The third part of love is to nurture holistically. The reason why this part comes after the explanation of how to be humble is because we use our humility to find ways to nurture holistically. Hopefully we come to this part of love empty of illusions so we can use our strengths to love holistically. So let’s look at what it means to nurture holistically.
Nurturing holistically is another way of saying we meet the needs of our body, mind, spirit, and soul all together at once. If we are empty coming into nurturing, then how do we find ways to nurture and how do we do it holistically?
The answer to the first part of these questions comes to us by way of the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg. His book, Nonviolent Communication, outlines the steps of meeting needs, or nurturing holistically. The rest of this chapter will be a summary of Marshall’s teaching, but rewritten in my own words. The summary of these steps I am about to give is in no way a substitute for reading Mr. Rosenberg’s book. I highly recommend that you read it for yourself or listen to the audiobook by the same title.
Rosenberg wrote, “Everything we do is in service of our needs. When this one concept is applied to our view of others, we’ll see that we have no real enemies, that what others do to us is the best possible thing they know to do to get their needs met.” To this I would add that the beginning of empathy, the state of balance I mentioned earlier, is to see a human being for whom he or she is, despite the person’s gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Do not project your own ideology, judgment, or misconceptions onto them. Just see them as a human being. They are a gift that is full of worth. For some of us we not only need to realize this for others, but also for ourselves. Once we can do this, we can take a step back, slow down and follow the teachings of Marshall Rosenberg.
Rosenberg teaches about compassion and the steps of communicating compassionately. Compassion is the eyes and ears of love. It is the willingness to see and hear others and ourselves as people with feelings and needs. Compassion is the tool that keeps us connected to others and ourselves in an empathetic way. Empathy is using our compassionate eyes and ears to see and hear the needs behind every emotion. We give and receive empathy so we can then concentrate on nurturing one another. Without it we see and hear in a sympathetic, apathetic, or judgmental way by giving assurances or labeling those we think are deserving of them. This is done because of fear. We fear that our needs will not be met. With fear, no nurturing can take place because love is absent. However when love is present compassion can happen, empathy is used and nurturing begins.
Many times we act in un-compassionate ways because we don’t know any other way to act. Fear sets in and we just react. We are doing the best we can with what has been given to us. It seems that most of us have been observers of blame, judgment, labeling, apathy and sympathy. We in turn just repeat what we have observed because we know no other way. However, instead of placing blame on others or ourselves, we now know an alternative way. This way is the way of compassion.
In following the way of compassion we pay attention to the emotions of others and ourselves. The reason being is that behind every emotion there is a need that is either met or unmet. If a person’s need is unmet then we have to find a way to nurture that person’s need. We should do this keeping our own needs in mind. If the need goes on to be unmet, the emotion can grow into acts of unkindness or violence, either to others or us. If we think back to the love spectrum from earlier, then this sounds familiar, right?
These usually translate into acts of self-abuse, permitting the abuse, or being an abuser. If in trying to meet our needs, we use blame, judgment, sympathy or labels, then we are not going to get our needs truly met. This only alienates us from the people we love. They may distance themselves from us, get defensive, or out of guilt comply with our demands. This only creates resentment. However, if we try to meet our needs by connecting with their feelings and needs, and give that person a chance to connect with us, then blame, judgments, and labels no longer are tools for us to use. We will find that those things never really worked for us in the first place. Using compassion truly meets our needs. This is how it works.
Pay attention and observe. That is the first step of compassion. We pay attention and observe because we do not know. Remember we came here empty of answers and solutions. When we assume we know something that is when we judge, blame, label, or sympathize. We do not know what is happening when we get cut off in traffic, or our spouse wants us to stay home tonight, or our child is crying because a classmate made fun of her. When we assume that we know, then the person that cut us off in traffic is a jerk, our spouse is needy, and we assure our daughter that even if a classmate made fun of her, everything is fine because we still love her. However, what might really be happening is something completely different. The person that cut us off in traffic may be rushing to the emergency room, our spouse may have a surprise planned for us, and our daughter may just need us to connect with her feelings and needs. We just do not know and that is why we observe.
If we want to avoid assumptions then we need to observe and state only facts, which are free from our interpretations or evaluations. For example, “That person drove right in front of me.” “My spouse says she/he wants me home tonight.” “My daughter said that someone made fun of her.” These are the facts. We observed them as they happened. However, these next examples sound more familiar to us. “That retard doesn’t know how to drive!” “You never let me do what I want.” “Oh honey, I am sure that they didn’t mean it.” This is how we respond when we interpret or evaluate what we have observed. It distances us from others and ourselves. It does not lead us to getting our needs met, nor does it help us connect with the needs of others. It keeps us from trying to find ways to nurture. When we can observe and pay attention without evaluating or interpreting, then we can connect to the feelings involved.
Feelings are emotions and sometimes states of being that are directly related to our needs being met or unmet. Men are not used to sharing their feelings. Even women, who pride themselves for being open with their feelings, may not be really sharing feelings at all. I think there is some confusion about what feelings are. When most of us think that we are sharing our feelings we are actually sharing our perceptions or what we think. This reveals nothing about the emotions we want people to connect with. In fact sharing our perceptions instead of emotions are usually met with the sharing of more perceptions. The conversation stays at the surface and does not get to the heart of the matter. If the conversation is heated, then a perception battle will occur. It is all very alienating and we are left wondering why that person did not understand us. In order to connect at a deeper level we must learn to share our feelings.
I will say it again. Feelings are emotions and states of being. They are communicated by saying, “I feel” or “I am” and then state the emotion or state of being. For example, “I feel sad” or “I am too warm”. It is important that we state the emotion right after “I feel” or “I am.” If we do not do this, then we are stating our perceptions. For example, statements that start with, “I feel like,” “I feel that,” “I feel as if,” or “I feel I” are statements that are followed with our perceptions. These statements are what we think is going on and are usually answered with more perceptions. “I feel like you never listen to me,” will be met with, “Of course I listen to you. You just don’t think I do.” No connection to what is really going on happens. It is equally important to not use words after “I feel” that state our perceptions, like, “I feel betrayed,” or “I feel unwanted.” These statements will also be answered with perceptions. What we really want is the connection and understanding that comes from empathy. Sharing our feelings allows others to understand what is going on inside of us, that is that we have a need met or unmet.
Emotions and states of being are connected to needs. If we only state our feelings, then we are only giving half of what is needed to connect. If we, however, state both our feelings and needs, then the full story is told. Needs are another thing that we rarely share because we think we will sound selfish or needy if we do. However, we are only selfish if we meet our needs at the expense of others. Needs are important. If ignored, our true self and the true selves of others will not be nurtured. When we suppress our needs for the sake of others, then they win, we lose, and we will have nothing left to give. We might become resentful, give guilt trips, and find ways to win so that others lose. Then we end up neglecting the needs of others. All of these options are alienating. Finding win/win solutions is the only way to get our needs met and helps us avoid any of these alienating options.
In order to state our needs we need to connect it to our feelings. We do this by saying, “I feel or I am… because I need or I want or I was needing,” then we state our need. Using one of the previous examples would sound something like this, “When that person drove right in front of me I got irritated because I was needing safety.” It is important that we stay away from words that could be perceived as an attack or blame.
Needs are personal, they live inside us, and should not to be projected onto others. If we say, “I need that person to learn how to drive,” then we are implying blame or an attack. It may be true, but if we want to connect and be understood, we need to stick with the personal need. In this case, the need is safety. The need of safety is the connection and understanding that we seek and now that we know this we can make a request to meet that need.
The final component of compassion is to make a request. When we have made an observation and connected it with our feelings and needs, then we are ready to make a request. We request what we would like and stay away from requesting what we would not like. I can’t emphasize this enough. If we focus on what we don’t want, we will still get it. We need to stay focused only on what we do want. We need to be as clear and concise as possible so that there is little confusion.
Be prepared to rethink and/or rephrase your request. We want the person we are asking to be able to say no without guilt. It is important that they do not hear a demand. Instead, we want them to hear that they have a choice. Make your request very specific. Consider their reason for complying or not complying with our request. Are they doing it out of obedience and/or guilt, or are they doing it because they want to? Do they see the value in our request? If they say no to the request, we can ask if they would be willing to find a solution that meets both of our needs. The important thing is that we stay connected and avoid anything that will cut off that connection, especially after we made a great effort to connect in the first place.
In order to stay connected, we should make our request by asking, “Would you be willing…?”, and then state exactly what it is we would like them to do. Take the previous example of the spouse wanting their significant other to stay home. Simply making the request, “Would you be willing to spend more time with me?” is not specific enough to get their needs met. We have to pay attention to what it is that would truly fulfill our needs. Get to the heart of a need by saying, “Would you be willing to spend one night a week playing cards with me?” This will meet the need for play and intimacy. If the significant other says no, then the spouse could ask if they would be willing to find a win/win solution.
If we start blaming, judging, labeling, or sympathizing then we have departed from the goal we set out with – to be compassionate. So stay connected, make specific requests, follow through, and find win/win solutions. We will later look at some specific requests that I think will help us holistically nurture. For now, there is still more to say about compassion.
We may find that it is helpful to express appreciation in the same way. When we tell some one, “You are wonderful for staying home with me,” then we are labeling them, judging on their character. It is a positive judgment, but it is a judgment nonetheless. There could be a sense of unrealistic expectations behind such a judgment. They may think we only like them when they do what we want. Therefore, they are expected to act in ways we think are wonderful. When we do this there is a separation between why we are calling them wonderful and what they did that we appreciate so much. The reason that we think of them as wonderful is because they met a need of ours. Knowing this we can now express our appreciation free from labeling, judgment, or expectation. An example of expressing our appreciation in a way that invites compassion is, “When you stayed home tonight to play cards with me, I was thrilled because I was needing playful expression. Would you be willing to continue doing this once a week?” This is an invitation to connect and communicate compassionately.
Not only do we need to learn to communicate in a way that invites compassion, but we also need to learn how to listen with compassion. As we may recall, compassion is the eyes and ears of love. We can connect with a person if we see and hear with compassion, whether that person is communicating in a way that invites compassion or not. We can observe what they are saying, connect it with feelings and needs, and pay attention to what they are requesting. If the conversation is tense then we may need to give ourselves some empathy first in order to give empathy to the person communicating with us. We will need to pay attention to what we are feeling and needing, and then meet those needs so that we can hear the other person’s needs. We may need to request some time away in order to give us the empathy we need. Then we can return to give them the empathy they deserve.
Furthermore, if the person that is communicating with us is aware of what we are trying to do, then it is imperative that they feel safe. They may think that we are being condescending or judging their communication style because they do not communicate the same way. They need to know that we are not thinking we are better than they are or that our way is the right way and their way is wrong. They may have strong views of communicating that are different from what is being expressed here. This communication style may work for us, but they may not work for all people. We need to be empathetic to those who choose a different way of communicating. We are not right and they are not wrong. We just have different ways of communicating.
Taking all this into consideration, we can now look at exactly how we listen and see with compassion. We start by never assuming we know what the other person is feeling or needing. In contrast, we make informed guesses of what they are feeling and needing while at the same time requesting verification of our guesses. We are informed because we have been observing and we are guessing because we may be wrong. Our request for verification gives them a chance to verify or repeat what we misunderstood. Using the previous example of the daughter being made fun of, we would guess, “Are you feeling hurt because you are needing acceptance from your friends?” Trying to connect with her feelings and needs works much better than just giving sympathy. Our guess may be wrong, but we keep trying. Continue guessing and connecting until they have expressed all that they needed to express. Silence or a change in mood is a good indicator that they are done. If no clear indicator is present, then ask if they are done. When they are done we can move on by either meeting their needs or expressing our own feelings and needs. The important things is that no matter what, we try our best to stay connected.
To paraphrase a point Marshall Rosenberg makes, judgments are tragic expressions of unmet needs. We could also say that rage, violence (inward or outward), and docile obedience are tragic expressions of unmet needs. It starts with a need. That need produces an emotion. If we can connect with that feeling and need, then we can see and hear that person with compassion. Compassion is the eyes and ears of love. It seeks to connect with others and ourselves for the purpose of finding out what we need. When we can do that, then we can nurture holistically.