Many of us humans really enjoy a good old gossip about the unfortunate and silly lives of other humans (of course not our own), or a chance to have a proper whinge* about our horrible bosses together OR the opportunity to blame someone else for their terrible idea’s and behaviours as we act the moral police without their knowing.
And you might be reading this either in full acknowledgement that you do enjoy the above rituals, or perhaps you're noticing that although you might enjoy it you feel ashamed admitting to it, OR that you absolutely do not enjoy it and think that all humans that spend their time doing so are below you?
And any of the above scenarios are natural, ok, and totally normal - why?
BECAUSE WE ARE HUMAN, and judging each other is almost as natural as breathing.. in fact Gossip, Bitch and Complain are all judgmental adjectives that attempt to describe what us humans are doing when we express our feels and needs to one another in such a way.
In the book “Sapiens A Brief History of Humankind” the author and historian Yuval Noah Harari talks about how fundamentally, gossiping is what sets us apart from other mammals and has allowed us to create bonds, relationships and structures of trust, respect and cooperation within our communities. Through gossip we assess who we want to build our lives with, who we feel safe around and who we want to keep an eye on.
“Social cooperation is our key for survival and reproduction,”....“It is not enough for individual men and women to know the whereabouts of lions and bisons. It’s much more important for them to know who in their band hates whom, who is sleeping with whom, who is honest and who is a cheat.”
Essentially we use gossip in order to feel safe, and to bring connection and togetherness into our community. This is what we are aiming for when we choose to judge and blame each other in our whispers of dismay and disapproval with our friends and families. We gossip in order to protect, and yet this tragic expression of our beautiful intentions of care and protection are also the creators of enemy images, hierarchical systems and blaming one another instead of shared responsibility within the community, family or relationship.
So why do we STILL do it?
Whilst attending an online course with the NVC trainer, Arnina Kashtan, she beautifully described how us humans have developed our use of judgments and rite or wrong thinking as a way of distinguishing between visual and audio triggers which are “safe or dangerous”, meaning that every judgment we make is our reptilian and limbic brain (the survival system) observing and evaluating scenarios as life threatening or life serving.
So our sweet brains are really just working very hard to try and keep us from being eaten by lions or dragged into the swamp by a crocodile.
The thing is, we no longer live out in the savannahs, jungles and forests, yet our brains are still wired to protect us from dangers that no longer exist. It is our responsibility to help our brains distinguish what is actually dangerous, from what is simply a waiter bringing us something we didn't order or our partner not responding to our messages for 2 days.
So what can we do instead?
When we are able to separate what we see and hear, from what we imagine to be right or wrong, (safe or dangerous) we can begin to translate these judgments into the underlying feelings and needs that propel us to look for safety in our interactions and relationships. The universal needs that we all share and which attend to our wellbeing as humans on this earth .
NVC / Compassionate Communication is more than just a tool to help us understand ourselves and each other more easily. It is in effect a way for us to start changing the old neural pathways of judgment and danger that we have been walking and skiing down forever in our brains, for new routes and walks through the mind which allow us to connect more deeply, noticing what is happening in “reality” and taking ownership and care of the stories our minds are trying to tell us so that we can understand the what is really needed from within.
DR Dan siegel talks about how our own “Mindsight”can help us to recognise what is happening for us individually and internally so that we can make changes through self responsibility and self awareness.
Mindsight: This is a term coined by Dr. Dan Siegel and the following definition is quoted from his website. "Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in. It lets us "name and tame" the emotions we are experiencing, rather than being overwhelmed by them. Consider the difference between saying 'I am sad' and 'I feel sad.' Similar as those two statements may seem, there is actually a profound difference between them. 'I am sad' is a kind of self-definition, and a very limiting one. 'I feel sad' suggests the ability to recognize and acknowledge a feeling, without being consumed by it. The focusing skills that are part of mindsight make it possible to see what is inside, to accept it, and in the accepting to let it go, and, finally, to transform it."
Dan Siegel’s mindsight is very much the state that we are in when we begin to empathise with ourselves and move into self connection, one of the three modes of connection in NVC. Through self connection and the process of understanding our deeper longings and desires that are beyond these original thoughts and feelings, we then have a chance to start communicating what we want in our lives, what behaviours are enjoyable for us and perhaps start to ask our partners, friends and colleagues (and ourselves) for the actions, words and behaviours, that we want, rather than bitching, moaning and complaining about all of the things we do not enjoy about them.
This is not to say that we should stop gossiping, bitching or moaning about one another, of course there are other very important needs that are being met for us when we come to each other for a good old bitching session. It gives us a sense of relief and we feel heard and understood by those who listen to us and support us in our feelings of frustration and anger.
Through building our compassionate communication and observation and awareness skills, we can embrace our “need” for bitching whilst also holding in awareness that we are simply expressing and letting out our judgmental thoughts, knowing that they are not connected to the truth, but rather resembling the pain and anger that we are experiencing. They can begin to serve us as a pathway to discovering the hidden gold that is hidden beneath them and an opportunity to bring us closer to connecting to our lives deepest longings and desires which have simply been triggered by this others actions or words.
Yes but.. They are still behaving like an ashole!!
Yes, people do behave in ways that do not serve life. This is because we can only do as best we can to meet our needs with the skills that we have in front of us at that moment. If I grew up in a culture where I learnt that sharing my emotions or asking for what I want is shameful or selfish, then I might choose to sleep with someone else without telling my partner. If I was educated in a school where I learnt that I would be rewarded for “being good” then I might try to please others in order to feel loved and accepted leading to acts of frustration and anger later on in my life.
So again, we are human. This doesn't mean that we should now start to condone rape, murder and robbery and say that these actions are ok. There is still a need for discernment, protection and trust that means we do want to judge the value that these actions bring in serving life or not and to really hear the impact that a person has made on others in choosing these tragic strategies to meet their needs.
We have been brought up in a world where blame and judgment is the way that we speak, it is how we teach our kids to be competitive, it is how we teach our teenagers to “be respectful” and it is how we judge our partners as loving or not, our politicians as responsible or selfish our teachers as wise or frauds and ourselves as successes or failures.
In order to be able to really hear the beauty and get closer to understanding our loved ones, our colleagues, our friends or politicians and ourselves or anyone else that we might gossip, bitch or moan about, we need to need to come together, to support each other in re-finding compassion, in observing our minds and hearts and in stepping closer to the river of life that runs through us.
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*I have used many British phrases - all meaning we talk about other behind their backs