The Heart of Our Yes
[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.]
Have you ever experienced an immediate “no” when being asked to do or give something? In my experience, that “no” is usually reactive and disconnected, not a genuine response that comes from connection and from holding all the needs in front of me.
I have pondered this question a lot. One of the core assumptions that provide a foundation for my NVC practice and teaching is that human beings enjoy giving; that we inherently enjoy contributing to others when we have connected with our own and others’ needs and can experience our giving as coming from choice. If that’s the case, I wondered, why is it that so much of the time we are not drawn to giving?
My own thinking, and my experience of working with people over the years, have led me to identify three major obstacles to the flow of generosity I so deeply believe is our natural state. One is our fierce commitment to autonomy. To whatever extent we hear in another’s request, or internally within us, that we don’t have the choice to say “no,” it becomes that much harder to say “yes.” Another is how much of a challenge so many of us have in trusting that we matter. When we don’t trust that we matter, it is that much harder to open our hearts to others’ needs. The third is the deeply ingrained belief in scarcity. If we don’t trust that there could be strategies to support both parties’ needs, we are more likely to want to defend our own strategies than to shift into an easy “yes” to another’s request.
If this is true, then cultivating generosity becomes a deep spiritual practice that can free us up to have a more open approach to life instead of living in habitual contraction. As we grow in our capacity to recognize our freedom to say “no,” we can more easily consider the possibility of saying “yes.” As we shift our source of trusting that we matter from how others respond to us to an inner knowing, we can more easily be available to hear others’ needs without collapsing inside. As we move more and more towards assuming that both parties’ needs can be met, we can explore strategies beyond those that appear to meet only our own needs. We can then cultivate a practice of making ourselves available to have our feelings affected and needs transformed by engaging with others openly even in times of conflict.
The question remains, though, about how to do this without losing ourselves. As is often the case, what is most needed is sufficient connection, within us, with our needs as well as the needs of the other person. Along the way we learn two significant distinctions that can help us navigate apparent conflicts.
The first is the distinction between giving up and shifting. In particular, learning how to differentiate between the communion of being with others’ feelings and needs and the choice about what we will do. As we allow our hearts to be softened by the experience of others’ feelings and needs through recognizing our shared humanity, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed by others’ needs to the point of losing track of our own. Being touched by another’s needs does not necessarily mean saying “yes.” The desire to contribute to others’ well being by actually attending to their needs may be strong. It’s still not the same as a genuine shift if we don’t at the same time hold softly and attentively our own needs.
The second distinction is between self-care and attachment to our own strategies. Just as much as we want to ensure we don’t over-stretch, we want to remain open to shifting our strategies even as we maintain self-care and attention to our needs. Attending to our needs, and separating them from our strategies, is essential if we are to find a genuine “yes.”
And so, in order to find an authentic “yes” we need to overcome both our habits: that of habitual “no,” and that of habitual “yes.” A true “no” comes from connection, not contraction. In fact, both “yes” and “no” can be authentic expressions of caring for both parties’ needs. A true “yes” expresses a genuine shift, and is different from fear or helplessness. An authentic “yes” comes from connecting with a wider range of our own needs and making a full choice to honor more of them.
As with every NVC practice, the point of engaging with these questions is not so that we become a “better person” by saying “yes” more of the time. The point is, rather, to have more ease in reaching inner and outer connection, as well as having more internal freedom to make authentic, non-reactive choices.
If you would like to explore this practice on your own, we have a journal you can download and work with on your own or with a buddy. This journal can support you in continuing to learn about your “no” and your “yes”
© by Miki Kashtan 2009
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