You Go First

When it comes to culture change and personal growth, I notice folks often (naturally, according to the conditioning of our culture) asking others to “go first”. But why not apply new tools and understandings to ourselves first, until we’ve mastered them? Why not “go first”, ourselves?

For example, take the practice of Nonviolent Communication. When I first started practicing NVC, I “helped” conversation partners out a lot by “correcting” their NVC use. After indulging this kind of arrogant mischief for quite a while, it finally occurred to me that correcting others behavior presented a massive wall to trust, understanding, and peace. In essence, by correcting them (without their request to do so), I spoke “violently” (in the parlance of NVC). From that point on I made it a practice of applying the observation and empathic skills strictly to myself and my own needs, assuming that others would benefit from the clarity such practice produced in me. I discovered the truth in that assumption as my skill improved.

Funny enough (or not so funny, depending on how you look at this) I practiced the same short-sighted abuse of new tools when learning Don Miguel Ruiz’ “Four Agreements”.  You could find me lecturing my girlfriend of the time on how she hadn’t adhered to “Don’t Take Anything Personally”, or one of the other Agreements.

Honestly, I have done this with many of these kinds of personal and communicative tools, over the years.

By the time I began to experiment and practice the Haudensaunee’s three “Peace Principles” as communicated to me by Jake Tekaronianeken Swamp, I think I’d finally hit on it. I accepted these principles as a gift for myself, and they would benefit others to the extent they changed my behavior in more life-affirming ways, rather than how I lectured and corrected others in their use.

American culture elevates the ‘word’, especially the written word, to such a high level, that it commonly eclipses the purpose of the word: to communicate understanding, to change behavior, to have a real impact in the world. Often words talk to words, without any of them sullying each other by affecting the “real world”.

I stand here to say that my life has grown far more satisfying once I lost interest in explaining my philosophy, in favor of benefiting from it.

In fact, could someone come to understand your values, and learn the tools of communication you use, simply by experiencing you using them? Not through your articulation of them, nor purchasing the book that explains them, nor through diagrams on white boards, but simply from observing you as a role model?

This sounds an awful lot like “mentoring”, doesn’t it?

Perhaps you will allow me to challenge you: can you take your top, most dearly held values, or your favorite new tool of growth or communication, and embody them for a month without explaining or articulating them to anyone else, enough so that an observant person could discern these unspoken values, tools, or focus of growth?

A pretty cool idea, I think.

Written by Willem