Back in 1992…..
My husband was suffering from an inoperable brain tumour. From the time it was diagnosed to his eventual death was just six months.
The tumour affected his ability to think. The brain that had wrestled joyfully with mathematical and statistical problems was reduced to struggling with simple arithmetic.
Whether he fully understood the seriousness of his condition, I didn’t know. He never raised the matter – and nor did I. I didn’t know how to.
One evening, before we went to bed, I mentioned that I was contemplating doing a counselling course sometime. His reply shocked me. ‘It sounds as though you’re planning an exciting future without me’, he said.
Evidently he was aware that he was dying. And I didn’t know what to say. I was mortified and I clumsily did what so many well-meaning people do in the face of emotional pain: I lapsed into reassurance.
‘Oh no’ I said. ‘I’m just planning survival’.
I was wanting to convey that the future without him was looking grey. But that was about me. What I lacked the insight and skill to do was to pick up on what was going on for him. Was he feeling frightened and wanting to share his fears? Was he wanting to know that he was important in my life? Was he wanting the sort of conversation that we hadn’t yet had about his condition? I will never know. I missed the opportunity to find out.
Fast forward a few years…
I continued working as a pedagogical consultant, creator and producer of learning materials and trainer in interpersonal skills. But as a newly single person, with just me running the business we had previously run together, I was accountable only to myself. So I went exploring.
Systems thinking, Structural Consulting, Learning Histories, Action Learning… I learned from them all but it was only when I discovered Nonviolent Communication (NVC) (also described as a language of compassion) that I found my ‘spiritual’ home.
At first, I’d resisted it. Me, violent? Not at all. I saw myself as accommodating, supportive, encouraging of other people… Surely I didn’t need to be told how to be nonviolent.
But my curiosity got the better of me – and then I was hooked. I read about NVC. I went on workshops. I apprenticed myself to a more experienced practitioner. I completed the certification process and became an NVC trainer.
I was ready to change the world. But first, I had to recognise my blind spot.
When I began learning about NVC, I saw it as something that other people could benefit from – and that I could teach them. How little I understood! It took time for me to realise the ‘violence’ in myself.
Nonviolence isn’t just an absence of aggression, anger, physical lashing out.
It’s our natural state of compassion that exists when we:
• are no longer judging, criticising and evaluating ourselves and others in ways that cause pain
• speak from the heart, truly, respectfully and authentically
• seek to understand where others are coming from
• can speak without fear or defensiveness
• look behind the snappy comments, the aggressive-sounding reactions, the irritations and frustrations that we and others all too easily express and are able to hear and see the vulnerable human crying out for help – even when we are hurt or upset by the ways in which that cry is expressed.
Can you honestly say that you habitually live in this compassionate space?
I know that I frequently struggle to inhabit it. But when I do, the effect is magical. I see people in a very different light. Conflicts dissolve. Connection is restored. New possibilities emerge.
If I knew back in 1992 what I know now, my conversations with my husband would have had a profoundly different quality.
My invitation to you
If you are secretly longing for a relationship with more joy, authenticity, mutuality and compassion – but haven’t worked out how to make it happen, then the very least you can do is sign up for my newsletter. This will bring you easy-to-read stories, insights and suggestions for transforming the way you relate to your partner, your extended family and even your friends and colleagues.
A new world awaits you. Step into it now.