Something that can be hard to trust is the idea of willingness.
In his bestselling book nonviolent communication: a language of life, Marshall Rosenberg’s guiding principle is: never do anything that isn’t out of a joyful energy … And only let people do things for you if they are joyfully willing as well, because they know it’s enriching for them in some way.
This idea is sure challenging to absorb, especially as a parent or manager. If my kids aren’t willing to put their dishes in the dishwasher when I ask, what then? If employees aren’t willing to complete the work I’ve assigned, what then? I won’t try to answer that here! The book does that well, and the rest we seem to figure out by jumping in and bumbling through!
I want to offer this picture as an inspiration to trust that we humans are so often willing to do unpleasant things — free of fear or resentment. We do things so often out of choice and joy, and that energy grows and grows with gentle practice.
This morning, walking to the station, I was blessed with a beautiful discovery of willingness to do something that wasn’t ‘my job’ and was a bit gag-worthy!
As I walked out the gate of my house, a woman was huffing past at quite a pace with two dogs on either side. She was talking into the phone, quite charged up. ‘It’s not that he’s not listening …’ she was saying, and I missed the rest because she was powering ahead.
As she puffed away, I noticed one of her dogs looking sheepishly behind. Three hot brown poos fell out of its furry little butt. The poor thing was trying to keep up, leash yanking at its neck, and at the same time it just couldn’t hang on. It was walking wide-legged and so confused as all this happened.
I noticed that in the woman’s other hand, she already had another plastic bag bulging. I guess the other dog had already done its business. The expression ‘carrying a lot of shit’ crossed my mind.
Luckily, I’d had a peaceful start to my day with writing and drawing. My tank of creativity, compassion and joy was still brimming. So much so that I felt almost immediate tenderness for the woman. I’ve so been there. And I’m sure I will be again. We all get plates that are stresfully full, days that are fraught with places to be, and we all experience painful situations that we’re trying to work out.
Briefly, I considered calling out: ‘hey, excuse me, you might not realise but your dogs have done a poo. Have you got another plastic bag there?’
Yeah, there’d be nothing ‘wrong’ with that or any choice. That would be one way to meet needs for fairness and accountability … and to matter ….and for consideration. Would it have been effective though? And would it have helped me to savour a peaceful walk before boarding the crowded train?
Experience told me that she’d probably not hear my intentions right now in her present state.
Plus, I just felt so contented and I preferred to stay in a joyful state and take the path of least resistance.
Walking on and talking obliviously while her scrambling dog shat on the path was a human, vulnerable mistake. Something else was very important to her right now. Yeah, I’d love everyone to move mindfully and peacefully through my world … But I also know how hard that is!
So, thinking of my neighbour or anyone else who’d be walking that footpath soon, I grabbed a twig. Flick, flick, flick. Not perfectly solved, but the poo was now off the path and onto the nature strip. And that was sufficient I reckon. It was certainly as much as I was willing to do and hopefully saved someone else from distress or anger. Made the world just a little more peaceful.
I felt a surge of gratitude at having made a conscious choice to grow towards the feelings I wanted: tender and open hearted and compassionate. I celebrated because it’s not always that easy. And I’m grateful that having a peace practice such as art journalling, combined with continuing to try to apply NVC consciousness, really does ‘work’ to grow joy and energy and a sense of choice.
Of course, there are lots of other ways to respond, depending on what needs are ‘up’. The torn out headline was from a letter to the editor. That’s another way someone chose to try to make our footpaths less ‘shitty’ and ask people to be aware.
I guess I’m savouring a tincy bit of inner growth, and wanting to encourage myself to trust that it’s worth making everything a request: of myself, of others. Willingness is exhilarating, and worth the discomfort of not knowing exactly how things will turn out or be ‘fixed’.
Shit happens. Daily. Unexpectedly. And it can be amazing to discover just how much ‘shit’ people are willing to do when they are choosing it.
So if you’re not willing to pick up shit, unpack the dishwasher, fold the laundry or answer an email right now, please don’t. Rest or play instead. Make art! You’ll be willing to deal with shit on your terms when it really matters.