“If you feel safe in the area you are working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you are capable being in. Go a little out of your depth, and when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.” — David Bowie
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It would be wonderful to think that the future is unknown and sort of surprising.” — Alan Rickman
We lost two iconic figures in entertainment this past week, as we head into the celebration of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday. There appears to be a common thread running through what makes these men so inspiring; trust in a process greater than themselves. Letting go of control. Stepping into faith.
This is the creative process that all of them understood. With David Bowie he was always exploring ways to express himself that were unexpected. He trusted that if he let himself become uncomfortable, went past what he knew for certainty, there was a good chance that something unexpectedly magical would happen; the same for Alan Rickman. The greatest actors know they have to let go of themselves and enter the unknown world of their character. They trust that exciting things will come from that place, something much more than if they had tried to control it.
Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly felt a pull coming from someplace beyond himself. He knew the dangers, but he also knew that following that pull was going to lead to something much bigger than he could imagine. Dr. Marshall Rosenberg also felt that pull. He knew there had to be a process of communication that would foster contributing to each other’s well being, rather than contributing to each other’s suffering.
There is an example of this process of trust/faith in one of the stories Dr. Marshall Rosenberg told of an experience he had in a Palestinian refugee camp. He was there to speak about the process of nonviolent communication and when he was introduced as an American someone in the crowd shouted “Murderer!” and another called out “Assassin!” He trusted in the process that brought him there, and didn’t hear what they were saying, but heard what they were feeling and needing.
When he had walked into the refugee camp the day before he had noticed hundreds of tear gas grenades littering the ground that had been shot in the night before during a raid. On the side of each of the grenades was written, “Made in USA”. With that context Marshall asked one of the men who had screamed at him what he thought he might be feeling and needing.
“Sir, are you furious? Are you needing a different kind of support from my country than you are getting?”
The man looked stunned, and then yelled back “Your damn right! We don’t have sewage! We don’t have housing! Why are you sending these weapons?”
“Well that makes it clear why you would be so aggravated. You don’t have these basics and you get these weapons sent over here. Your needs are for some other kind of support. “
“Do you know what it’s like to live under these kinds of conditions for all these years?”
“So you would like me to understand just how desperate it can be even for just one day, let alone many years?” Dr. Rosenberg was hearing what was alive for that man; not what the man thought of him. He didn’t hear the man calling him a murderer so he didn’t feel the urge to have to defend himself. In the same way, once that man started to trust that Dr. Rosenberg really cared what was going on for him, he also had the ability to hear him say, “Look, I’m frustrated now. I came a long way to be here. I want to offer something and I’m worried now that because you’ve got me labeled as an American you aren’t going to listen to me.”
“What do you want to say to us?” and the conversation continued. Dr. Rosenberg ended up having Ramadan dinner with this man later in the day, and he was able to help start a school for nonviolent communication in the camp. All because he was able to step past his fear into the trust that something bigger, and more wonderful than he could imagine would happen if he would trust in that creative process.
What deeper water, what unclimbed staircase, what unknown is out there calling to you?
Top photo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Wikipedia)
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.