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Being Genuine

Being Genuine by Thomas d’Ansembourg

Here are a few of my notes…

How can one be oneself without stopping being with another, and how can one be with another without stopping being oneself?

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And everyone knows that a read-through of Simple French from A to Z will not win a person a speech-making competition in Paris. Nor will that person dare to step into the arena of a conversation in French at a party! First of all, one modestly plays one’s scales.

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And it was thus that we started to listen to the feelings and needs of everyone—boss, customer, neighbor, colleagues—except ourselves! To survive and fit in, we thought we had to be cut off from ourselves.

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I like to introduce the process that I advocate by using the picture of a little man born of the imagination of Hélène Domergue, a trainer in Nonviolent Communication in Geneva, Switzerland.

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It is worth recalling the words of Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince, “We only see well with our hearts; what is truly important is invisible to our eyes.” Do we really look at others with our hearts?

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I would go to my room, and the same rational process would predominate: “It’s true, I have no right to be sad. I have a father, a mother, brothers and sisters, books for school and toys, a house, and food. What am I complaining about? What is all this, this sadness? I’m so selfish. Useless idiot!” Once again, I judged myself and found myself guilty, alienating myself from my heart. Sadness went off to join anger in my pocket, and I went to redeem my place in the family, displaying another contrived smile. So you can see how early we learn to be nice rather than genuine.

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Indeed, swimming perpetually in one’s feelings brings no development and may even induce nausea.

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In Nonviolent Communication training sessions, a list of more than two hundred fifty feelings is handed out to participants to enable them to expand their word power and, in so doing, broaden the consciousness of what they are feeling.

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Developing our vocabulary expands our ability to deal with what we are experiencing.

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However, when in our education did we learn to name what was at stake in our inner life? When did we learn to become aware of what was going on within us, to distinguish and sort through our feelings, as well as our basic needs, to name those needs and then simply and flexibly make concrete and negotiable requests, taking into account the needs of others?

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To our feelings of being ill at ease and angry, sad or nostalgic, are now added discomfort and helplessness: “Not only am I unhappy or angry, I also don’t know what to do to get out of it.” Often “to get out of it” we can only blame someone or something: Daddy, Mommy, the school, buddies, colleagues, clients, job, the state, pollution, the slump. Having neither understanding of nor control over our inner lives, we find a party outside ourselves to serve as a scapegoat for our pain. “I am angry because you … I am sad because you … I am disgusted because the world …”

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Feelings act like a blinking light on a dashboard; they tell us that an inner need is or is not being met.

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Now it’s true that the word need has often been misunderstood. It does not mean a passing desire, a momentary impulse, a whim. We are referring here to our basic needs, the ones that: Are required simply to maintain life. We meet for the sake of balance Relate to our most basic human values: identity, respect, understanding, responsibility, liberty, mutual aid.

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So, if one day, despite all that, we confusedly observe that our needs are not being met, then there is necessarily a guilty party, someone who has not bothered about us. We then get into the process of violence by aggression or projection referred to earlier, that is, a process where criticism, judgment, insults, and rebukes loom large. “I’m unhappy because my parents …

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More often than not, we have experienced being subservient to the needs of others (or we have feared not being able to have our needs met) to such an extent that we bossily impose our needs on others—and no questions asked. “That’s how it is. Now, go and clean your room—and at once! … Do it because I said so, that’s why.” We then get into a process of violence through authority.

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Finally, we capitulate: “I give up! I give up on myself. I close in on myself, or I run away.” Here, the violence is directed against ourselves.

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A key reason for us to be interested in identifying needs is that as long as we’re unaware of our needs we don’t know how to meet them.

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The lesson from this story: If needs aren’t followed by a concrete request in an identifiable time and space (e.g., need for recognition: “Would you agree to thank me for specific efforts I’ve been making for thirty years?” … need for intimacy and tenderness: “Would you agree to take me in your arms for ten minutes and gently rock me?”), it often looks to the other person like a threat. The other person wonders if he or she will have the capacity to survive such an expectation and remain themselves, maintain their identity, and not be swallowed up by the other person.

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b)Another issue the above example clarifies is this: As we are obsessed by the idea of our need not being recognized, we aren’t open to observing that it is so. The wife had striven to recognize her husband’s efforts. Yet he was so caught up (or bogged down) in the notion of not being understood, that he couldn’t hear her. This is a common phenomenon. (Amanda’s note: like the ladder of inference!)

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In these instances, it’s necessary to work on fundamental needs. The questions we may be asking ourselves, among others, are as follows: Am I able to provide myself with the esteem, the recognition, the warmth, the understanding that I’m so fervently expecting others to give me? Can I begin to nurture these needs myself rather than maintain myself in a dependent position regarding the approving opinions of others? And above all: Am I able to experience my identity other than in complaints and rebellion? Am I able to feel safe and secure in ways other than leaning on something or someone, other than by justifying myself or objecting? Am I able to feel my inner security, my inner strength of and by myself, outside the domain of power and tension?

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At the same time, when I hear your proposal to stay at home, I feel a bit disappointed (F) because I also need a change of scenery, to get out of the house for once when the children aren’t here (N). So now that we have set out the criteria of what is at stake for us [formerly that would have been called a conflict!]—need for relaxation, need to get together, and have a change of scenery—what solution, what concrete action could we come up with to meet these varying needs?”

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We fall into the trap ourselves—and tend to drag the other person in too—when we don’t take care to differentiate our true need from our request. By seeing what underlies our request and identifying our need, we give ourselves freedom. We note, for example, that we can meet our need for intimacy and getting together with our spouse or our need for rest (restaurant, walk, movie) in all sorts of different ways. We escape from the fallacy that there is only one solution.

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By taking care of our true need instead of haggling over our request, we give ourselves a space to meet, a space to create!

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“Is it difficult for you to imagine that one can both have a good time and please others, take care of your own well-being and the well-being of others at the same time?” “Right. I’ve always seen those two things as mutually exclusive. Either I take care of myself, or I take care of others and disregard myself.” “And how do you feel when I tell you that what I enjoy about organizing this trip is that I’m nurturing both my need for discovery, space, and exploration and my need to share what I love, contributing to the well-being of others by bringing them along for this adventure?” (Amanda’s note: L’s managing paradox!)

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Since I have been seeking to understand and give meaning to the difficulty of being, I note that the people who radiate deep well-being, a joy of living in this world, are those who give precedence not to the number of things they do, nor their possessions, but to the quality of the relationships they have with others, with their environment, and with what they do—beginning with the quality of the relationship they have with themselves. These people don’t seek to fill their lives with things to do or people to pass time with, but to fill life with the relationships they nourish and the things they care about doing.

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We often sacrifice our own needs to please others, to “be nice.”

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OBSERVATION. We are reacting to something we observe, we hear, or we’re saying to ourselves. FEELING. The above observation generates within us one or more feelings. NEED. The feelings guide us to our needs. REQUEST. Aware now of our needs, we can make a request or implement concrete action.

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The cornerstone of the method being recommended here is making observations that are as neutral as possible: State facts (quotes, body positions, facial expressions, tone of voice) just like a camera would. We have to be so attentive to how we “enter” into conversation with another person.

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I approach him, saying, “When I saw that you left the room during the meal without speaking (O), I began to feel concerned (F), and I would like to know if something is on your mind and if I can help (N + R).” This is a formulation that may appear naïve and somewhat impractical in ordinary life! It could be made more plausible and less academic by saying: “It seems to me that you are more quiet than usual. Is something wrong?” What I observe is that this way of “opening” a conversation, approaching an issue without judgment or interpretation, not only makes us better disposed to listen to the other person, it also extends an invitation to the other individual to talk to us from the heart about what they are feeling, without any sense of being criticized.

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By contrast, if we start dialogue with a neutral reference to something that is preoccupying us (neutral observation: “I see your stuff lying on the carpet in the drawing room, your shoes on the hall carpet, and your toys on the staircase”),

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And, so that it will not be heard as criticism or an obligation that will exclude freedom of action, we take care to formulate an open and negotiable request.

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Do not say: Say rather: “You’re late; it’s always the same with you! You can never really be relied on.” “We had an appointment at eight in the morning. It’s now half past ten. (O).” “I feel angry and worried (F).” “I need to understand what’s happening, to be reassured that I can count on you in the future (N).” “Would you agree to talk to me about that now (R)?” (Amanda’s note: idea for managers to separate these)

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“I feel that” vs. “I feel” Generally when you ask someone “How do you feel?” in relation to a preoccupying situation, the person will reply: “I feel that this absolutely must be done … I feel that it’s time for our leaders to do this or that … I feel that it’s hopeless …” People answer, therefore, with a thought, a concept, or a comment, not a feeling,

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Indeed, very often, in the belief that we are using “I” statements, assuming responsibility for our feelings, we use such words (commonly considered as feelings) as: “I feel betrayed, abandoned, manipulated, rejected.” True, these words do express feelings. At the same time, however, they convey an image of another person, an interpretation, a judgment. Between the lines we read: “You are a traitor, a manipulator; you have abandoned me; you reject me.”

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As long as he is commenting directly or indirectly on what his companion is or is not doing, he makes little headway. But as soon as he starts speaking truly of himself, he forges ahead.

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What is of interest is to observe that Peter begins to get beyond complaining (“She’s manipulating me. I am her victim.”) when he gets to his true feelings (“I am sad and angry.”) and his own need (“I need respect for my identity.”). It is when he begins to refer truly to himself that the work begins.

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We therefore will be alert to working on our language and our consciousness to purge them of anything that may generate opposition, division, or separation and to cleanse them of anything that is—or could be heard as—a judgment, interpretation, rebuke, criticism, prejudice, cliché, test of strength, or comparison. We do this because we know from experience that if others hear what we say as a judgment, criticism, reproach, or fixed idea about them, they are no longer listening.

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Exercise Try to decipher for yourself your true feelings underlying your “labeled” feelings. Here are a few proposals:

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It is the consequences of feelings that may be perceived as positive or negative, not the feelings themselves. We, therefore, suggest making the following type of distinction among feelings: Feelings that are pleasant to experience and that let us know that needs are met. Feelings that are unpleasant to experience and that let us know that needs are not being met.

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Thus, to avoid the violence of binary thinking that keeps us in alienation, separation, and division, it is truly in our interest to become aware of our needs, identify them in relation to others, and prioritize them so as to become increasingly able to understand others’ needs, accept their priorities, and little by little acquire greater ease in flexibly processing the issues with them.

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First the relationship: logistics will follow! So often in our relationships, the quality of the relationship appears to play second fiddle to actual problems.

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“For now …”

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“And at the same time …” rather than “But …”

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“I suggest that the next time you receive such a request, you take time to listen to your various needs, so that you’re really available for what you choose to do.” A week later, he told me he had once again accepted to serve as a replacement for an evening at the swimming pool with the young people. “I took time to listen to myself as you had suggested,” he began. “The need around the young people was clearly the top priority in my mind, and I went along joyfully. Although I was counting on doing several things at home that evening, I was able to accept postponing them, and I felt fully available to the youngsters.”

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Identifying our need for rest, to have some time for ourselves, to do what we want with our evening, etc., doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll meet the need. We simply wish to become aware of it so we don’t deny or disown anything that is alive in us. Through awareness, living choices can be made that involve us in all of our aliveness and not just 10 or 15 percent of ourselves.

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“What is the littlest thing or the most pleasant thing, however small, I could say or do in the direction of the change I wish for, in the direction of the change I’ve identified?” In short, seek first the smallest thing we might do, and change will follow.

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We do not like being prevented from doing. We much prefer being invited to do.

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Conventional version “I am very disappointed with you when I see the school results you got this month. If you go on like that, your year is going to be charming indeed! And then you won’t be ready to find a job later. Look at your sister; she is much more conscientious.”

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Nonviolent version “When I see your school results this month, and especially a D in math and an F in statistics (an observation that is both neutral and detailed, to express to the other person what I am reacting to), I feel worried and concerned (F). I need to be reassured about two things, namely that you: Understand the significance of these subjects and know how they will be useful in the future. Feel OK and welcome in your classroom with your teacher, so that if you do run into difficulties, you will feel at ease about saying so (F). Would you agree to tell me how you feel in relation to all that (R)?”

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Nonviolent Communication encourages us to listen to others as completely as possible, to dare to welcome them in their complexity or their distress, without assuming we are responsible for what is happening to them. Nor must we “do something” other than listen and attempt to understand.

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Buddha suggests the following (just the reverse): Don’t just do something, stand there

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We will hook a need onto the feeling. If we only reflect the feeling, the risk we run is of getting into complaining and aggressing.

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The answer may be: “That’s absolutely right. I need both recognition and respect” or … “Not at all. I do feel recognized and respected. And I’m not angry. What I feel is sad and disheartened, and I need encouragement and cooperation.” The reason I’m giving both responses is to show that it isn’t necessary to guess another’s feelings and needs accurately. Reflecting feelings and needs is like throwing the other person a lifeline.

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“Judgments are tragic expressions of unmet needs.”

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Empathy literally means “staying glued” to another’s feelings and needs. It also means putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. This means, on the one hand, you invent nothing, no feeling or need, and you attempt to get as close as possible to what the other is feeling by putting their feelings and needs into words;

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It seems to me a matter of urgency to set up more talking places—in businesses, schools, institutions, medical and hospital units, the nonprofit sector, government departments, and even in families!

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I facilitate monthly talking groups in hospitals, in families and schools, as well as in youth support institutions. The institutions and people who call me in have all chosen to give priority to relationships in their field, and they cover the costs in terms of time, human resources, and budget. All of these groups are struck when they see to what extent misunderstandings can be clarified, ambiguities cleared, cold wars settled, and “unsaids” said, because a safe framework is proposed where each person knows that they will regularly be able to express their thoughts freely, even though clumsily at times, without being either judged or rejected. It’s also an opportunity for work groups or other gatherings of people to share their joys and enthusiasms. Such meetings can therefore make it possible to clean out anything that has been encumbering a relationship and stimulate what has been nurturing it.

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the niceness I’m describing is motivated out of fear of losing, the fear of rejection, the fear of criticism, the fear of asserting their identity. (Amanda’s note: interesting insight into culture.)

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Hubert Reeves says pollution in the world is not one major problem, it is seven billion small problems. It seems to me that confusion in the world—its chaos and disorder—is not one major problem, it is seven billion small problems. We each can choose. We each have the power in our daily lives to contribute or not to clarity, transparency, peace. Amazing, isn’t it?

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Behind the fear of conflict almost always lies a need for emotional security. As I’ve already recalled, the background question is: “Can I still be loved if I’m involved in a conflict? Am I still lovable if I say I don’t agree?”

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If our feelings are gauges on our psychic dashboard, anger is the red blinking emergency light: It shows that vital needs are not being met and that it’s increasingly urgent to pay attention.

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I regularly work in the school environment, and frequently I hear the same complaint, “But we don’t have time!” After a conference where I had talked about the image of the shepherd, the head of a large school in Brussels told me: “You are so right. Neither the parents nor the pupils any longer know what it means to take their time. There are two things the pupils hear continuously: ‘Hurry up, hurry up!’ and ‘Quick, quick!’”

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I suggest the following: “Three minutes, three times a day! Three minutes listening to yourself without judging, without blaming, without advising, without trying to find a solution. Three presence-filled minutes for you, not for your plans or concerns. Three minutes to take stock of your inner state without trying to change anything. Three minutes to connect with yourself, check that you are truly present to yourself, and that to the question, Is there someone home? you can truly answer with all your being, ‘Yes, I am there.’ Do this three times a day! It is out of this quality of presence to yourself that may well be born a quality of presence to others.”

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The better you become acquainted with your own powerlessness or insecurity, the more compassionate and understanding you’ll become for the insecurity in another person.

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In day-to-day life, in couples, families, and (why not?) at school or work, gratitude is the vitamin pill of relationships.

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Basically, wickedness is an expression of the bitterness of people who have not taken care of—or had the opportunity to take care of—their suffering.

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Some Basic Feelings We All Have Feelings when needs are fulfilled Amazed Fulfilled Joyous Stimulated Comfortable Glad Moved Surprised Confident Hopeful Optimistic Thankful Eager Inspired Proud Touched Energetic Intrigued Relieved Trustful

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Feelings when needs are not fulfilled Angry Discouraged Hopeless Overwhelmed Annoyed Distressed Impatient Puzzled Concerned Embarrassed Irritated Reluctant Confused Frustrated Lonely Sad Disappointed Helpless Nervous Uncomfortable

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Some Basic Needs We All Have Autonomy Choosing dreams/goals/values Choosing plans for fulfilling one’s dreams, goals, values Celebration Celebrating the creation of life and dreams fulfilled Celebrating losses: loved ones, dreams, etc. (mourning) Integrity Authenticity Creativity Meaning Self-worth Interdependence Acceptance Appreciation Closeness Community Consideration Contribution to the enrichment of life Emotional Safety Empathy Physical Nurturance Air Food Movement, exercise Protection from life-threatening forms of life: viruses, bacteria, insects, predatory animals Rest Sexual Expression Shelter Touch Water Play Fun Laughter Spiritual Communion Beauty Harmony Inspiration Order Peace Honesty (the empowering honesty that enables us to learn from our limitations) Love Reassurance Respect Support Trust Understanding

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The Surprising Purpose of Anger: Beyond Anger Management: Finding the Gift by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. Marshall shows you how to use anger to discover what you need, and then how to meet your needs in more constructive, healthy ways. 48pp, ISBN: 978-1-892005-15-1 • $8.95

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