, Eugene resident Mark Roberts set up the tent so that people could be heard in a nonjudgmental way and experience relief from their troubles. 

“I had the idea for years,” Roberts says, though he says the specific idea for an empathy tent was from another person who attended a memorial for Rosenberg. 

The ages of the tent’s visitors ranged from as young as 12 to people in their 60s. Some of the sessions were very brief, while others lasted as long as 40 minutes. People came to the tent for a variety of reasons, Roberts says. Some wanted to talk about their family troubles or the community, and some just wanted to vent about the state of the country.

Roberts is president of Lane Independent Living Alliance, an organization that assists those with disabilities living in Lane County. He defines empathy as “the quality of being with another person” and notes that it is possible to be empathic with one’s self. 

Being with another person is exactly what Roberts and his small team of listeners accomplished at Saturday Market. “I was a little nervous, but the first person was brought in quickly,” Roberts says, adding that he wasn’t sure what to expect but that Saturday’s turnout was “beyond my expectations.”

The February death of Marshall Rosenberg left a void in the local community, Roberts says. Although not an Oregonian, Rosenberg’s influence was felt strongly in Eugene, and he traveled here often. At a local memorial for him, the mourners broke into small groups, started telling Rosenberg stories and tried to figure out a way to help keep the spirit of Rosenberg’s work alive. From this the idea evolved the empathy tent at Saturday Market.

Empathy between individuals is a two-way street, Roberts says. “All of our listeners have to be grounded and ready to listen. You can’t fake a quality of presence,” he adds. You can’t be empathic effectively “if you’re riled up about the state of affairs.”

The space for the empathy tent was allocated free of charge by Saturday Market due to sponsorship by the nonprofit Oregon Network for Compassionate Communication. The tent was initially a one-time event, but the it was so successful that Roberts has secured financial backing to cover whatever fees are necessary to keep the tent going on a weekly or monthly basis. Roberts says he feels the tent constitutes a community service and will do “whatever it takes to keep it open.”

Learn more about Marshall Rosenberg and Nonviolent Communication at wkly.ws/21f.