One of my favorite stories that Marshall Rosenberg tells involves an exercise he did to help identify why he was doing things in his life. He wanted to have a happier life so decided to identify those things he did that he didn’t enjoy, and try to figure out why he was doing them. He listed on a piece of paper all of the things he didn’t enjoy doing, all of the things he thought he had to do. Once he did that, he forced himself to write, “I choose to do ….”. He really struggled with this step.
We have been taught to relinquish responsibility for doing things in our lives. We have been taught there are things we just “have to” do, we don’t have any choice in the matter. This isn’t true. Marshall describes how the Nazi’s in Germany developed a language that absolved them of any responsibility for what they were doing. They had to follow orders, they had to do the things they did; it was out of their hands. But Marshall reminds us that we have a choice in everything we do, everyday. We are responsible for making those choices.
Marshall identified that he hated writing clinical reports in his job. He didn’t see that it helped any of his clients, and it was just a waste of time to him. He struggled with realizing that he was choosing to do this. He argued with himself that he had to write them; it was part of his job.
I think many of us can relate to this. He knew he had to figure out why he was writing those reports, why he was spending so much time doing something that didn’t bring him any joy. He finally realized he was writing those reports because he wanted the income they brought him, the money. When he realized that, he also realized he would rather dig through the garbage to support himself than write another of those reports, and he never wrote another one again!
Money is not a need. That is worth repeating, money is not a need. We have been taught it is. Our entire consumer society is based on money. We have designed a way of life that revolves around money. We take those actions we do to contribute to others, and turn that into money. Then we use money to make choices in our lives. It is a very large strategy in our toolbox.
This came home to me in a strong way with a recent situation in our house. We rent a house out in the country in the northwest. Our climate is notoriously damp most of the year, particularly in the winter. This past winter we started to struggle with mold in our laundry room.
It began in a corner of the room, and we would wipe down the area every few days trying to keep on top of it. After a few weeks, we suddenly realized that the mold was on the walls behind all of the closed cabinet doors on that wall and was on the ceiling. We had just never looked behind those doors or up at the ceiling. When we realized how bad it really was we called and reported it to the property management company. They eventually came out and realized they were going to have to have someone come in and repaint the whole room.
We got a bill from them this week for that painting job. That stimulated all kinds of thoughts and feelings in me. What had I done wrong? How could this be? This wasn’t fair! Then my husband mentioned it wasn’t about the money. We could easily afford the bill. That stopped me in my tracks.
When I realized it wasn’t the money, I actually had some space to try to figure out what was going on. I was able to work through what I needed, and once I’d done that I even had space to start to imagine what the person needed who sent us the bill. This process just made it so clear to me how much money was entangled in all of my thoughts, at an unconscious level.
What if we could make decisions without any thought about money? There has been some experimentation with this idea. During the 1970’s a small Canadian town decided to see what would happen if the poorest citizens were given a monthly stipend, regardless of what income they might already have and with no strings attached.
The Mincome project showed that giving people enough money to meet basic living needs was not a disincentive to work. This type of project has also been tried in India. The stability that basic income gave people improved their health and welfare, and provided equity, growth and emancipation.
And now a Dutch city is going to give the basic income concept a try. What would you do differently if money were no matter? Can you look at the choices you make on a daily basis, and take money out of the equation? How would you live life differently? Money isn’t evil, it’s just a thing, and I want to be more conscious of how it affects my life.
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.