Two Great Letters
I bet you are wonder which letters they are?! Possibly A? It gets our alphabet started, gets you first in line at grade school if your name began with A. Or T, because my name begins with T. E gets used quite a bit as well.
I am actually referring to two letters that I wrote (they were actually a series) of back and forth letters (they were actually email and texts). So, really, this has nothing to do with letters of the alphabet, and since I don’t particularly buy into the good, bad, right, wrong model of thinking, I must rescind my interpretation of ‘great’ - the title of this post is now “Two”.
The first set of letters was with a friend – well, not really a friend. This communication was with a person whom I met through my partner Steve, and this is a person with whom I had a troubled connection with (in my experience) throughout the 15 years I have known him. We got off to a rocky start because of conflicts and missed opportunities to communicate deeply, followed by intentional attempts to find understanding and connection, with limited success. Repeat this over and over - maybe 4 or 5 times.
Our most recent challenge happened over 4 years ago, and the last thing I remembered hearing was, “I don’t want to talk about it with you”. We hadn’t spoken again until a few months ago. I am going to skip over the details of who said what and when.
Suffice it to say, my belief was the relationship was severed, and given our history, would not likely mend to any significant degree.
The purpose of writing this now is to celebrate an experience of connection when in all likelihood it wouldn’t happen (given the strong good/bad, right/wrong thinking that was spinning around in my head).
This person reached out to me – in person – suggesting that he missed our connection and that he wanted to talk. It was later on in the evening, and we began talking. Just like that.
I felt incredibly uncomfortable, and I was about 65% in the conversation, 35% wondering how it was possible and why we were having a conversation. I had a lot of unspoken hurts, resentments, and feelings of confusion. Did he not remember what he had said to me? In the years that we had not spoken, I had some of the biggest challenges of my life occur …and still not a peep, no reaching out then, no offers of support or interest of any kind had come my way.
Two days later, I got an email from this person, expressing how meaningful it was for him for us to be talking again, and that he wanted to deepen our connection and talk more.
My internal response indicated to me that I was not yet ready to say yes to this. I was having an internal freakout. Has that ever happened for you? The thoughts of anger, confusion, and remembering(s) of all the bad, bad conversations we had in the past came rushing into my forefront of my consciousness. I was livid. No f*ing way. Not again. I was done. I didn’t catch it in the mirror, yet I am pretty certain fire was coming out my ears.
Lucky for me, I have studied and practiced Nonviolent Communication for many years. I had the benefit of this knowledge, along with the commitment to my own values, to guide my response.
What did I do?
Step One ~ Empathy for myself. Meaning connecting to what is important to me.
I am committed to anything I say or do contributing to the person(s) I am interacting with. I know that whatever happened in the past, this person was attempting to get precious needs met. These two thoughts helped me relax. I now had a platform to unpack my judgments and connect to my own precious needs which were driving all of my rage. If I could uncover those needs, then I could take an action that would more likely generate the experiences I was hoping for. In this case, it was care, to matter, and consideration. This particular ongoing struggle ran very deep for me. The amount of rage indicated the significance it has for me (vs. how awful the other person was — just in case that is where you are going).
Step Two – More empathy for myself.
Like I said, this particular struggle was long, ongoing for many years, and had a lot of significance for me. I wanted (needed?) time. Not to avoid the conversation. Time to really ~ as they say ~ connect to the beauty of the need as met - meaning steeping in the energy of the needs of care, to matter, and consideration. This is critical for me to find calm. Calm is where creativity is possible.
While I wanted time, I was also mindful that it was important to me to respond within a week or so. I imagined that it might have been challenging for the other person to write this to me. I imagined that if he was at all like me, he was waiting for a response, feeling nervous having revealed his care, and was concerned about what might come back at him. What I am pointing out here, is that because of my commitment to contributing to others, I was very conscious of his needs while also attending to my own.
Step Three – Empathy for the Other.
As you can tell, as I deepened my connection to my own needs, I had more room to drop into what his needs were. I hadn’t lost the capacity to intellectually understand that he had needs and, most likely, what they were. When I found myself calm and fully aware of my own needs, I was able to be connected to his needs. So, basically, the step of connecting to the other person’s needs happened organically. I want to point out that I am always trying to connect to someone else’s needs - it isn’t something that I must ‘remember to do’. I am always working toward it, but just at times can’t get there, and until I’m there, I will be extra mindful of what conversations I will begin.
Step Four – Respond.
Finally! This is where I wrote the first great letter!!
I was able to write a letter to this person - a letter that invited care and consideration. Not just for me - those needs aren’t getting met if I demand that I must receive those needs. I want to generate the possibility of that experience for both of us. I wrote honestly, continually checking in when relating my experiences in the past… did he have the same understanding, the same memories? Long story short, he actually didn’t have the same experience at all. His ‘story’ of the past was very different than mine.
I re-realized what I already knew. 1. Our conversations to ‘get over things’ haven’t gone well. 2. Life is short. Many of these things happened over 10 years prior. 3. Now I had the benefit of deeply trusting that I can navigate any relationship well. 4. I much prefer feelings of welcome and connection (vs. nervousness and isolation) when I visit, and it was up to me as to which I would choose.
I chose connection!
We agreed that we understood the past differently, we both felt sufficiently heard, we both had no interest in re-hashing these things, we both thought there was plenty else to talk about – and we agreed to leave the past in the past. [leaving the past in the past is tricky ~ look for a blog specifically on that.]
My second great letter got sent!
My second great letter was to clearly share what I just did in the paragraph above. Friendship/connection/care/warmth/welcome. That is what I want. I said yes! And it has been delightful. Mind you, my choice is perfect for this relationship (at least so far). That is the miracle of NVC consciousness – or compassionate consciousness. The response is unique to each situation – the process is always the same. Think it through, and connect enough to provoke everyone's needs getting met.
Say this not that:
One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is: Is there a way for their needs to get met without my giving up on my own? And - then take it upon ourselves to look through the lens of compassion for that answer.