None of this is easy.
[Please note: The views and opinions expressed in each post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of BayNVC as a whole.]
I just sent one of my closest friends a text. She, along with all of us, is having a tough time. I ended the text with a quote that is often on my mind: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” I was introduced to this quote (by Anais Nin) while strolling through a bookstore 25 years ago. It was paired with an image of a blush colored flower and everything about that card spoke to me. Sometimes everything is painful, no choice seems clear, and each potential path forward is either blocked with challenging obstacles or has a likely and uncomfortable consequence lurking in the wings. For me, the quote transforms pain into something worthwhile, with purpose, and with unknown possibility and strength.
I had that postcard on the entryway into my kitchen in my first apartment in Oakland, California. I would see it every day. It nourished me and gave me a sense of calm acceptance about life’s hardships paired with beauty, a reminder that growth is organic and inevitable.
My hope is that with what lies ahead I can share something related to nonviolence that will be useful to your growth and a perspective that will support you staying “in”. I won’t attempt to list off the bountiful dilemmas constant in the world right now and dancing on and in our heads while we attempt to act “normal” and push forward with our daily lives. There are too many to name. None of this is easy.
- Find people who allow space for you to express yourself fully – your feelings, thoughts, opinions, dreams, wants, loves, inner conflict – openly. If you don’t have these people become one for yourself, and others. You need you. We need you.
Amongst a thousand valuable and nuanced lessons I have learned during my nonviolent communication journey, the one I redo and practice and forget and redo again is to acknowledge my interpretations as a narrative and to distinguish that from observations – the facts and the context – of what’s going on around me or within me. Paired with that is to accept that none of us have a black belt in distinguishing between these stories we tell ourselves and what actually is being said and done. I have lost relationships due to my inability to accept someone’s fallibility. The worst loss is the relationship with myself. While it may sound funny, I have subsequently lowered expectations for myself, not my ambition, dreams or drive, but expectations. The other day, I even told a bunch of colleagues that for the first time in my conscious life I am not dependable. I value being someone everyone can depend on to follow through with tasks, phone calls… you name it. Yet, I have never felt so free and authentic with this accurate description of my life in this moment – a description that in the past would have sent me into a shame spiral. It feels good to tell the present truth and know there is space in the relationships in my life, especially the one with myself, for that truth to change when it changes.
- Find a way to peacefully disagree.
The phrase “empathy is not agreement” is now key to my coaching and trainings, yet this concept took a while for me to understand and believe. I used to hoard my grace when someone had a different opinion than me. I thought I was giving up something like self-respect if I made efforts to understand how the other person arrived at their point of view when I vehemently disagreed with their thinking. I can remember so many arguments about music taste for one, but more poignant are the conversations I have had regarding race and gender and the heartache I felt when my views differed so greatly from a person sitting across a table from me.
I can’t say the heartache is less now, however, my ability to move through that and maintain a connection with someone who thinks quite differently of me is more than before. The idea that giving empathy to someone, offering understanding of their point of view without agreeing with it or condoning it, is now what supports me to nonviolently disagree. I imagine that it will take a lifetime to embody this, but the practice of it and my efforts along the way have so far transformed some relationships. I hope the same for you.
- Understand that uncertainty – which often pairs with the emotion of fear – is what comes before freedom and possibility.
I heard this spoken the other day by Dr. Dan Siegal while listening to a conversation between him and Gabor Maté within the Compassionate Inquiry Program that I being trained in. When hearing that uncertainty is what comes before freedom and possibility I felt the relief of having something I had experienced over and over again being named outside of myself by another human being, and in this way it felt normalized and validated. Uncertainty can be overwhelming for me, and the times that I have still pushed forward through that uncertainty I have often found freedom and so many possibilities for living life more richly and deeply than I could have imagined. One example is quitting my job as a commercial photographer and changing careers to be an executive coach, trainer, and organizational consultant. I experienced a level of acute uncertainty for over a year that was very detached from the possibility and freedom that I experienced soon after I took that leap of faith into necessary change. When in the emotions of uncertainty, I have found it extremely challenging to gain perspective and lean into the possibility that my intentions and efforts would lead me to more freedom. My hope is that this perspective supports you when you find yourself in that fear of uncertainty.
Nothing right now in our world is easy, and more so for those of us who are marginalized and without resources. We all could use some support to get through. May that come to you in the form of people who allow space for you to express yourself fully, finding a way to peacefully disagree, and to remember that beyond uncertainty can lie freedom and possibility.
Sheila Menezes is an Executive Coach, Leadership Trainer, Facilitator, Mediator and certified EQ-i 2.0 / EQ 360 Practitioner. She offers her expertise to help build cultures of empathy by training people in compassionate leadership, emotional intelligence and effective communication oriented toward connection, clarity, and collaboration. She is certified through the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI) and a Collaborative Trainer with BayNVC. She has brought Nonviolent Communication (NVC) into San Quentin State Prison with the Safer Communities Project since 2015, and facilitated classes for VOEG (Victim-Offender Education Group) with the Insight Prison Project since 2016. Her approach fosters hopefulness grounded in a vision of holistic wellbeing, equity, transformative justice, and antiracism.