The International Day of Peace was Sept. 21 and discussions about peace happened around the island. I had a discussion with a young man about peace, and the obstacles to peace, and the issue of respect came up. His point was that we are told to respect our elders, our families, our fellow students, our co-workers and neighbors (meaning those people you come in contact with). He continued that most of the time that is easy to do, but sometimes peoples’ actions seem unthoughtful and even cruel. How do we respect them then?
Counselors, ministers, teachers, and elders all acknowledge that it is a real challenge, especially for youth who are learning the ropes of our society. They see some people in positions of authority, including their family members, act unkindly and get away with it. But they don’t always get away with it. Domestic violators go to court, maybe jail, and have to learn new alternatives to their violent behavior. Other systems have ways of monitoring disrespectful behavior.
I had a math teacher who was a bully. He called us disrespectful names. It was an honors class. I had to stick it out for the year, but when I went back a few years later to a homecoming, he was no longer teaching. Kids who usually got good grades in his class did poorly, and did well again in another teachers’ classes. It caught up with him.
Back then we didn’t question how teachers taught. But now students who believe they are bullied can write down the “where, when and what happened,” and bring it up to the administration. Having an adult family member, another witness or your minister with you can help. Often these cases can be mediated. It would help you if you could hear the teacher’s side, too. Very often a misunderstanding occurs, and after that both sides are distrustful and sometimes believe that the other side is being disrespectful. Do something. If you are silent, the teacher’s behavior can continue.
Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. is a leader in “Nonviolent Communication.” His book, “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life,” is filled with true-life instances of how people used his “4-part NVC Process to diffuse violent, thoughtless, racist and other disrespectful behavior.”
You can download the entire 4-step Nonviolent Communication Process at http://www.nonviolentcommunication.com/aboutnvc/4partprocess.htm. There are also many videos of Rosenberg in action. Remember that people take courses in this. They practice. They make mistakes. They try again. In this brief space I’m introducing you to a new way of communicating with others, which is of the heart as well as with the mind.
In wanting to learn to have respect for others who may seem “unworthy” of it, we have to recognize that our judging them as “unworthy” is disrespectful on our part, too. We must develop empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Anger can come from a position of fear, weakness, or perceived loss of control.
We also have to have empathy for ourselves. Acknowledge the pain or anger you feel from another.
Don’t bury it with your head thinking, “Now it’s not nice to think like that.” Or, “I can be strong, and don’t need anyone.” Be compassionate. Somewhere along the way, your needs haven’t been met. Anger may be an appropriate response, but if we act from the anger, we continue the conflict, and we may get hurt more.
Rather, let’s proceed with the foundation of the 4-Part NVC Process: We all have needs. When they are met, we are happy, peaceful, inspired, trustful, safe, etc. When they are not met, we may feel angry, hopeless, disrespected, stressed, confused, embarrassed, scared, lonely, guilty, etc.
We need to understand that people have a human core very similar to our own. When needs are not met, we are off balance. We may not know what to do. This is when we need to take the time to know what need isn’t met and what we really want. In any conflict, it is the person who can get to this understanding, and take the time with it that becomes the leader of undoing the conflict and returning us both to our human core, which is deserving of respect. We all know of criminals or members of the “_____ anonymous” groups who have turned their lives around and helped people get back on track. They are successful because they have the empathy, and the others can trust it.
Another essential in the 4-Part process is that there is no blaming or criticizing. Criticizing comes from judgment. If it happens, the person won’t be able to feel safe with you, and won’t be able to fully participate. Inside ourselves we use these steps to express how we feel, and then we express them to the other person. The bold letters are the guidelines for both our personal feeling process and the one we share.
1. Be the observer. What exactly happened that does not make you feel good. Then state it through the senses that experienced it. “When I saw you look at me with your face in a scowl, and heard you call me an idiot …”
2. Share your feelings: How did you feel? “I felt frightened, embarrassed, disrespected …”
3. What are your unmet needs that cause these feelings? Share your needs: I need to feel safe and respected when I am with people.”
4. Empathically receive what would enrich your life without hearing any demands. Then make concrete action requests: “Would you be willing to be respectful to me, and not make faces when we are together? “If we have issues to work out, will you take the time to listen to both sides of the story and help create a win-win agreement?”
Practice this. Learn the interpersonal needs that we all have. Those are the needs that are about getting along together. They are:
• Acceptance and appreciation
• Being able to contribute to the enrichment of life
• Emotional safety
• Empathy, understanding
• Honesty (the empowering honesty that enables us to learn from our limitations)
• Reassurance, support
These are universal needs. That means that everyone has them. As you are opening to the needs that you have that aren’t being met, perhaps you can realize and open to the fact that the other person also has needs that aren’t being met. In Rosenberg’s above mentioned book, there is a story about how a drug addict came into a shelter demanding a place for the night. There wasn’t one, so he knocked the attendant down, put a knife to her throat and demanded one.
She knew that she couldn’t say that she didn’t have one. She began to have empathy for him and said, “It sounds like you’re really angry and you want to be given a room.” He yelled back, “I may be an addict, but by God, I deserve respect. I’m tired of nobody giving me respect. My parents don’t give me respect. I’m gonna get respect!” I just focused on his feelings and needs and said, “Are you fed up, not getting the respect that you want?”
Dr. Rosenberg asked, “How long did this go on?”
“Oh, about another 35 minutes,” she replied.
“That must have been terrifying.”
“No, not after the first couple of interchanges, because then something else we’d learned here became apparent. When I concentrated on listening for his feelings and needs, I stopped seeing him as a monster. I could see, just as you’d said, how people who seem like monsters are simply human beings whose language and behavior sometimes keep us from seeing their humanness. The more I was able to focus my attention on his feelings and needs, the more I saw him as a person full of despair whose needs weren’t being met. I became confident that if I held my attention there, I wouldn’t be hurt. After he’d received the empathy he needed, he got off me, put the knife away, and I helped him find a room at another center.”
This story is an extreme example, but we learn from each others’ stories. Always keep yourself safe. The point is that even if the behavior we see doesn’t seem worthy of respect as some might judge it, underneath is a worthy human waiting to emerge. Do a caterpillar and butterfly seem like the same animal?
Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Hale Opio Kauai, go to www.haleopiokauai.org.