Verbal “Attacks” from Strangers
Sometimes people you don’t know tell you about their unmet needs quite openly.Unfortunately this usually takes the indirect jackal* approach, in traffic you might hear something like, “You $%$%&*@!, watch where the hell you’re going!”
In the framework of Compassionate Communication (NVC), in any situation, we are asking the question, “What creates connection?”
In the situation above, you might first enjoy your jackal show in reaction to the other person. If jackals don’t take over, you can hopefully watch your jackal show without expressing it verbally. You might have some choice words for the other person or for yourself if you think you did something wrong. Just notice these thoughts without believing them or elaborating on them.
As the adrenalin subsides, you can start to create connection by asking yourself what just happened that triggered the other person, what feelings and needs might be up for them?
Doing this internally helps dissolve jackals that make either you or the other person wrong. In the traffic example above, the driver is likely reacting out of fear and has a need for ease and safety.
In closer and less volatile situations you might be able to respond verbally with empathy. For example, you might cut in front of someone in line without realizing there was a line there.The person behind you says, “Hey lady, can’t you see there’s a line here!” You respond asyou step to the end of the line,“I didn’t see Frustrating waiting so long, huh.”
When you are able to offer empathy to a stranger speaking jackal, whether silently or out loud, you dissolve that ripple of violence they sent your way. It doesn’t continue on through you to affect the next person you encounter or your family upon arriving home. You don’t have to decide who was wrong in the interaction and then punish yourself or the other person with more jackal words or thoughts. You create peace in the face of violence in that moment of empathy.
Sometimes the feeling and need of a stranger isn’t easy to guess. In this case, you can use a simple form of empathy like,“He is either hurting or scared. He wants to protect some life giving need.”
Grieving and self-empathy can also create connection. Seeing someone communicate their needs in ways that don’t consider your needs, you may feel grief and disappointment needing kindness, awareness, and consideration as you go about your day. Giving yourself time to feel sadness over this rather than trying to just brush it off and move on, honors the needs that weren’t honored by the stranger. Honoring yourself allows you to continue to honor others.
This week take up the practice of empathy for strangers whether you directly interact with them or not. As you are out and about choose someone who you can hear and see clearly and silently guess their feelings and needs and wish them well.