In Nonviolent Communication you strive to act out of your needs. Everything you do, you want to do it because it serves your needs, including your need to help others. If you can do this, then you’ll experience life as joyful play.
However, this isn’t how the wider culture encourages you to act. You live in a culture that endorses the punishment and reward model. This model says that your behavior is shaped by the rewards and punishments we receive. You act in certain ways becasue they will produce some sort of reward or avoid some sort of punishment. And as a culture we like this model because it makes life very simple: if I want my kids to clean up their room threaten them with a time out; if I want my wife to make dinner just buy her flowers; if I want to stop swearing put money in a jar every time I do.
The problem with the punishment and reward model is that it breeds resentment. I’m sure you can think of a time when you were a kid and your parents threatened you with some sort of punishment if you didn’t do X, and so you did X but with a grudge. And rewards equally develop resentment. For example, when I was younger my parents would give me an allowance for mowing the yard. If I didn’t mow it, there wouldn’t be any punishment per se, I just wouldn’t get the money. So I’d mow the lawn every week, but the whole time I felt frustrated that I “had” to do it. I got a reward for mowing the lawn, and it still cultivated resentment in me.
So how can we tell when we’re acting out of the punishment and reward model or out of our own needs? Below are three questions that reveal your true motivation:
“Why am I doing this?”
“What am I thinking about while doing this?”
“How do I feel while doing this?”
You can ask yourself these questions about any activity you’re engaged in. The first one can sometimes give the simplest and quickest answer. When I worked as a waiter if I had asked myself “why am I doing this?” the answer would have been simple…”money”. But money is not a need of ours. At best it is a strategy to meet needs like food, shelter, etc but more often it is simply a reward. Now when I ask the question “why am I doing this?” about teaching Nonviolent Communication my answer is “to help other people”. We all have a need to help others and contribute to their well-being.
But sometimes our answers to that first question aren’t so simple. Sometimes we think that we’re doing something out of our own needs, but when we dig a little deeper we find that in fact we’re still playing the reward and punishment game. That’s why we have two other very helpful questions “What am I thinking about while doing this?” and “How do I feel while doing this?”
A close friend asked me to take care of her dog while she was away. I agreed thinking to myself “I’d love to help her, I really appreciate our friendship”. Seems like I’m acting out of my own needs. But then I noticed that while taking the dog on long walks, being awoken in the middle of the night to let the dog out, and picking up the dog’s droppings I was feeling annoyed and agitated. I also felt excited about when my friend would return and I could go home. I also noticed that while taking care of the dog I was constantly thinking about the money I’d be making and what I could do with it, instead of thinking about my friend, or being present in the moment, or even happy thoughts about doing something kind. All of this indicated clearly that I was in fact doing this favor out of a desire for a reward rather than out of my own needs.
Try these questions out in your life. See if you can distinguish what you do out of your own needs, and what you do because of punishments and rewards. And then try to find ways to reduce how much you do because of the pressure of rewards and punishments. The more you can do that, the more joyful and playful life becomes.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.