“The cause of anger lies in our thinking: in thoughts of blame and judgement.”
It is a profound human need to feel seen and heard.
That’s at the root of why we communicate.
To feel these two things is to be within the gravity of what the great Persian poet Hafiz once called “this great pull in us to connect.”
So why then do we struggle? Because these needs are not instinctively part of how we communicate.
Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg was onto something important when he observed that there’s a distinction to be made between what we feel and what we think in our communication with others.
Feelings come to us first without words. And unless we assign them, they remain undomesticated and raw. It’s only once we start to assign labels to feelings that we can start making sense of whatever problem we have in front of us.
So that’s one part of the solution.
The harder part is making sense of what we think.
Thoughts are often clouded by our judgement of events. Let me illustrate with a story.
Last summer, I walked a long pilgrimage across Spain. At the end of each long day, that entailed sleeping in close, noisy quarters with others who were on the same journey.
While most woke early each day, some were a little extra…well, let’s call it ambitious. And there, I encountered one of most commonly complained about things on the journey: bag rustlers.
These are people who wake at 4:30AM and begin packing for their day and—for reasons that never can be adequately explained— seemed to have in their possession a large number of crinkly shopping bags in their backpack.
And each needed to be rustled. Loudly. At 4:30AM. Repeatedly. Creating the worst sounding alarm clock for everyone else in the room.
It’s popular and considered widely acceptable to admonish that behaviour with colourful language. I know I sure did. At least once. Okay maybe more than once.
But at one point, I was confronted by a realization: my reaction had nearly everything to do with my judgement and very little with these noisy bags or their owners.
The sound of the rustling bag is the sound of our judgement.
It’s loudest when we feel our needs are not being met.
It generates the least constructive kind of communication. All we earn is a sense of entitlement to our most negative feelings and license to act on the worst of our instincts.
“Practice translating judgement into an unmet need.” That’s how Rosenberg sees the solution. It’s not easy—important things never are. But it’s fundamental if you want a happier life.
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