Staying Connected in the Midst of Conflict

Patience and aloha can help us learn anything new - that includes learning a new hula, a new habit or a new language.  Aloha - love - is always part of the equation.  Iʻve been recently studying and teaching a course on Compassionate Communication based on Marshall Rosenbergʻs book, Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life.  Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a skillful way of staying connected to people even in the midst of conflict.

I think that most of us are afraid of conflict because we donʻt know how to work with it wisely.  Perhaps, weʻve had unpleasant experiences that have left us confused and irritated.  But there are better methods to work with conflict. One of these is outlined in Marshall Rosenbergʻs book.  He suggests a language of love in which giving and receiving compassionately is our only motive.  Such a language encompasses deep love - respect and empathy for yourself and the other.

As human beings, we all have needs and feelings.  Many of us donʻt focus on this part of our lives because weʻve been taught that our own feelings and needs are not important.  In fact itʻs common knowledge and practice that "being needy" is a bad thing.  But is that true?

Needs are basic things that support our lives.  Everything we do is in service to a need.  We all need physical nurturance - air, food, water, rest and movement.  We need interdependence - community, love, respect, consideration, and understanding.  We need integrity - self-worth, authenticity,  and creativity.  We need esthetics - beauty, harmony and inspiration.  Such needs donʻt make us narcissistic, they make us human.

It can also be hard to express needs because they imply vulnerability.  Vulnerability suggests a kind of weakness.  But vulnerability is actually a strength.  It takes courage to be vulnerable, to know your life-serving human needs, and to speak of them with compassion.  Thatʻs standing your ground.

When our needs are not met, many negative feelings arise like feeling afraid, aggravated, disgusted, downhearted, angry, depressed, upset and worried.  When our needs are met positive feelings arise like feeling happy, interested, invigorated, curious, encouraged, moved, and optimistic.  

Marshall says the more directly we can connect our feelings to our needs, the easier it is for others to respond compassionately.  If we express our needs in a way that doesnʻt blame, guilt-trip or criticize others, we have a good chance of getting them met.   

The other critical thing about NVC is empathy, the ability to be present and listen deeply.  The Chinese Philosopher Chuang-Tzu said that true empathy requires listening with the whole being:  "The hearing that is only in the ears is one thing.  The hearing of the understanding is another.  But the hearing of the spirit is not limited to any one faculty, to the ear, or to the mind.  Hence it demands the emptiness of all the faculties.  And when the faculties are empty, then the whole being listens.  There is then a direct grasp of what is right there before you that can never be heard with the ear or understood with the mind."

Being empty means dropping judgments, evaluations, criticisms.  Being empty means being open.  Openness is a way to be truly present and able to really hear your own or anotherʻs feelings and needs.  It is a deep mindfulness practice that takes patience and aloha and is well worth the effort.  Itʻs never too late to begin again - pause, breathe and make this consciously part of your life.  

Malama pono (take care of body, mind and heart),

June Kaililani Ryushin Tanoue

Kumu Hula and Sensei

P.S.  Hereʻs a talk I gave recently on Nonviolent Communication at the Zen Life & Meditation Centerʻs Sunday Morning Zen.