Spiritual Building Block: OFNR


Spiritual Building Block: OFNR


Alberta street. A sunny, late summer afternoon. Portlandia boutiques. A sticker shop. A used vinyl shop. A tea and kombucha shop.

I find a spot for our 2003 Odyssey and we start walking. I quickly turn back from Jane and the kids to close the stuck, driver’s-side, now non-automatic minivan door.

By the time we reached Collage, our family’s favorite arts and crafts shop, I was two paces behind.

And here’s the thing: Jane didn’t hold the store’s door after she and the kids went in.

It closed before I could reach it.

She didn’t even turn.

I thought, but did not say, “What the hell, lady? Selfish much? Remember me?”


In each of my classrooms when I taught high school, on either side of the board, I posted two cut-out paper figures.

I wrote about this in 2016. https://oldrotb.wpengine.com/2016/07/18/discerning-and-judging/

The letter D was written on one, and the letter J was written on the other.  These two little paper-doll cutouts silently observed the class until, one day, invariably, someone would ask about them.

“Hey, Mr. Rabbi, what’s with the D and the J?”

“Oh, I haven’t told you about discernment and judgment?”

“No, you haven’t.”

“Ah, discernment and judgment; let me explain…it’s one of my favorite wisdom biscuits.”

Discernment is what you notice, what you sense, what you see, what you hear, what you feel. J udgment is your opinion of what you sensed.

With a few at-bats, most people are able to identify the difference between the two.

The trick is to slow down and see if you can’t get a little extra space between your discernment and judgment. Because the more space you have, the less likely you are to be tempted to believe the judgment as fact.

I’m quite good at not believing everything I think.

In the case of Jane and the door, I discerned both parts. I discerned the door closing before I got to it, and I discerned my judgment, my righteous indignation toward Jane for ignoring me.

Hooray for not acting out. But, I was missing somethings.

OFNR > D + J

Marshall Rosenberg, of non-violient communication fame, has something similar, but better than my D + J.

He offers a four-part process: O, F, N, R.   https://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/pdf_files/4part_nvc_process.pdf

O and F replace my D and J.

O stands for observation.
F stands for feeling.

Observation = Discernment
Feeling = Judgment

The N and the R are brilliant.

N = need
R = response

It’s not just about observing and holding back from lashing out in judgment; it’s also about telling the other person. And, doing so properly.


Imagine you are waiting for someone to show up to an appointment–and they have cancelled twice previously.

While you sit there waiting, don’t check your phone.
Write out the letters O, F, N, R.

I’m serious about this. If you are going to take the time to READ this newsletter, make a mental commitment to trying this exercise.




Here is a possible example:
O = I notice the time for the meeting has passed.
F = I feel annoyed.
N = I need/want to feel partnered, valued.
R = “I hope you are all right. I would like to talk about how we can best work together.”


Let me look back on how I might have done OFNR with Jane and the door.

Because I did the first two only.
If I had been able to slow it down, I might have been able to see it like this:

O = She is not holding the door open for me. That is the observation. No judgment. Just a fact.
F = I don’t feel taken care of, I don’t feel loved, I don’t feel important. I feel slighted. She doesn’t care about me. These are all feelings. Not true. Not false. Just feelings.
N = I need to feel cared for.
R = I respond, “Hey, Jane, it would mean something to me if you held the door for me in the future”


OFNR, like virtures, takes practice.

Please try this today.
And, if you’d like, let me know how it went.

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