Of all the people in the world, it’s often those we’re closest to we have the hardest time communicating with compassion. Past emotional baggage and experiences set a precedent for our interactions with them. It may be hard for our friends, family and partners to trust that we’re speaking to them with their best interests at heart – not trying to manipulate or coerce them as we’ve done before.
This is exactly the way I’d describe my experiences speaking to Aden (my brother) over the past year or two.
Last week was his birthday, turning a sprightly 22 years old. The occasion had me thinking about some of the experiences we’ve had recently and what I’ve learnt from them. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about these lessons. They could apply to any close and important relationship.
The Obnoxious Stage
I’m panting like a dog, sweat soaking my cotton shirt. My feet begin slipping under the gravelly surface as if I’m walking on a treadmill. I look back and see we’ve only travelled 50 metres up the mountain. Bloody hell! My brother is trailing behind the group, a look of desperation and exhaustion on his face.
Determined to push to the top as fast as possible, despite the 20-odd kilograms of gear on my back and a depleted party, I urge everyone on in short bursts. Aden asks that we stop more frequently. I hear it as a demand and respond with rebellion. The climb to the top of Mount Warlock is tinged with a horrid taste as I’m displeased during the conversation.
I won’t try to recount the exact words said or actions performed, for fear of getting them wrong, but what is abundantly clear is that my brother was upset and hurt on that climb – perhaps even embarrassed and scared, too.
At this point, I had been practising compassionate communication for a little while and understood that I was responsible for my own emotions and needs – no one else’s. They were responsible for their emotions, not I.
Reflecting on it now, I see this experience as a textbook example of the obnoxious stage. I knew I wasn’t responsible for the emotions and needs of others, however, I didn’t have an awareness or concern for Aden’s emotions or needs. I put my own needs above his. Instead of empathising with him to hear his needs and how they might be met – perhaps a need for safety, rest and reassurance – I bulldozed ahead to meet my own need for autonomy and self-worth.
My needs were met at the expense of others’
This is the difference between doing and being compassionate, as I mentioned previously. If you just follow the guidelines with some greater objective in mind, the person you’re communicating with will sense it. Aden sensed that I was not acting with his interests at heart, and as a result, no connection was established. Relationships cannot prosper without a connection.
In this case, I made my needs more important than my brother’s. Since we all have the same fundamental needs, I can respect that his needs are just as important as mine. Being compassionate is about endeavouring to meet the needs of everyone – not just one person.
I’ve got one more story and lesson to share, but it will have to wait until later this week.
If you’d like to learn more about communicating with compassion and growing clear, intentional and honest relationships, I’m running a one-day training course through a hike in the Blue Mountains this June. There are limited spots available, so be sure to check it out soon.