We live in Bristol, UK. Recent events have prompted us to learn more about the city’s history. Ships from Bristol transported enslaved Africans to the Americas in the 18th Century. In response to George Floyd’s death in the USA there was a Black Lives Matter protest in the city centre. Protestors pulled down a statue of Edward Colston, who made his wealth from the slave trade. As a symbolic act, the statue was thrown into the floating harbour.
I feel deep grief and sadness about what happened to people who were enslaved and transported to labour in plantations. I feel deep grief and sadness about what happens to people of colour nowadays, especially in the USA. I feel moved when I see pictures about non-violent demonstrations and creativity, for example people kneeling in the Netherlands. I feel impressed when I see emails and notice in my surroundings how many people are diving deeper into this topic and sharing it.
At the same time, I find it difficult to stay focused on it and/or dive deeper into it. Suddenly I’m in touch with all the suffering around me, in the world, past and present, humans, animals, plants, trees, oceans, rivers – the planet earth – and the impact of climate change.
Sometimes I just feel overwhelmed and frustrated with holding all the suffering within my awareness. And I could imagine there is more suffering which I’m not aware of. At these moments I’m asking myself how can I respond to these sufferings? With this question I give myself a pause and check internally what’s going on. I remind myself of my inner resources, tools which I have learnt on my NVC journey: self-empathy, empathy and self-expression. What does this look like in practice?
In self-empathy, I feel sad because I care for life, for dignity, for respect, for valuing myself and others. I’m mourning and acknowledging my unmet needs for the wellbeing of all life. I allow myself to feel all feelings without judging and blaming including being overwhelmed or feeling angry, guilty or even numb. If I feel lonely, I can ask for support.
When I turn my attention to empathising with others, I’m curious to listen to them and to hear their pain, with the clarity that it’s their experience. I can acknowledge what’s going on for them, meeting their needs for being heard, and understood. I want to contribute to their lives.
When it comes to expressing myself, I’m open to doing it authentically with the intention to care for the connection.
Having these tools and using them, I feel less overwhelmed. I come to a place of mourning, where I sense that I am connected with life. Nonviolent Communication is supporting me to feel alive.
I’m aware that we also need to address institutional and systemic inequities along the lines of skin-colour. At the moment I don’t know how to respond to the complexity of these.
I’m reminded of one of my favourite quotations by Dr. Howard Thurman, who was a US minister, educator, mentor to Martin Luther King and civil rights leader:
Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
In the meantime, one thing we can do is learn more about issues of race. Some recommendations I’ve seen come up are:
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Thirty minute podcast by the author.
- The Good Immigrant: 21 Writers Explore What It Means To Be Black, Asian, And Minority Ethnic In Britain Today edited by Nikesh Shukla.
- Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad.