In contemplating how compassionate communication would impact my daily life, I concluded that it would require a fundamental reordering of the cognitive processes I normally go through in relating to other people.
The usual process would go something like this:
Evaluate and judge the person, especially in terms of how they relate to my personal strategies and plans.
If the person is deemed worthy of my attention and energy, I will attempt to aid them in whatever manner seems most appropriate to me.
In the course of trying to help them, I might attempt to really understand their feelings and needs . . . but probably only if I find myself confused or stymied by their behavior. Empathy is a last resort.
The compassionate communicate approach reverses this whole process:
FIRST, try to understand where the other person is coming from: what feelings they are experiencing, and what needs those feelings are manifesting.
Then, START with the intention of helping that person meet their needsâ€¦ no matter who they are, or what those needs may turn out to be.
Then, once connection and understanding is established, attempt to devise a strategy with them that will meet their needs as well as mine.
The really radical part is the notion that you start with the assumption that you are going to consider everyone's needs. When I explained this to my wife, she said, "Yeah, it's really radical . . . sounds almost . . . well, Christian."
BING BING BING BING! Congratulations, you win! That is, indeed, the exact sentiment expressed in Jesus' first and greatest commandment: "â€¦Love thy neighbor as thyself." He invites us to consider the other person's needs as equivalent to our own. And that consideration for the other precedes all judgment; we are to love our enemies as well as our friends.
He is affirming our own needs, as well as those of others. Whether you are trying to meet your own needs, or trying to meet the other's needs, it's all the same: you are serving Life. From that perspective, the only sensible way to live a Christian life is to seek out strategies that meet everyone's needs. I think this is important to point out because so much of the Christian tradition is focused on self-abnegation, denying the self and its needs. I suspect that rejection of the self ultimately creates resentment, and interferes with the ultimate goal of transcending the division between self and other. When we are filled with divine Grace, then we can meet our own needs or the needs of others with equal compassion and acceptance.