Marshall B Rosenberg says that every person, every second, and in every place is trying to meet their basic needs with the best tools available. This simple idea lies at the heart of the Non-violent Communication theory. It reminds me of asking for help at a Salvation Army one day when I was about 17. They turned me away, but in a way which I found insulting. I got angry, and slammed the door on my way out, cursing and swearing at the staff. Perhaps at that point they simply put me into a "troubled" category. I know if someone storms out of our shelter despite my attempts to help, my first reaction is to judge them as "unhappy" or "ill." If I take a second, however, and think about the underlying need presented, I may have another option. Quite often when I was on the street, I would ask for things that I perhaps didn't need, but there was an underlying need to be heard, or empathized with.
For example, if I was bumming change, or a smoke, I took serious offence to people ignoring me. I would rather have a stern "No!" then averted eyes. Why? Perhaps because my underlying mode is to see if anyone cares. Really, the whole idea that "people don't care" tormented to no end when I was out there. I couldn't believe that people could walk by a 15 year old sleeping in a parkade without asking if I was ok. You know what would have been nice? Somebody saying "I see you, and I can't help you right now because I am busy with my life, but I do care..." Would that take much time? Not really. So why do we cross the street, or ignore those who make us feel uncomfortable? Well, I can speak for myself and say that I am afraid I will get lost in helping, that I will get "trapped" in a long-winded story about how hard someone's life is. I have stopped to help before, and found that the need is so great, I have to eventually detach myself to carry on with my day.
Yet couldn't I just take the time to be honest and validate a need for 3 seconds (the amount of time it would take to be honest)? Chances are it would take less energy, I would feel better about what I did, and I just may share a real awareness with another human. It doesn't seem so bad, but maybe a bit scary.