By Venugopal Acharya - 22.11 2018

 “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” – Karl Marx (German philosopher and economist of the 19th century, considered as one of the most influential figures in human history) Mr. Sanjay was in pain, and so was I.

He babbled on. The past abuse and trauma haunted him even years later. I tried my best to understand him but failed because he spoke too many things, and extremely fast. His words meant nothing to me; I saw his heart bled profusely. I decided to give empathy silently. However, soon, my head threatened to explode; I couldn’t take the intense emotions he felt for his family, enemies, and colleagues; he had no friends, and he wouldn’t stop speaking to me.

But my heart ached too. I had hectic schedules for the past three weeks and badly needed a break; I felt starved of care and empathy myself. I knew a hungry man couldn’t feed others for long. At the same time, I didn’t have the heart to interrupt him. I knew I’d freak-out if I heard him anymore; I had to either run away or tolerate happily. Caught in a quandary, I silently prayed for help.

Do you feel a victim even as you try to help others? Sometimes people download their worries on you, and despite your sincere desire to serve them, they seem not to get the benefit. On the contrary, it seems to backfire – they treat you as a garbage can and feel offended if you don’t hear them out. You get caught in a vicious cycle – your genuine service, instead of nourishing you, leaves you exhausted. And if you avoid the person, he could take you on a guilt trip- ‘I trusted you to help me’ or ‘I see you have other priorities.’

Balance courage with consideration But the good news is there is a way out: Invoke your courage to balance with your concern for others. That way you could help more. My prayers got answered- soon I had clarity. I tried slow and conscious breathing; I heard the breath that I inhaled and slowly exhaled, even as externally I held Sanjay’s hand, and heard him. Inadvertently I entered a space beyond thoughts. I felt a sense of control over my emotional state. I knew I needed to offer service and add value to others’ lives, and this was my chance.

I abruptly asked Mr. Sanjay to stop and said, “I want to understand you, but I am lost. Can you please help me realize what you are going through?” He stopped his emotional barrage and stared blankly; my request had confused him.

 Then he nodded as if to accede to my wish. I pulled out a Needs-Feelings card one of my friends had given me years ago. This small laminated sheet contains essential words to explain different feelings and needs; the card often helps me connect to my internal state. Marshall Rosenberg first taught this in his Non-Violent Communication, and my friend and I picked it up from there. I now asked the disturbed Mr. Sanjay to recognize the words that accurately describe what he’s feeling at this point. He glanced at the sheet once and then continued the salvo. My mind protested, ‘No! He is treating you like a dustbin. Stop him!’ I knew I had to act fast. I tried to feel compassion for Sanjay, but it was more practical to ask him to improve his awareness. “No,” I said assertively, “I insist you see the list here, and I am sure some words here resonate with your situation now. I wouldn’t want to guess or judge what you are going through.

Please help me.” He said okay but after a few seconds of looking at the list went on a tangent again. I banged the table and got up with a start. I summoned all my sincerity and begged him, “Please help me; I want to serve you but feel miserable because I can’t.” He sputtered, “Let me tell you this one thing, and then I’ll listen to you.” A few minutes passed, and there was no sign he’d stop. I rose again, folded my palms, and said, “Before we met you were helpless, and now it’s the two of us frustrated. I am sorry I need to leave now as I feel irritated because I am unable to connect to you.” “Oh sorry,” he said, “You tell me what I should do?”

Connect to your Feelings and Needs I pointed to the card on the table and asked him to see it. We shared a few moments of silence; he settled down and stared intently at the feelings mentioned on the card.  

He then sighed to indicate it won’t work but I stuck to my task and waited patiently. He acquiesced after some time. Initially, he pointed to more than ten feelings. After he finished, I said let’s take one at a time, and he picked up ‘Loneliness.’ I explained to him that our feelings are a result of some needs that are either met or unmet. I then turned the card and pointed to the needs words and asked him which of his needs were unfulfilled. The words seemed to make a lot of sense to him now; again he pointed to many needs, and it appeared we’d again get lost in the forest of his mind. I reminded him he feels lonely, and he concurred. “You feel lonely because you need what?” I probed him. After some time with his eyes still on the card, he said, “Respect – to be heard is my biggest need now.” I nodded, and he fell silent. Slowly he eased; the relief look on his face spoke a thousand words.

He had just experienced Awareness. To remain lonely is different from ‘knowing’ I am lonely or ‘I need respect.’ Some people act irritable because they are not respected but unfortunately, they don’t know what’s bugging them so much. And if you know you need respect, there is a better chance you’d meet that need, and consequently feel less irritated or lonely. Awareness, therefore, helps us take proper action. I then confessed to Sanjay that if he wrote down an action plan that would help him meet his needs, he’d move forward happily in his life’s journey.

He thanked me as he left, and strangely I felt thrilled. I looked at the card and realized I was ecstatic because I just fulfilled my need to make a difference and contribute. But then I had another pressing need- rest and peace, and Sanjay’s positive response ensured my happy rest that evening.