I am gritting my teeth. Sweat is beading under my fringe and my legs are twisted around each other. My friend C, on the opposite chair, is equally scrunched up. We are listening to a CD ….a workshop on Non Violent Communication. It is fascinating and for me it much of it makes very good sense BUT the man’s voice, a painfully slow, American drone of a drawl, is driving us nuts. I am aware of the irony, the fact I am having to hang on to the armrests of my chair so as not to up and head butt the CD player.
‘Does irritation still count as anger?’ asks C, lips near white as her knuckles
‘Can’t talk. Listening,’ I hiss going puce in the face.
The man is talking about how anger is useful as a signal. Why are we reacting in anger to the particular situation? If we unpick our anger we always find an ‘unmet need’. Resolve this with care and compassion and one will find, apparently, the anger obsolete. This ‘signalling’ works with guilt and shame and elements of depression too. Unmet needs. He uses an example of a married couple who come to him saying they are having terrible rows.
‘I just get so angry with him,’ says the woman
‘Why? What behaviour is he exhibiting, exactly, that is making you react this way?’ asks our American droner
‘Because he…errr…he….never..err…he doesn’t…’
‘If you told me what you wanted me to do I would do it!’ interjects the man
Again the woman thinks. ‘It’s hard. I can’t say exactly.’
Then she realises. ‘Ohhh, she says. ‘I actually need him to know what I want before I know and then to just do it. ‘
Hence she has revealed an impossible conundrum that she can only solve by understanding her ‘unmet need’ is for something only a telepathic soothsayer could help her with. She doesn’t have one of those. She has a husband. She will need to actually work out what she wants him to do and ask him to do it. It’s a revelation to them both.
I’m not sure if it saved the marriage or if she ran off with a Betazoid (whispers to people without TV, ’that’s a clever Star Trek reference to a telepath soothsayer’ ..cough) Non Violent Communication is a particularly useful way of engaging warring communities to understand that the needs they externalise as violence and fury are actually about unmet needs within; safety, autonomy, sustenance etc. Once an unmet need is exposed and understood it can be negotiated. And it can work equally well for the individual, especially for those people like myself who spend a lot of time enraged at themselves. How many times I day to I want to whack myself upside my own head? ‘You blithering idiot!’ I scream at myself when I do something imperfectly. All rather pointless self abuse which I would be mighty relieved to stop.
I intend to delve into the ideas around NVC in greater detail in the hope that it will help me with all my interactions…(mainly, I would imagine, because by the time I have actually worked out exactly why I am pissed off and what the unmet need IS ..the situation will have resolved itself.) There is need of this I think, of finding something positive to grip on to. Something possible and useful. I don’t know if you are feeling anything like me what with the current icy sluicing of tsunamis and radiation, the fearful boiling over in Libya, Yemen, Cote, D’Ivoire, Syria…? I feel helpless and that all is beyond my understanding and certainly out of my control. I want to fight the injustice, bring help to the displaced, be ‘of use’ and at the same time to run somewhere safe. ‘There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home..’ Its classic ‘flight or fight.’
Maybe the drawling American man will have some answers. Ruby Slippers. (C) T. Bush 2011
A few days ago on yet another very overcrowded commuter train, the woman opposite me insists on squeezing onto the seat even though I have asked her to keep it clear. My guide dog needs a bit of room to breathe,’ I say apologetically.
‘I know dogs,’ the woman says, unpacking her handbag without looking at me. ‘She’ll be fine.’
I am furious. But I remember American Drawl Man. ‘Why?’ I ask myself. ‘What exactly is my unmet need?’
I wait until the train creaks slowly out of Kings Cross and begins to pick up speed. Then I lean across and smile at the woman who has placed her expensive shoes either side of poor Grace’s head.
‘Just so you know, ‘ I say sweetly. ‘My dog has a tendency to vomit when she gets stressed.’
Then, as the woman looks up horrified from behind her newspaper and in vain tries to move her legs, I lean back and feign sleep. Seems my ‘unmet need’ was to ensure we all respected each other’s space. See how easy Non Violent Communication is?