I feel, I need, I ask
Then Moses said to God…”What is [your] name?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” – Exodus 3:13-14a
From the moment Moses asked God’s name, God showed us how to make an “I statement,” clearly defining the self, with no frills or caveats: “I am who I am!” Jesus continued the tradition, especially in John’s gospel, with his series of madcap metaphors: I am the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Good Shepherd, the Bread of Heaven. He goes on and on!
Polite society discourages us from talking too much about ourselves, but this hasn’t necessarily made us any less egocentric. In fact, a healthy airing of the “I” helps us identify and honor our individual feelings and needs in a way that makes for more peaceful relationships with all of the “yous” around us.
Think of the last fight you had: did you make accusations like “You always ___! You never ___! You are such a ___! You make me feel ___!” The focus on the “you” you are facing just puts your partner on the defensive, and the fight escalates.
The tagline of the Nonviolent Communication (NVC) movement is “what you say next can change your world.” At its core, NVC is about recognizing that every human being has a host of feelings: grouchy, exuberant, fascinated, jealous.
Those feelings are directly related to a panoply of legitimate human needs. Needs like rest, pleasure, beauty and trust.
You could devote hundreds of hours to learning and then practicing NVC, but I can sum it up for you in these six words:
These are three core practices of an NVC conversation: identify and name your feelings. Relate the need behind the feeling. And make a request of your conversation partner (note: all requests may not be honored!). Like this: “I feel sad when you leave the house without saying goodbye, because I love you and I need intimacy and connection. I am asking you to pause at the door and shout a farewell as you leave each day.”
This is much harder in practice than it sounds. It’s so much easier to say YouYouYou, as it turns out! But it’s a definitive way to let me be me, you be you, and God the great I Am hold us together.
God, in my next fight with that super annoying person who is doing those things to me, help me honor my feelings (and theirs), guess at both of our needs, and make a way forward toward Your peace.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.