Friday, March 15, 2019 evening
Twisty-turn stomach. I’m exhausted today because some part of my body wants to cry , to shake with grief over 49 dead and more injured in Christchurch, New Zealand, Facebook live video footage of the attack, manifesto of hate, praise for the president of my country by the shooter. The weight of it all is too heavy.
Another part of my body says, “No, it’s too risky. If you start to grieve, you may never stop. There’s too much. Too much. Too much to grieve. You will drown in it.”
And so I’m tired. My head hurts. My back aches. My throat feels a shrill scream stuck and waiting to escape whenever, however, it can.
This morning I led a Nonviolent Communication practice group session in which we practiced empathetic listening. This was a practice of receiving difficult-to-hear messages and reflecting back with care. Nonviolent Communication invites us, when we hear a message that is difficult, into four steps:
1) to reflect back observations that the speaker may be referring to in order to understand what is evoking the person’s feelings
2) to reflect back what stated or unstated feelings the speaker is expressing
3) to reflect back what needs or values are at the heart of the speaker’s experience, and
4) to seek strategies to meet the need(s) that are causing the speaker pain.
A seemingly simple process.
However, humans are not simple and our actions and the needs beneath them are often unclear. We’ve been taught that our needs aren’t important or that we should ignore them or deny them. We’ve been taught that we “need” a new car or the latest phone or to go to that one restaurant. Those aren’t needs. They’re strategies to meet needs for… autonomy or reliability? Communication or clarity? Adventure or health? Some other needs that every human being experiences?
We are trained not to go deep into our (or others’) feelings. If, by chance, we’ve been taught that we’re “allowed” to have feelings, we are very rarely taught to take the next step, to unearth the needs that are calling for our attention. Instead, we place blame on someone (including possibly ourselves), heap shame, deepen disconnection and discord, while the unspoken and unknown needs remain unspoken, unknown, and unanswered.
Marshall Rosenberg, developed of Nonviolent Communication, said that everything we do is an expression of gratitude for a need met or a “tragic expression of unmet needs.”
What happened in Christchurch was tragic. And my head entertains a question that my heart, holding all its grief for the deceased and their families and friends and for Muslims around the world, is not ready to allow in yet: What were the feelings of a 28-year-old man that led him to enter into two mosques on a Friday afternoon during prayers and shoot dozens of people? What needs was he trying to meet?
I’m not ready to think about what was in that killer’s heart. I’m not ready to wonder what may lie beneath the rage that led to so many deaths. What may lie beneath the rage of others like him.
But after I have grieved with others, felt the love through our collective grief, filled myself with that love that buoys and gives strength to all of us as we live into our interconnection, I will share what I have received by considering these questions that are achingly difficult to consider:
How do we reach those hearts? How do we shower with love those people whose brokenness is so deep or whose shell of protection is so impermeable that they believe breaking others will somehow lead to their own well-being? Can our torrents of gushing tears find them, cleanse them, mend them? How do we even find the will to try when they have caused such destruction?
I hope that the will comes from a desire to express love unconditionally. Hope unconditionally. Curiosity unconditionally. When I am ready, I want to step into these challenging questions that a wise teacher of mine shared:
How much pain would I have to be in in order to do what he or they did? If I walked in his/their shoes, lived his/their life, would I have done exactly the same thing?
Deep within, we are not so different.
How do we honor interconnection not only with the victims, survivors, loved ones, but also the perpetrators?
How do we love them, too?
These questions reside within me and wait for my heart to be open up enough to let them in.