“Empathy is a respectful understanding of what others are experiencing.”
It is the ability to postpone judgment, interpretation, and evaluation, so you can be with someone’s observations, feelings, needs, and desires. It is the willingness to be vulnerable and accept their perspective, to understand the world through their eyes.
Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings helped me to acknowledge the fact that I had needs, a fact that was unknown to me at that time. Yep, I always thought that I didn’t need anything or anyone. Never considered I wanted acceptance, belonging, respect. After the first revelation that I had needs, I learned that my feelings arose from my needs…. Du-uh?!… Aren’t others responsible for my feelings? I can’t blame them? Or thank them? Don’t I make people happy? (or sad, angry, lonely, scared) Am I not responsible for what they are feeling?
After a few years of calibrating the ideas that I have needs, and that my feelings are a result from my needs being met or unmet, I started to experiment with Marshall Rosenberg’s insights on requests. Making requests that are an invitation to collaboration and connection. Different from a demand, isn’t it?
Six years later I can tell that I think I am getting it. Maybe not completely, and I am getting there. Even better, last night I taught a class on collaboration. I used all my understanding of Nonviolent Communication. The assistant professor thought it was a phenomenal session that exemplified collaboration.
I want to share one precious memory I have of him. I participated in a training that he led. I was invited for a healing session with him. He impersonated my three-day old sister, who died when I was two. I had always seen her in my mind’s eye as an incapacitated person. Then he started empathizing with me, as her. And while I was talking with him -Marshall Rosenberg impersonating my younger sister- I clearly saw her aura around him.
I cried tender and much needed tears. After the session I realized that the younger sister that I always held as handicapped, had transformed into a mature woman, who was there whenever I needed her. This transformation was so profound that my life opened up, and I made choices I would never have dreamed of making.
Not everyone was happy with my choices. For me they were an expression of my autonomy and authenticity. I am deeply grateful for Marshall’s contribution to my courage to be honest with others and following my dream.
Marshall, you didn’t die January 7, 2015. You continue to live in my heart and through your contributions to this world. Thank you.