News Flash: Goldfish Found Innocent

February 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week, I had some breakthroughs.  Call them spiritual, or otherwise.  Spiritual happens to be one of my most favorite words in the world. I think it is one of the most beautiful nouns (or adjectives) ever penned.

Spiritual happens to also be a lot of work, it’s the work I’ve put at the forefront of my life for the last three years.

One of the things I have struggled with deeply is the question of whether or not someone can hurt me on purpose. I guess I’d never consciously considered this question before this week, but I see now it has been the undercurrent of my thinking for a long time, perhaps even forever.

Can one person hurt another person on purpose?

Feeling instinctually that there must be a spiritual answer to such a human dilemma, for the last three years, I have tried to find my way to “No.”

Every spiritual tradition speaks about forgiveness as the key to happiness.  Spiritual traditions since the beginning of time have talked about our innocence.

And yet, as human beings, we usually don’t feel innocent; and we rarely ever see others as innocent either.

Using my Byron Katie exercises (www.thework.com) as well as turning time and again back to the principles of Non Violent Communication (NVC), I’ve fumbled my way towards answers.

Marshal Rosenberg, who developed NVC, declares that all actions committed by a human being are done in an attempt to meet what he calls Universal needs.

Universal needs can range from a need for connection to a need for touch to a need for self-expression to a need for friendship.   There are dozens of Universal needs, the thing that makes them Universal is that they apply to people across culture, country, age, gender, and socio-economic status.   At any given moment a human being may be lacking in one of the Universal needs, or, happily, she may feel that her needs are being met.

Hurting someone is not a need in and of itself, but rather, the byproduct of trying to get a Universal need met.

Hurting someone is never, not under any circumstances, a Universal need.

And yet, we all know it happens, and with surprising frequency and even conscious intent.

We may say in the back our mind, whether we admit it to ourselves or not, “I want revenge, I want to hurt this person.” We may have experienced someone else saying this to us either directly or through their actions  (it’s interesting to note that because we believe other people aren’t innocent, we consequently will sooner or later come to believe that we are not innocent either — voila, the origins of guilt and shame).

Precious things might get broken. Hearts might get wounded. Money might get distributed unfairly.  Someone might get ignored, disregarded, silenced, discredited.  Someone else might even be hit, or worse.  We all know the sordid details of the human condition. We all know the suffering of our world.  We’ve all seen the sad cycle of human behaviours, turning across an imperfect planet.

So now take the question really close to your heart.  Can someone hurt you on purpose?

Remember this?  The New Testament implores, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

Perhaps being hurt by someone is something that happens out of a lack of consciousness, a lack awareness for how someone’s actions — her attempts to meet needs- are affecting other people.

Take it away Lauren Hill:

Hurting someone is never, under any circumstances, a Universal need.  Hurting someone, in other words, is never the true motivation for what has gone down.

In fact, if we were conscious, we would see that we have never really wanted to hurt anyone at all, that we were all along trying desperately to meet a Universal need of which we were unconscious.  If we try to hurt someone “on purpose,” (which is impossible) this is our  last-ditch desperate (and often tragic) attempt to get a need met. Sad, isn’t it.

Rosenberg even goes so far as to say that violence is the expression of a longing for deep connection.

And right there, just from that understanding alone, you are going to feel some relief.

People can recover from almost any kind of natural disaster — from an earthquake to a forest fire — psychologically unscathed.  But getting slapped by your parent one day, or having your boyfriend cheat on you, can throw you into therapy for years.  We are tormented by the idea that someone might have consciously tried to harm us or hold us back in some way.

We emerge from these experiences extremely confused. How is it possible that someone who I have loved so deeply could do something to me that would hurt me so much?

The answers we give ourselves are usually the creepiest we can muster: he wasn’t a good person after all,  I never really loved him, she was using me that whole time, he’s a horrible person, she can’t be trusted, he’s just a liar…  yadah, yahdah, yahdah.

And while all of these judgements might be true, in the relative sense (ie. relative to what we consider right and just in our culture), what if there were another way to see things?

What if we saw people’s actions for what they actually are —  attempts to meet Universal needs?

Can it be that he cheated on me because he had a need for connection, intimacy, or even safety?

Can it be that she hit me because she had a need to be heard, considered, cared for, and a need for love and connection that had not been met for years –  or perhaps ever?

Can it be that she ignored me and disregarded my feelings because she had a need for security, safety and comfort?

Can it be that I stole that chocolate bar because I have a need for excitement and belonging?

Can it be that I didn’t follow through on what I said I was going to do because I have a need for gratitude and consideration?

Can it be that I don’t feel like helping because I have a need for unconditional love, consideration, inclusion and acceptance?

Our needs don’t make our actions “right” or “acceptable” or even “tolerable”; our needs simply point to our motives.

In fact, our needs always point quite clearly to our innocence.  We are, in a needs-based universe, constantly trying to find our way home to emotional homeostasis.

Often, when we are so focused on meeting our needs, we forget about the feelings of others, and of how we are impacting others.  We close down to other people’s feelings because in the frantic search for need-fulfilment other people’s feelings simply stop mattering. We are trying to survive.  Some of us who haven’t ever had our needs met, might not have even developed basic capacities for empathy and understanding, or we might not even know what we are feeling at all, being for so long closed off to our own feelings as well.

As the people in our lives try to get their Universal needs met, we are surely not always going to be happy about this, especially when our needs collide.

We’re still going to feel the hurt and the grief and the discomfort when our needs conflict (for example, if I have a need for freedom and you have a need for loyalty), but with the right understanding, we can start seeing these conflicts for the innocence that they are. We can start seeing others and ourselves for the innocence that we are.

We might one day discover that everyone involved, including the attack goldfish, has been found innocent.

Special thank you to Sharada Filkow and Ralph Miller, PhD for their teachings along this path.

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