Read an Excerpt
Stop Being Nice, Start Being Real
By Thomas D'Ansembourg, Dan Shenk, Godfrey Spencer
PuddleDancer PressCopyright © 2007 PuddleDancer Press
All rights reserved.
Why We Are Alienated From Ourselves
Our intellectual world is made up of categories, it is bordered by arbitrary and artificial frontiers.
We need to build bridges, but for that there is a need for knowledge, a greater vision of man and his destiny.
U.S. and British violinist and conductor
I have no words to describe my loneliness, my sadness, or my anger.
I have no words to speak my need for exchange, understanding, recognition.
So I criticize, I insult, or I strike.
Or I have my fix, abuse alcohol, or get depressed.
Violence, expressed within or without, results from a lack of vocabulary; it is the expression of a frustration that has no words to express it.
And there are good reasons for that; most of us have not acquired a vocabulary for our inner life. We never learned to describe accurately what we were feeling and what needs we had. Since childhood, however, we have learned a host of words. We can talk about history, geography, mathematics, science, or literature; we can describe computer technology or sporting technique and hold forth on the economy or the law. But the words for life within ... when did we learn them? As we grew up, we became alienated from our feelings and needs in an attempt to listen to those of our mother and father, brothers and sisters, schoolteachers, et al.: "Do as Mommy tells you ... Do whatever your cousin who's coming to play with you this afternoon wants ... Do what is expected of you."
And it was thus that we started to listen to the feelings and needs of everyone — boss, customer, neighbor, colleagues — except ourselves! To survive and fit in, we thought we had to be cut off from ourselves.
Then one day the payment comes due for such alienation! Shyness, depression, misgivings, hesitations in reaching decisions, inability to choose, difficulties to commit, a loss of taste for life. Help! We circle 'round and 'round like the water draining from a sink. We are about to go under. We are waiting for someone to drag us out, to be given instructions, and yet, at the same time, recommendations aren't exactly welcome! We're snowed under with "You must do this ... It's high time you did that ... You should ..."
What we need most of all is to get in touch with ourselves, to seek a solid grounding in ourselves, to feel within that it is we who are speaking, we who decide and not our habits, our conditioning, our fears of another's opinion. But how?
I like to introduce the process that I advocate by using the picture of a little man born of the imagination of Hélène Domergue, a trainer in Nonviolent Communication in Geneva, Switzerland.
Intellect (or observation)
Needs (or values)
The request(or concrete and negotiable action)
1. Intellect (or observation)
Judgments, labels, categories
Prejudices, a prioris, rote beliefs, automatic reflexes
Binary system or duality
Language of diminished responsibility
The head symbolizes mind. The main beneficiary of our educating is the mind. It's the mind that we have honed, toned, and disciplined in order to be effective, productive, and fast. Yet our heart, our emotional life, our inner life, has not enjoyed such attention. Indeed, we learned to be good and reasonable, to make well-thought-out decisions, to analyze, categorize, and label all things and place them in separate drawers. We have become masters of logic and reasoning and, since childhood, what has been stimulated, exercised, refined, and nuanced is our intellectual understanding of things. As for our emotional understanding, it has been encouraged little or not at all, if not overtly reproved.
Now, in the course of my work, I observe four characteristics of the functioning of the mind that are often the cause of the violence we do to ourselves and others.
Judgments, labels, and categories
We judge. We judge others or situations as a function of the little we have seen of them, and we take the little we have seen for the whole. For example, we see a boy in the street whose hair is orange and combed into a crest; he has his face pierced in various places. "Oh, a punk, another rebel, a dropout feeding off society." In a flash, we have judged, faster than the sun creates our shadow. We know nothing about this person, who is perhaps passionately engaged in a youth movement, a drama troupe, or computer research and who is thus contributing his talent and his heart to the evolution of the world. However, as something about his looks, his difference, generates fear, mistrust, and needs in us that we're unable to decipher (perhaps the need to welcome difference, the need for belonging, the need to be reassured that difference does not bring about separation), we judge him. Look how our judging does violence to beauty, generosity, the wealth that may well lie within this person whom we have not seen.
Another example. We see an elegant woman dressed in a fur coat, driving a large car. "What a snob! Just another woman who can't think of anything better to do than display her riches!"
Again, we judge, taking the little we have seen of another for her reality. We lock her into a little drawer, wrap her up in cellophane. Once again, we do violence to the whole beauty of this person, which we have not perceived because it lies within. This person is perhaps quite generous with her time and money, and she may be engaged in social work, giving support to destitute people, or pursuing other unknown endeavors. We know nothing about her. Once again, her looks awaken fear, mistrust, anger, or sadness in us and put us in touch with needs that we don't know how to decode (need for exchange, need for sharing, need for human beings to contribute actively to the common good) as we judge, so we imprison others within a category; we close them away in drawers.
We take the tip of the iceberg for the whole, whereas another part of us realizes that 90 percent of the iceberg is under the surface of the sea, out of sight. It is worth recalling the words of Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, "We only see well with our hearts; what is truly important is invisible to our eyes." Do we really look at others with our hearts?
Prejudices, a prioris, rote beliefs, automatic reflexes
We have learned to function out of habit, to automate thinking, to presumptively have prejudices and a prioris, to live in a universe of concepts and ideas, and to fabricate or propagate unverified beliefs:
Men are macho.
Women can't drive.
Officials are lazy.
Politicians are corrupt.
You have to fight in life.
There are things that have to be done, whether one wants to or not. That's the way it always has been done.
A good mother, a good husband, a good son ... must ...
My wife would never put up with me speaking to her like that. In this family, one can certainly not raise an issue like that.
My father is someone who ...
These are expressions that basically reflect our fears. Using them, we enclose ourselves and others in beliefs, habits, concepts.
Once again, we do violence to the men who are anything but macho, who are open to their sensitivities, their kindness, the nurturing "feminine" that lies within them. We do violence to the women who drive much better than most men, having both more respect for other motorists and greater safety in traffic. We do violence to the officials who give of themselves generously and enthusiastically through their work. We do violence to the politicians who do their jobs with loyalty and integrity, working idealistically and selflessly for the common good. We do violence to ourselves and others regarding all the things that we dare not speak or do, whereas they are truly important for us, as well as for the things we believe we "have to" do without taking the time to check whether they indeed are a high priority or whether we might better take care of the true needs of the people concerned (those of others or our own) in some different way.
Binary system or duality
When all is said and done, most of us have gotten into the all-too-comfortable habit of expressing things in terms of black and white, positive and negative. A door has to be open or closed; something is good or bad; one is right or wrong. This is done or that is not done. It is fashionable, or it is obsolete. It is just great or absolute rubbish. There are subtle variations on the theme: You are intellectual or manual, a mathematician or an artist, a responsible father or a free spirit, a social butterfly or a couch potato, a poet or an engineer, a homo or a hetero, "with it" or a fuddy-duddy. This is the trap of duality, the binary system.
Most of us have gotten into the all-too-comfortable habit of expressing things in terms of black and white, positive and negative.
It's as if we could not possibly be both a brilliant intellectual and an effective manual worker, a rigorous mathematician and an imaginative artist, a being both responsible and fanciful, a sensitive poet and an earnest engineer. It's as if we could not possibly love ourselves beyond our male/female sexual duality, be conventional in some areas and highly innovative in others.
Stated another way, it's as if reality were not infinitely more rich and colored than our poor little categories, these tiny drawers into which we try to stuff reality because its mobility, diversity, and enchanting vitality disconcert and frighten us. In order to gain reassurance, we seem to prefer to lock everything away in apothecaries' pots, carefully labeled and placed on the shelves of our intellect!
The logic of exclusion and division is something we practice on the basis of or. We play at "Who is right, who is wrong?" — a tragic game that stigmatizes everything that divides us rather than extolling the value of what unites us. Later we will see to what extent we allow ourselves to be trapped by the binary system and what violence it perpetrates on ourselves and others. The most frequent example is the following: Either we take care of others, or we take care of ourselves, with the consequence that either we are alienated from ourselves, or we are alienated from others — as if we couldn't possibly take care of others and take care of ourselves while being close to others without ceasing to be close to ourselves.
Language of diminished responsibility
We use a language that allows us not to feel responsible for what we're experiencing or for what we are doing. First of all, we have learned to project onto others or onto an outside agency most of the responsibility for our feelings. "I am angry because you ... I am sad because my parents ... I am depressed because the world, the pollution, the ozone layer ..." We take little or no responsibility for what we are feeling. On the contrary, we find a scapegoat, we make heads roll, we off-load our negative energy onto someone else who serves as a lightning rod for our frustrations! Then we also have learned not to take responsibility for our acts. For example: "It's the rule ... Orders from above ... Tradition has it that ... I wasn't able to do otherwise ... You must ... I have no choice ... It's time ... It is (not) normal that ..."
We will see to what extent this language alienates us from ourselves and from others and enslaves us all the more subtly as it appears to be a language of diminished responsibility.
Through this traditional way of functioning, which sets mental processes at a premium, we are cut off from our feelings and emotions by something as effectively as by a concrete slab.
Perhaps to some degree you will recognize yourself in what appears below. Personally, I learned to be a good and reasonable little boy, ever listening to others. Speaking of oneself or one's emotions in regard to self was not well-received when I was a child. One could describe with emotions a painting or a garden, speak of a piece of music, a book, or a landscape, but speaking of oneself, especially with any emotion, was tantamount to being tainted with egocentricity, narcissism, navel-gazing. "It isn't right to be busy with oneself; it is others whom we should attend to," I was told.
If one day I was very angry and expressed it, I might hear something like: "It isn't nice to be angry ... A good little boy doesn't get angry ... Go to your bedroom and come back when you have thought things over." Back to reason.
I thought things over with my head, which wasted no time in judging me guilty. So I then cut myself off from my heart and put my anger in my pocket and went downstairs to redeem my place in the family community by displaying a contrived smile. If another day I was sad and unable to hold back my tears, suddenly shaken by one of those heavy moods that can fall upon you without understanding why, and I just needed reassuring and comforting, I would hear: "It's not nice to be sad. Just think of everything that is done for you! And then there are people who are really unfortunate and who don't have nearly as much as you do. Go to your room. You can come back when you have thought things over." Dismissed again!
I would go to my room, and the same rational process would predominate: "It's true, I have no right to be sad. I have a father, a mother, brothers and sisters, books for school and toys, a house, and food. What am I complaining about? What is all this, this sadness? I'm so selfish. Useless idiot!" Once again, I judged myself and found myself guilty, alienating myself from my heart. Sadness went off to join anger in my pocket, and I went to redeem my place in the family, displaying another contrived smile. So you can see how early we learn to be nice rather than genuine.
Finally, another day when I was brimming over with joy, exploding with happiness and expressing it by running around, playing my stereo full blast, and singing and talking nonstop, I would hear the following words: "What's wrong with you? Life is no spring picnic!" My goodness, that was the death knell! Even joy wasn't welcome among adults! So what did I do then as a ten-year-old lad? I entered the following two messages on my internal hard drive:
To be an adult is to cut oneself off as much as possible from one's emotions and use them only once in a while to produce the right effect in a party conversation.
To be loved and have my place in the world, I must not do what I feel like doing, but what others want me to do. To be truly myself runs the risk of losing the love of others.
This data-entry operation generates several factors of conditioning that we will explore further in Chapter 5.
Yes but, I hear you say, is it really necessary to give a warm reception to all these emotions? Might we not run the risk of being manipulated by our emotions? You are doubtless thinking of some people who have been angry for fifty years and who have been wallowing in their anger without taking a single step forward — or others who are sad or homesick and dwell incessantly and morosely on their perceived problems, with little hope of escape. Still others rebel against everything and drag around their rebellion like a ball and chain, without ever finding peace. Indeed, swimming perpetually in one's feelings brings no development and may even induce nausea.
Our emotions are like waves of multiple feelings, pleasant or unpleasant, that are useful to identify and distinguish. It is useful to identify our feelings because they inform us about ourselves and invite us to identify our needs. Feelings operate like a flashing light on a dashboard, indicating that something is or is not operating properly, that a need is or is not being met.
As we are so often cut off from our feelings, we tend to have few words to describe them. On the one hand, we may feel good, happy, relieved, relaxed; on the other, we may feel fearful, rotten, disappointed, sad, angry. We have such a paucity of words to describe ourselves, and nonetheless we still function. In Nonviolent Communication training sessions, a list of more than two hundred fifty feelings is handed out to participants to enable them to expand their word power and, in so doing, broaden the consciousness of what they are feeling. This list doesn't draw its words from an encyclopedia or thesaurus. Rather, it is a glossary of common words that we read daily in newspapers or hear on television. However, a sense of propriety and reserve handed down from generation to generation in most families prevents us from using them when speaking about ourselves.
Much of what we learn from infancy onward plays a part in developing our awareness of subject matters or fields of interest that lie outside ourselves. As noted in the preamble, we become quite proficient at learning history, geography, and mathematics, and later we can specialize in plumbing, electricity, data processing, or medicine. We develop a vocabulary in all sorts of areas, and we thus acquire a certain mastery, a certain ease with which to deal with these matters.
Acquiring vocabulary goes hand in hand with developing awareness; it is because we have learned to name elements and differentiate among them that we can understand how they interact — and modify such interaction as necessary. Personally, I don't understand much about plumbing, and when my water heater doesn't switch on, I call a plumber and tell him what the problem is. My level of awareness of the elements at play and my ability to act on them are pretty close to zero. As for the plumber, he will identify what is going on and express that in practical terms: "The burner is dead" or "The pipes are scaled up, and the gas injector has had it." This gives the plumber power to act and, in this case, power to repair.
Excerpted from Being Genuine by Thomas D'Ansembourg, Dan Shenk, Godfrey Spencer. Copyright © 2007 PuddleDancer Press. Excerpted by permission of PuddleDancer Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.