Empathic Conversations about Paris

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I have been witnessing wonderful online conversations with a group striving to communicate with empathy regarding the attacks in Paris. I think it might be helpful for more people to see how conversations could happen, rather than much of the blame and anger we are seeing right now.

Someone started a conversation by asking:

“Please help me to understand what needs a militant suicide-killer could be trying to meet? What pain inside could make the Paris attacks seem like a good idea?” (When we listen empathically we know that everyone is doing what they are doing to meet a need, so we listen for those needs. Those needs are universal throughout the world).

Here were some of the replies:

“I just read an interesting article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called ‘How To Defeat Religious Violence.’ In it he mentions a very important human need that could be at play with religious radicalism: The need for meaning … I also connected with the needs for contribution and service as potential driving energies, especially for those people who chose to kill or die, and especially if it’s framed as part of a bigger cause.”
“A need for belonging is met, and a need to believe in something more than the life that they see around us.”
“My guess is meaning, identity, expression of pain.”
“Surprisingly I imagine a need for peace could lead to this kind of action. Peace from all of the tormenting thoughts and beliefs.”
“And a deep need to belong.”
“I see the needs of dignity, belonging, contributing to a better world — we must not be confused by the atrocity of the strategies; the needs behind them are strong and beautiful.”
“People seek help with extremists and jihadists as they have a strong need for security, leadership, orientation, and community.”

Memorial site where one attack took place (YouTube)
Memorial site where one attack took place (YouTube)

Along those same lines another conversation was happening regarding the anger and violence seen in some of the responses of Americans to what was happening in Paris. This question was posted:
“I just read a post about how to talk to your friends that don’t believe in war. Basically it said to keep punching them until they realized that sometimes you have to fight back. I felt so angry and longed for a shared reality about the ultimate ineffectiveness of violence. I’m longing to have an open heart for them. Please help me understand why so many people want to choose violence as a response to the Paris attacks.”

Here were some of the replies:

“…people want safety, and their world to come back to its orderly norm.”
“…all I can say is for those who want to react violently, my guess is they’re in pain, so much so they can only react with anger and believe me, I can see why they are upset, terror is SCARY…”
“It helps to imagine they are in so much pain about the fear and anger. It helps me touch a much more empathic place. Maybe it’s because I’m in such pain about their violent words. We can connect at the level of our pain. We share this. Thank you!”

When we can focus on the needs of people, we can stop seeing them as an enemy. When we get at the needs we can choose strategies to help get their needs met in a life-affirming way. We can all get our needs met if we do this. This is the way to peace.

I started from the question of “How come some people enjoy other people’s suffering, so that it makes violence enjoyable, so that people find it heroic to punish people that they judge as bad?” And then, “How come other people in the same society are just the opposite, they get their joy not in believing that there are bad people that need to be punished, but they get their joy in contributing to people’s wellbeing?” So I then saw, that there was quite a different language, and quite a different consciousness on the part of people who behaved in the violent way as opposed to the compassionate way. — Marshall Rosenberg