One way to assess a culture is to look at the strategies it teaches to meet needs. Nonviolent Communication suggests that humans share certain needs universally. These needs include connection and community. Each of us learns certain strategies that are culturally accepted to meet those needs. In the modern Western culture, we learn that our need for connection should be met through a partner, preferably within the context of marriage. We meet our need for community by watching the same sports game as others or going to the mall. Hardly strategies that ensure that these needs are truly met. But we can use feedback loops to assess if these strategies are really meeting our needs – on an individual and a societal level. What is the feedback telling us? Given the continued accumulation of stuff and our inability to connect with our neighbors, for example, I’d say that the feedback loops are telling us that we’re doing a pretty lousy job of meeting our needs for connection and community. It might be time to design and test some new strategies. It’s best to find strategies that meet multiple needs, similar to the stacked functions in permaculture gardens. For example, I meet my need for community by going Greek folk dancing – and that also meets my needs for movement, joy, self-expression and often challenge. Our need for connection could also be met by building friendships rather than relying on one partner who cannot possibly meet all of our needs. Diversify!
How do we figure out the best strategy to meet a need? Every time we want something, we can explore what need is underneath this want and then list all the strategies that we can come up with that could meet that need. We choose a strategy that lets us stack functions. A feedback loop lets us continuously evaluate if we selected the best strategy to meet a need, including ensuring that we are actually meeting the need.
Now, when we shift strategies in a way that triggers leverage points for a mindset we will encounter resistance. Often this resistance comes in the form of black & white thinking. There are several strategies we can use to attempt to break through that thinking:
- Introduce “maybe”
- Change perspective
- Introduce or inject possibility
We introduce “maybe” quite literally by wording things differently: Maybe marriage is not the best way of meeting our needs for connection and intimacy. Changing the perspective might be a bit more difficult but we could present some what-if scenarios: What if people no longer married – what do you think would happen? Once the doomsday scenarios are out on the table, we can present our own scenario. In my case, I would present a way of relating to other people that allows for deep connections to many people, something which I think is actually more resilient. This would also be a place to inject possibility: Rather than focusing on what might be absent (for example, the long list of benefits that currently come with marriage), focus on the enrichment our lives could get from meeting our needs differently (like larger number of close friends).
Changes to society won’t happen overnight, of course. And they may never happen. But if we don’t like where society is heading (or is right now), we can start to change the strategies we use to meet our needs at the individual level. The first step is to observe and interact: Watch how we are meeting our needs. Discovering our current strategies empowers us to change them if we realize that they do not truly meet our needs.