Interrupting for Connection; Noticing the Need for Empathy in Us and Others

Learnings in this role-play
Interrupting as a kindness, stopping another person from talking, when he or she does not enjoy listening anymore. Have to: You know you don’t have to, because there have been a lot of times in your life when you haven’t.
Speaking up in favor of your vitality in social settings, taking a risk. Not making doable requests when expressing suffering, creates pain in relationships – other people feel they have to guess your request. Often we have an unexpressed need for empathy, for another person to just notice our suffering and be there with us.

Marshall: How about another situation?

Next participant (B): Sometimes people say, “I want you to be quiet; I don’t want to listen any more,” if they are feeling overwhelmed In a situation where the other person is talking too much…

Marshall: If you’re a Giraffe, you don’t have the words “too much” in your consciousness. To think that there is such a thing as “too much,” “just right,” or “too little” is to entertain dangerous Jackal concepts.

Participant B: What I heard you and the other trainers telling me last night is that I have to stop once in a while to give the other person a chance to respond.

Marshall: “Have to?”

Participant B: No, not “have to.” I mean “it would be a good idea to.”

Marshall: Yes, you know you don’t have to because there have been a lot of times in your life when you haven’t. [Laughter]

Participant B: Well, I’d like to get some sort of signal from my friend…

Marshall: …when he’s heard one more word than he wants to hear?

Participant B: Right.

Marshall: The kindest thing we can do is to stop them when people are using more words than we want to hear. Notice the difference: it’s not “when they are talking too much.” I say “kindest’ because I have asked several hundred people, “If you are using more words than somebody wants to hear, do you want that other person to pretend that they are listening or to stop you?” Everyone but one person replied adamantly, “I want to be stopped.” Only one woman said she didn’t know if she could handle being told to stop. In Giraffe we know it’s not being kind to the other person to smile and open your eyes wide to hide the fact that your head has gone dead. That isn’t helping anybody because the person in front of you becomes a source of stress and strain, and they don’t want that. They want every act and every word coming out of their mouth to enrich you. So when it isn’t, be kind to them and stop them.

Speaking Up For More Connection in a Social Setting

Now it took me awhile to get up the courage to test this out because in the Jackal culture I grew up in, that’s not done. I remember when I first decided to risk this in a social setting. I was working with some teachers in Fargo, North Dakota and was invited that evening to a social get-together with everybody sitting around talking about stuff. Within ten minutes my energy had dropped very low. I didn’t know where the life was in this conversation or what people were feeling or wanting. One person would say, “Oh, do you know what we did on our vacation?” and then talk about the vacation. Then somebody else talked about theirs.

After listening awhile, I screwed up my courage and said, “Excuse me, I’m impatient with the conversation because I’m really not feeling as connected with you as I’d like to be. It would help me to know if you are enjoying the conversation.” If they were, I would try to figure out how to enjoy it myself, but all nine people stopped talking and looked at me as if I had thrown a rat in the punch bowl.

For about two minutes I thought I’d die, but then I remembered that it’s never any response I receive that makes me feel bad. Since I was feeling bad, I knew I had on my Jackal ears and was thinking that I had said something wrong.

[Attention on possible feeling and possible requests of others]
After I put on my Giraffe ears, I was able to look at the feelings and needs being expressed through the silence and say, “I’m guessing that you’re all angry with me and you would have liked for me to have just kept out of the conversation.” The moment I turn my attention to what the other is feeling and needing, already I am feeling better.

With my attention there, I totally remove the other person’s power to demoralize or dehumanize me or to leave me feeling like PPPPPT (piss poor protoplasm poorly put together).

This is true even when, as in this case, I guess wrong. Just because I have Giraffe ears doesn’t mean I always guess right. I guessed they were angry and they weren’t.

The first person who spoke told me, “No, I’m not angry. I was just thinking about what you were saying.” Then he said, “I was bored with this conversation.” And he had been the one doing most of the talking! But this no longer surprises me; I have found that if I am bored, the person doing the talking is probably equally bored. It usually means we are not talking from life: instead of being in touch with our feelings and needs in this conversation, we’re getting into some socially learned habits of boring each other.

If you are a middle-class citizen, you are probably so used to it that you don’t even know it. I remember Buddy Hackett saying it wasn’t until he was in the Army that he discovered he could get up from a meal without having heartburn. He had been so used to his mother’s cooking that heartburn had become a way of life.

Likewise, most middle-class people are so used to boredom that it’s become a way of life. You just get together and talk from the head and talk from the head; there is no life in it, but it’s the only thing you’ve known. We’re dead and we don’t know it.

When we went around our group, each one of the nine people expressed the same feelings I had: impatient, discouraged that we were there, lifeless, inert…

Then one of the women asked, “Marshall, why do we do this?” “Do what?” “Sit around and bore each other. You’re just here tonight but we get together every week and do this!”

I said, “Because we probably haven’t learned to take the risk that I just did, which is to pay attention to our vitality. Are we really getting what we want from life? If not, let’s do something about it. Each moment is precious, too precious, so when our vitality is down, let’s do something about it and wake up.”