For the past week, I’ve been practising Krav Maga from 9 to 5 as part of my KMI instructor update. Needless to say, I’m pretty exhausted physically.

On Wednesday morning I wake up, go to make some coffee and say “Good morning” to Ed, my housemate. He replies with “Morning.”.

Something doesn’t sound right, and it only takes a moment before he turns to me and says: “Hey, do you mind if we don’t leave pots and pans out to dry on the counter. It kinda makes it hard to do stuff.” I guessed that he was irritated by the tone of his voice.

Instead of empathising, my immediate thoughts were founded on injustice. “I shouldn’t put clean pots and pans on the counter? How about he doesn’t leave dirty dishes on the coffee table and kitchen table? How about he doesn’t leave smears of avocado all over the bench tops?”

These thoughts were there and gone in a flash. I’ve heard Ed’s request as a demand and my mind has resorted to rebellion.

What good would expressing these thoughts be? It’s basically fighting fire with fire. As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” How can I respond to Ed’s request then, in such a way as to strengthen and grow the relationship?

I can connect with the emotions and needs behind his request. “It sounds like you’re irritated and are needing a sense of cleanliness and order in the kitchen.” Then when I’m in touch with these emotions and needs, I may be able to express my point of view.

“Would you be willing to hear why I sometimes leave dishes out or left this dish out specifically?”

Since I’ve given him empathy around his emotions, he’s now far more likely to agree to my request for expression. We can then come to a course of action that is mutually beneficial.

What did I actually say in response to Ed’s request?

“Sure thing, man.”

We’re not all perfect, me especially. It goes to show, empathy and compassion take practice. I write and talk about this stuff regularly, but it can still be a challenge. These habits aren’t ones we’re typically brought up to have in a western culture.

As I’ve mentioned before, when we’re faced with a demand, we have two choices: submission or rebellion. I opted for submission in this case. I can justify it and say I chose not to engage in empathy and compassion because I was running late and would rather have shown up on time for my Krav Maga training, but it’s still submission. It can still have a detrimental effect on the relationship. Detrimental if I hold onto those fleeting feelings of injustice and seek retribution on some level.

Don’t worry Ed, I still love your energy and vibrant personality.

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