Cultivating joyful giving and receiving!
When I suggest to people that compromise is not helpful for their relationships they often look a little perplexed and as if they didn’t hear me right.
Really? But I always thought compromise was a good thing….
Well I completely understand where that idea came from. I also grew up believing that nice people compromised! Only stubborn and rude people didn’t compromise and, as I prefer not be thought of as stubborn or rude, I compromised too!
What confused me though was how frequently my compromises still led to conflict. Somehow the frustration, irritation and resentment would eventually spill over and the little compromises I made would grow into deep hurts.
And I noticed that this wasn’t just happening to me. Somehow I sensed I was paying for the things I had asked others to compromise over. Not always immediately, but somewhere the begrudgingly given was recorded on a score sheet, and eventually there was a price to pay.
Then one day, while reading a book that changed my life, I understood that true giving from the heart is actually natural, joyful and mutually satisfying. In Nonviolent Communication, A Language For Life, Marshall Rosenberg writes about seeing his children blissfully feeding bread to some hungry ducks. Both parties were so delighted to be giving, and to be given to, that it was impossible to say who was the giver and who was the receiver!
This quality of giving and receiving is love in action and is what prevents resentment from taking root in our hearts and pulling apart our relationships.
So I resolved to go forward in life doing things for others and asking others to do things for me, only if they are done with the same energy and joy as a little child feeding a hungry duck!
This is not as easy as it sounds, and one of the things I had to learn was the difference between compromise and shift.
What’s the difference?
A compromise is basically something I do, even when I don’t really want to. Generally I do it because I think I should, either because there will be a consequence later or because I want you to think I am kind, good, nice, helpful etc. And I definitely don’t want you to think I am stubborn, rude or selfish! Trouble is that the the price I pay for you thinking I am nice, is authenticity and connection. And for me this is too high.
A shift however feels quite different!
This happens when I am connected to my needs AND the other persons needs. Now, understanding how I could contribute to making their life more wonderful, I want to meet their request with a yes!
Let me give you an example. My daughter is currently living and working as an au pair for a family not far from where I live. This is really wonderful as I get to see and hang out with her weekends. One day she called me up and told me that the family she works for had more home-grown vegetables than they needed. They wanted to know if I would like some as they would be unable to use them all before they went away on holiday.
Friday came around, and my daughter arrived on the train to spend the weekend with me as planned. Sadly she had forgotten the vegetable box. She asked me if I would be willing to go into town the next day and pick it up from their house.
I was not willing. I was teaching that weekend and, although I would really have liked the vegetables, my priorities were for ease and focus on the weekend ahead of me.
I had a commitment to a colleague who had travelled all the way from Copenhagen and 14 students who had paid for my time and attention. I told my daughter that I only wanted the vegetables if they turned up in my kitchen with out me raising a finger!
The next day passed very smoothly. My colleague and I came home from our workshop, ate supper, and went for a walk with my daughter along the lake. As we were walking home my daughter started to talk again about the vegetables. She asked me if she could have a lift into town with me in the morning, so that she could pick up the vegetables, and then take the train back with them to my house.
I started to feel irritated. What a lot of fuss about a box of vegetables! I was about to ask her why she couldn’t just relax and forget about the stupid vegetables when I was saved by some compassionate curiosity!
Instead I turned to my daughter and said,
“I’m curious sweetheart, what’s important to you about these vegetables?”
She started to tell me about how touched she was that the woman she works for had thought of offering them to me.
“Ah,” I said. “Do you really appreciate this act of generosity and sharing? Do you want to acknowledge the gift and kindness you see?”
“Yes” said my daughter.
I asked her what else was important to her about this and she told me how recently she had gone into the cellar to get some onions and had found some potatoes which had rotted. She felt so sad to see the waste and disappointed that those potatoes hadn’t made their way onto someone’s plate.
“Ah,” I said. “Is it sad for you when the effort and resources that go into growing food are not honored and appreciated?”
“Yes”, she sad.
In this moment I experienced shift.
My needs for ease and focus were no longer the only important thing. I still wanted it to be easy but now I was also connected to, and wanting to contribute to, my daughters needs for appreciation and care for resources. Suddenly I was willing, really willing, to drive into town the next day and collect the vegetables after my workshop.
I was connected to both my precious needs and my daughters and now I could collect the vegetables joyfully, willingly and with love. I wouldn’t need to punish her later for making me do something I didn’t want to and I didn’t need to make a big sacrifice!
- Get connected to your needs. Take time out, use a needs list for inspiration, use the Inspiring Tabletop Tool, ask someone for empathy. Whatever it takes to get clear on what’s important to you. Whenever we say yes or no to something we are trying to meet needs. What needs are behind your no? What needs would you meet by saying yes?
- Give yourself permission to hold these needs as precious and valuable. Notice if there are any stories inside about having to give up on these needs for a quiet life, or because that’s what kind and considerate people do. Make a commitment to holding your own needs with care while being sensitive to the needs of the other.
- Get curious. I think the question what’s important to you about…..? Is really helpful. It might call for a bit of detective work from you, especially if the other person doesn’t have a needs vocabulary. The key is uncovering what needs the person is trying to meet through whatever they are asking you to do.
- Reflect and check in. This is sometimes the trickiest bit. Finding the words to express what is important to you without blame or judgement of the other. Vulnerably expressing what needs you are trying to meet when you say yes, no or make a request. Dig deep. Connect to what’s alive in you and then share what’s important. Make empathic guesses about whats important to the other. Ask them how they feel. Make understanding the precious needs alive for each of you the priority.
What ever solution you come to as a result of being connected to your own and the others needs is much more likely to be effective, satisfying and wholehearted than if you stay stuck on the strategy.
My daughter and I could have gone around in circles all weekend, trying to find a way to get, or avoid getting the vegetables!
In the end we made a vegetable curry instead. Which was way more delicious!