Gandalf and Saruman Try Nonviolent Communication

A Man from Gondor offers Middle-earth’s most powerful wizards a progressive alternative to killing each other.

Chatting over a tea: Something the Elves and Sauron should have done a long time ago. Photo: Harry Cunningham

As the Dark Lord Sauron’s rising power threatens Middle-earth, Gandalf travels to Isengard to seek Saruman’s advice. The two wizards meet and a heated discussion erupts over whether to join Sauron or fight against him. When Gandalf accuses Saruman of abandoning reason for madness, Saruman’s temper boils over. In a bid to deescalate the situation, Gandalf summons a nonviolent communication facilitator, a Man from Gondor, to help both parties come to an agreement. Saruman reluctantly complies.

Facilitator: Why don’t you tell Saruman how you’re feeling, Gandalf?

Gandalf takes a long drag of Hobbit leaf. He exhales slowly, carefully shaping the smoke into a fire-breathing dragon in mid-flight. As the figure dissipates, Gandalf begins.

Gandalf: Of course. Saruman, when you told me to join forces with you, I felt shocked and sad.

Saruman rolls his eyes.

Facilitator: Saruman, try to be respectful. Can you reflect back to Gandalf what you heard him say?

Saruman: This is nonsense! A childish game!

Facilitator: Perhaps we should begin with a song to relieve the tension?

Saruman: No! No need. Gandalf, I heard that you felt shocked and sad when I asked you to join forces with me and the Dark Lord.

Facilitator: Well done. Gandalf, did Saruman understand you correctly?

Gandalf: Yes, he did.

Facilitator: And Saruman, how do you feel?

Saruman lets out a long, theatrically loud sigh and turns to Gandalf, his arms folded.

Saruman: When you said I abandoned reason for madness I was furious. More furious than a Balrog on a bad day. I also felt sad and rejected. There, I said it.

Gandalf: I heard that you felt furious, sad, and rejected. Did I get that right?

Saruman looks down at his shoes.

Saruman: Yes.

Gandalf glances toward the facilitator.

Gandalf: May I express a need and make a request to Saruman?

Facilitator: Go ahead, Gandalf.

Gandalf: Saruman, life on Middle-earth hangs in the balance. I would like to know where your loyalties lie. Would you be willing to sit down with me and come to an agreement over a hot drink?

Saruman: Perhaps…

Gandalf: And I must ask that you keep your temper and not do something reckless like, I don’t know, strike me down, spin my body around in circles, throw me up against the walls, and cast me atop your tower here in Isengard, and leave me for dead.

Saruman: Don’t be a fool. I would never do that.

Saruman winks at the facilitator.

Facilitator: Saruman! In order for us to work together successfully, you need to respect the process.

Saruman: I am!

The facilitator pulls out his harp.

Facilitator: How about we take a break with a song I’m working on? It’s called I Fear Not My Feelings.

Gandalf: Please don’t —

The facilitator takes out his harp and bursts into song.

Facilitator: I fear not my feelings in The Shire/Nor do I fear them on the heath/I fear not my feelings by the fire/I wear them as flowers on a wreath…

Twenty-seven minutes later, the facilitator opens his eyes, sets his harp down, and turns his attention to the two wizards.

Gandalf cocks his head to the side, staring at the facilitator, his expression blank.

Saruman lowers his head, one hand pinching the bridge of his nose, the other gripping his staff tightly.

Facilitator: I noticed that the two of you talked throughout much of my performance. I’d like to share that I feel hurt and sad about that.

Gandalf: We were merely commenting on your brilliant… poeticism.

Facilitator: Well I trust you found it inspiring. Shall we continue?

Saruman: Not a moment too soon. Gandalf, let us discuss this at once.

The two wizards sit and talk over tea. With the facilitator’s help, they focus on feelings, needs, and requests, and avoid accusations, moral judgment, and demands.

As dusk falls, they come to an agreement.

Gandalf: Old friend, the futility of fighting against Sauron is apparent to me now. I will join you.

Gandalf and Saruman join forces with Sauron, setting off a chain of catastrophic events that enables Sauron to seize control of Middle-earth. Gandalf, Saruman, and the Orcs remain in the Dark Lord’s service, while all other inhabitants of Middle-earth perish, including the facilitator from Gondor.