Are we contributing to life?

Compassionate Communication is a powerful tool for bringing about understanding, connection, and peace when there is conflict, when others have done things that don’t meet our needs, or when we have done things that don’t meet the needs of others. But what about when we are helping each other meet needs? How can Compassionate Communication help us fully appreciate the contributions and gifts we receive from others and from life?

Many of us are familiar with receiving praise when we do something that contributes to others. However, praise is just another form of judgement: “Good work,” “You are wonderful,” “You’re the best,” “You’re brilliant,” “Amazing,” “Such a good girl,” “What a good boy”. Some people would say that these are positive judgements that encourage others and help them feel good about themselves. Although the intention behind praise might be to encourage others and help them feel good about themselves, what praise does is support people to look outside of themselves to measure their self-worth. When this happens, we lose connection to our innate sense of self-acceptance, and to our intrinsic motivation, which comes from our powerful need to contribute to life. Tragically, we become motivated by trying to please others. This extrinsic motivation does not support us to keep growing and contributing in a meaningful way. If you want to know more about the damaging effects of praise, I suggest you read Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn.

One of our most potent needs is to contribute to life, to give to others from our hearts just because it feels wonderful to do so, not because we are hoping for praise, approval or some other reward. We feel a lot of joy when we meet this need, so it is vital to get feedback that lets us know how we have met our intrinsic need to contribute to life. When someone tells us exactly what we did, what need was met by what we did, and how someone feels about having their need met, then we have clear information about how we have contributed to someone’s life. For example, “When you ask me how I’m doing and then take the time to be present and just listen to what is going on for me, I feel deeply grateful because it meets my need for caring and to know I matter.”

I believe people are hungry to know how they are contributing to life. Praise does not satiate this hunger; praise is like addictive, empty calories that leave us craving for something more substantial. We can help feed others by expressing full appreciation. We can even feed ourselves by spending some time appreciating ourselves for the things we do each day that contribute to life. This is a wonderful, and much needed break from believing we need to strive to do better and be enough in order to gain more approval.

I would love to hear from you if you have needs that are met by my writing or if there are some needs that aren’t met for you when reading my articles. I really appreciate learning how I can better contribute to life.