“It’s not fair.” That was a recent tweet from the brother of a couple that was killed in the Brussels attack. “The world lost two amazing people today. It’s not fair.” I’m sure that is a sentiment shared by the rest of the families of the victims of the bombing. I appreciate the tweets about this couple, the openness in sharing the raw emotions of one of the most difficult situations we face as humans. Death. Particularly the death of people we love. This tweet ties into some exploration I’ve been doing lately regarding the concept of fairness as it relates to empathic communication. I hope by exploring this I can help us all to have a deeper understanding of the experience of an unexpected death. Particularly one in which someone else’s action was the cause of the death.
I have written before about grief and self-disconnection. I believe we love people who meet our needs, help us connect to ourselves. When they die that loss feels so painful, the grief is so deep. But the situations in which the death is seen as unfair are even more traumatic. There are some deaths, such as the death of a child that are universally traumatic. Deaths that are sudden, unplanned for, particularly in healthy, young people are also very traumatic. When they are due to the actions of others, whose goal was the death, they are not only deeply traumatic but seem unfair.
An empathic understanding of someone else’s experience is very helpful. According to Miki Kashtan this kind of understanding helps the other person to be “less alone with the weight of their experience.” This is why I would like to explore the concept of fairness. A very useful tool in gaining empathic understanding is the process of non-violent communication (NVC) as developed by Marshall Rosenberg. In this process we use the steps of observation, feelings, needs and requests to hear others and ourselves at a deeper level and gain a real connection. Whether fairness is a need has been a topic of discussion in the NVC community. At first glance it would seem like a need, we all want fairness, but with further scrutiny we see that the concept of fairness is very cultural. We don’t have to look any further than our own back yard to see that fairness is cultural.
So if fairness is cultural, and really doesn’t help us to get real clarity on the needs underlying our grief and trauma, what does? I think the concepts of equality, mutuality and consideration would be more helpful. With the premeditated killing of another person, there is no equality. If we lived in a world where everyone, at some point in his or her life, was purposefully killed by another person, we wouldn’t feel some of this anger. But we don’t. So when this happens, we aren’t getting our need for equality met. With the bombing in Brussels there wasn’t any consideration or choice for the victims. They weren’t involved at all in the decision to end their lives.
So I think my response to the tweet would be this: “I hear your anger and anguish, and wonder if you wanted your brother and sister-in-law to have had the same safety as most of the rest of us, to be able to walk in a public space and not die from a bombing. I’m wondering if you want the ones responsible for this to have considered the lives they were taking.” This kind of deeper understanding contributes so much more to the people who are deeply grieving their loss.
“Allowing into our heart the other person’s suffering doesn’t mean we suffer with them, because that means shifting the focus of our attention to our own experience. Rather, it means that we recognize the experience as fully human, and behold the beauty of it in all its aspects, even when difficult.” Miki Kashtan
All photos via YouTube
Heather Schlessman, PhD is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner who has spent her career either working with or teaching about families. She is also a mother who, like so many other parents, spent years muddling her way raising 3 wonderfully different children, one who happens to be experiencing a disability. Fortunately she has a life partner who muddled along with her. Spending most of her time trying to be perfect, as that would be the safest way to live, she became aware of a desire to be able to see people in a more compassionate way. Little did she know that the person she needed the most compassion for was herself. There is a saying that when you are ready to learn a teacher will appear, and so it was for Dr. Schlessman. She was introduced to the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the developer of Nonviolent Communication, and her world completely changed. She learned a way to have an intimate connection with herself and others, a way to truly contribute. Her passion now is to help others find their way to a more compassionate life. You can find more of Dr. Schlessman’s empathic expressions along with her husband’s, Rev. Mark Schlessman on their website.