Life beyond right and wrong
One of my favourite poems by Rumi begins: “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
It is pretty commonly accepted these days that guilt, shame and depression have a detrimental effect on health and wellbeing. But how aware are we of the root cause of these modern day scourges of humanity? How many people can see that it is how we have been trained to think about ourselves and each other: as separate, deficient, unworthy, that stimulates our unhappiness?
Language both informs and reveals the thinking of a culture. The language that we in the West have been thoroughly indoctrinated with is that of right/wrong, good/bad, should/shouldn’t, victim/perpetrator – the moralistic language of judgement and blame, diagnosis and analysis, domination and demand, fault-finding and lack. It is all of this ‘programming’ that perpetuates low self-worth, dehumanises, separates, and renders us capable of inflicting harm on ourselves, each other and the planet we depend on for our lives.
Communication for Life is firmly grounded in the understanding that Wise Ones throughout time have been trying to help us realise: that each of us is existing as Life – whole, worthy, already OK. It teaches the principles and skills of Nonviolent Communication/NVC (named after Gandhi’s term ‘nonviolent’ to describe our natural compassionate state):
- We are all compassionate by nature; violent strategies, physical or verbal, are learned behaviours taught and supported by the prevailing culture.
- All humans share the same basic universal needs
- All actions are a strategy to meet one or more of our needs, and if we are aware of what those needs are, we have more choices of how to meet them.
I have come to have absolute faith in the assertion of Marshall Rosenberg, creator of NVC, that when how we are perceiving life is based on needs rather than right/wrong thinking, we are far more likely to be compassionate towards ourselves and others, and that this inspires ‘life-serving’ behaviour naturally. For example, when I’m doing my daily stretches because I think I ‘should’, my motivation is generally very shortlived, compared to when I connect with how deeply I would love to have ease and lack of pain in my body. Or, when my child repeatedly doesn’t do the dishes, there is much more likelihood of us coming to an agreement that works for both of us when the conversation is had outside of right and wrong and judgements like ‘lazy’, and instead I understand their need for ease and choice, and can express my need for support and consideration.
In Communication for Life workshops, it is common for people to react with fear and cynicism to the suggestion that humans would behave compassionately if we removed right and wrong from our thinking. This is understandable, given the cruelty and violence we see around and inside us. But, it is important not to mistake that which has become ‘normal’ for that which is ‘natural’.
Here’s an easy litmus test of the truth that compassion is our natural state: think about the last time you were kind or generous to yourself or another. How did you feel in your body? Now compare that to how you feel when you withhold, judge, blame or ‘be mean’. Which one feels more natural, open, relaxed – altogether pleasurable in the body?
There’s no doubt about it: imposing a moralistic code of ‘right and wrong’ on a society certainly does influence people’s behaviour. But what kind of ‘right’ do we want to be guided by? Do we want children to follow many adults’ example, and come to the conclusion that ‘right’ is just what you do when someone is watching, or do we want to give all humans the opportunity to cultivate a true sense of integrity, compassion and dignity?
If you are interested in feeling the joyful empowerment that comes of no longer being a puppet to the external sticks and carrots of society, and instead living by a profound, internally motivated integrity, the field beyond right and wrong is fertile ground for exploring that possibility.