(Note: NVC is an abbreviation for Nonviolent Communication, a fluid, ever-evolving language process created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. It is also sometimes referred to as Compassionate Communication, and is based on universal human feelings and needs, the giving of empathy and making humble requests rather than demands.)
Feeling concerned about being a burden or an inconvenience, I’ve always found it hard to ask people for help, especially people I don’t know. I tend to feel embarrassed, weak and shy–in short, like a putz, when asking for help. I find it hard sometimes, even if I really do need help. Occasionally I’ll bend over backward to avoid asking. When people wonder why I find it so hard to request help at times, I ask if I can share this story, wherein I got up the courage to ask for help, and soon wished I hadn’t.
I was attending a large NVC intensive training, a 9-day event held in a lovely setting on the Hudson River just north of New York City. It was quite a distance north of where I was staying with a friend in lower Manhattan. I took a bus to get to the first day of training, which took about 90 minutes.
Several hundred attendees were out in the grassy yard on a perfectly warm, sunny day. One of the trainers was standing on an embankment, shouting out some announcements. I asked her if she’d be willing to announce that I needed a ride into Manhattan at the end of the day, if anyone was driving in that direction.
She quickly made my announcement, and a man’s hand went up in the crowd, indicating he could offer a ride. I trotted over to him, but it was too late. A young lady who was standing not far from him, jumped out in front of me, smiling broadly at the man.
Yes, she was definitely much prettier than I. Still, I told them I was the one who requested the announcement, and wondered if he could help me as well since I’m an out of towner. He frowned and said he had a very small two-seater sportscar. The woman frowned as well, saying, “Aw, that’s too bad.”
I felt disappointed and astounded. Needs for fairness, consideration and ease were painfully unmet. I also felt disgusted as I was, after all, attending an in-depth training in compassionate communication, and both the man and woman lived in the local area. I sensed only pity coming from them–not compassion and certainly not empathy. Feeling rather dejected at that moment, it never occurred to me to ask if another announcement could be made. Even if I had, most of the attendees were staying right there at the venue, so rides were scarce. It was New York City, too, where cars are not the most common way to get around.
I took the bus to and from, for nine days.
I share this story for two reasons. One is to remind myself and others that when it comes to organizations and events, bigger is not always better. Secondly, everyone is a work in progress. Just because folks are training in something doesn’t mean they’ve mastered it, nor does it mean that they are able or willing to practice giving empathy all the time.
A strategic lesson was learned that day, too. If ever in that kind of situation again, I’ll ask that the announcement specifically has my name in it. E.g. “Steve is from out of town and needs a ride to lower Manhattan, anyone?”