It's never about the mango

On what it means to listen, plus a preview of a conversation on NVC and money

At a workshop last fortnight, one of the participants shared a story of how she caught a young boy stealing a mango from the garden of her house.

The people around her were quick to respond:

  • About how she should have told the boy it isn’t okay to steal.

  • About how she should forgive the little boy for his actions.

  • About how she should consider fencing in the area.

  • About how they had faced similar challenges themselves.

Later during the workshop, I asked the participant if she was willing to receive some empathic listening for her story.

What came out of that conversation was something I wasn’t expecting at all.

She wasn’t annoyed or angry about the boy taking the mangoes from her tree.

She spoke about how, when she saw the boy taking the mango, her heart went out to him; how she told him to leave by the front gate, and told him that if the security guard asked him where the mangoes were from, he was to say that they were a gift from her.

She was saddened: at the boy’s fear around getting caught when she called out to him, and his circumstances that led him to steal the mangoes.

She then told me about how this situation reminded her about her childhood, when her family didn’t have a lot, and yet her mother would ensure that anyone who visited was generously given some food to eat or to take back with them.

She told me about her sadness at seeing that there are people in the world who don’t have access to food, and her commitment to do her bit to ease their suffering.

She had tears in her eyes as she spoke.

I was taken by surprise—it wasn’t about the mango at all.

The sight of the stolen mango had stimulated her; but the essence of this experience was about her mourning for the state of the world, her compassion, and her resolute determination to make a positive difference.

It’s never about the mango.

When we’re listening to someone, we tend to focus on the superficial: what happened, who did what, where it happened…and when we do this, we miss out on something that’s more relevant and connecting:

What does this story mean to the person who’s telling it? Why does it matter?

This also means that we set aside our ideas of how the other person is feeling, or why they are telling us the story—and listen with openness, allowing ourselves to be surprised by what we find; not force fit their story into our predetermined narrative

And that’s what it means to listen with empathy: to allow ourselves to be led on a journey into the other person’s experience, knowing that what we find there may be different from anything we imagined.

Have you had an experience of listening to someone else, or being heard by someone this way?

👂On a lighter note: How not to listen

💬 Sharon Salzberg on the difference between sympathy and empathy

I often notice that people confuse the words “sympathy” and “empathy,” and there’s good reason for that. Our culture doesn’t do a great job at helping us differentiate the two, nor does it encourage us to feel connection with people other than our close friends and family.

We’re culturally conditioned to express sympathy more than we are empathy — and that leads to confusion about the differences. When we hear another person (usually a loved one) express pain, we are taught to apologize, and maybe to try and help them by giving advice, or encouraging them to “look at the bright side.”

While there’s nothing wrong with sympathy, it does tend to bring with it an implied sense of aversion. When we “feel bad” for someone in pain, we view that person as other. We are separate from that person and his/her suffering, and can position ourselves at a distance. Since sympathy often involves trying to help the person in pain see their situation more positively, it encourages aversion for others, too; we offer solace by suggesting safety in denial or repression.

Empathy, by contrast, is the way we pay attention, which allows us, when we see others suffering, to resonate with their pain. We don’t simply feel bad for them.

In this way, empathy is a moral issue. By paying attention to our experiences with sensitivity, we open our minds and our hearts, and understand how our actions affect others. We know that harming others with words or actions harms ourselves. This knowledge isn’t conceptual and born out of over-analyzing. Rather, it is the result of a focused, inclusive, and balanced way of paying attention. This knowledge is an awareness of our fundamental connectedness.

✨ Happy birthday, Marshall Rosenberg!

Click on the image to download and share it on social media, or on whatsapp.

Today, October 6, is the birth anniversary or Marshall Rosenberg, who created Nonviolent Communication.

I never had a chance to meet Marshall Rosenberg in person as I was introduced to NVC after his retirement from active teaching; so I’m grateful to have experienced his work through the many video recordings of his workshops that are available for free, and to know more about him from teachers and colleagues who worked with him.

💰 What does it mean to have a conscious relationship with money?

Here’s a preview of a conversation I had with Cleona Lira of Conscious Money on NVC, money, and understanding our money stories so we can have a conscious relationship with it. Watch the snippet here.

The longer version of this conversation goes live on my Youtube channel this Sunday mornIng (IST). Click on the video link below and select the “notify me” option to receive a reminder, or subscribe now to know as soon as this and other videos are uploaded!

🎶 Some NVC-related music

Peaceful Means (Leah Boyd, NVC Trainer and Heather Piersen) are a duo who write and perform music that support NVC consciousness. Watch them performing here.

Leah and Heather are running a crowdfunding campaign to help produce and distribute their first album. You can contribute here.