We all know that collaboration, networking being part of a community are key tools for our growth and sustenance. Without them, it is easy to experience loneliness, isolation and the depression that accompanies those feelings. This TEDx talk, which has 75 years of research behind it, highlights the importance of relationships to our long term happiness and well-being. Yet forging and sustaining nurturing, supportive relationships can be a challenge. Why is that?
Within our hearts, we all have two fundamental and opposite energies: love and hate. Or, to put it another way, people trigger in us one of two reactions: our understanding or our resistance.
The old Native American story of the wise elder who describes why she has lived such a long and happy life describes it this way: We have two wolves inside us, hungry to be fed through our thoughts, words and actions. One is the wolf of love and understanding of others. The other is the wolf of hate and our resistance to certain others. Depending on which one we choose to feed, either one of these energies, or wolves, will grow within our hearts and our minds. This makes it important to consider what focus we give to our thoughts, words and deeds.
When we have thoughts of hostility, prejudice, exclusion or dislike, and whenever we indulge in various forms of ill-treatment of others, we cultivate the energy of hate and resistance. In addition, whenever we consider anyone to be outside our natural circle – be it through race, religion, political leanings or difficult behaviour – we deem it acceptable to treat them badly and to devalue them in our minds.
By contrast, our thoughts of loving kindness, compassion, benevolence, generosity, forgiveness and inclusiveness foster a greater humanity among us all, and promote wellbeing and the wolf of love and understanding.
Every person we interact with, or even think about, triggers one of these two reactions in us. If, by cultivating benevolent thoughts, words and deeds, we can maximise the energy of love and understanding, then the stress that we sometimes associate with interpersonal relationships will be reduced.
Here are four tips for growing the wolf of love and understanding:
- Always speak from your calm centre: When you have something difficult to say ensure you are in a calm, centred place before you speak. Imagine speaking with dignity and nobility. And do your best to be respectful when you speak, even if you are feeling strong, negative emotions.
- Be mindful of your tone: We are often unaware of our tone when we speak. Sometimes we have to be very conscious of the energy behind our words to keep our tone free of irritation, anxiety or impatience.
- Before you start a difficult conversation, mentally clarify the result you would like. Challenging circumstances often produce many wrongs that we hope to right, but it is most effective to deal with one issue at a time, and work towards a positive result step by step. Concede, too, on small areas of friction, so as to gain your bigger result. The temptation during an awkward communication is to press on to get another issue put right, but moving too fast can re-instigate hostility.
- Practise the art of Non-Violent Communication.This set of fantastic communication skills shows us to speak from a place of personal responsibility, drawing on awareness of our own feelings and our deeper needs. This web site and approach is well worth exploring as it offers ways to create relationships based on collaboration and compassion. The suggested structure of Non-Violent Communication is very helpful and guides us to:
- State the facts free from evaluation: ‘When X happens’ (fact)
- Express the inner feelings that it triggered in us in a compassionate way: ‘I feel Y’ (feeling)
- Express the deeper needs or values that are not being met in the situation: ‘I need Z’ (needs)
- Request what we do want in a non-demanding and non-threatening way
For example this might be:“When you didn’t answer my calls yesterday, I felt hurt and unimportant. I need to feel that I am important to you and that you care. Please could you call me back on the same day that I call so that I know you are all right, and that I am important to you.”
- Speak from the masculine or feminine, as appropriate. We all have masculine and feminine energies within us. In general, women use ‘empathy language’ which prioritises the need for understanding and listening, whereas men tend to speak in ‘solutions language’ that calls for a specific or logical response to the problem. When trying to resolve a conflict, consider whether you should use empathy-based or solutions-based language: a judicious choice makes it more likely for your conversational partner to feel heard, and so respond positively to what you say.
To conclude, taking the time to practice good communication in relationships can help us grow the wolf of love and understanding within us. This in turn helps us to grow as people and have relationships that nurture and inspire us. In short, this practice leads to success in even our most challenging relationships.