I’ve long been a fan of Amanda Palmer and her band the Dresden Dolls (if you don’t know her mix of cabaret-punk music, check out Coin Operated Boy which says a lot in three minutes about human longing.) About two years ago Amanda gave a TED talk on The Art of Asking and now has a book out with the same name. In it (at least the TED talk- I’ve not read the book yet) she passionately talks about—without realizing it—a core concept in the practice of Collaborative Communication (NVC): joyful giving and receiving. A big part of this joy is asking for what you want–risking vulnerability in doing so–and asking in a way that’s (truly) free of demand.
Palmer starts out her TED talk describing how she made a living for five years doing street performance as a moving statue. While some judged her (as not having a “job,”–wait, this IS my job! and begging), she describes how this street art was in fact an elegant dance in giving and receiving. Her hat out on the street was the request–would you give me a dollar? (or more) And those who did were offered a daisy–and a moment of connection (as Palmer puts it: “My eyes would say, ‘thank you—I see you,” and their eyes would say, ‘Nobody ever sees me. Thank you.'”. This experience informed her later kick-starter campaigns as a musician, where she further discovered–even when taking someone’s bed when couch suffering– that when we’re connected with someone, there’s no clear line between giving and receiving—it’s pure mutual joy.
Marshall Rosenberg, who developed the NVC model, described this giving-receiving dance as as the joy of a child feeding a hungry duck. That image always seemed a little sweet and naive to me–and yet, when I actually think about it, it’s 100% accurate. Little kids love feeding ducks. And part of the fun is watching the duck’s eagerness- or happiness- in eating. Who’s getting more? it’s hard to say. It’s win-win. t’s this visceral experience of open-hearted giving and receiving that we’re looking for in practicing NVC.
A key element in this open-handed/open-hearted giving/receiving is being open to hearing ‘no.’ This is the key distinction in NVC for requests: that they are free of demand. In her TED talk, Palmer asks this key question: “Rather than making people pay for music…how do we let them pay for music?” Some in the music industry said to her: “‘You encourage piracy. How do you make all these people pay for music?'” And she responds: “… the real answer is, I didn’t make them. I asked them. And through the very act of asking, I connected with them. And when you connect with them, people want to help you.'”
Asking involves vulnerability–and trust. It can bring out of the woodwork all our biggest insecurities and fears. Am I worthy? Will people be interested? Will they listen? Will I be loved? Love, at the end of the day, is the biggest need of all. It’s what we all crave. It’s the biggest, deepest form of connection. And we’re so afraid of not getting it, we often avoid asking—for anything, in any form–to protect ourselves from disappointment or hurt. And then of course we miss the opportunity to receive.
I go back to that image of Palmer as the living statue. That took guts for sure– dressed up with her face painted, standing still for hours on the street—waiting, wondering, will someone stop? Will someone put money in my hat? And, of course, if she’d not been there–with her face painted and the hat at her feet asking –she most definitely would not have received anything.
In effect, we’re all living statues. We’re there waiting—waiting for connection. And it’s that moment of connection–that open hearted giving and receiving–that brings us to life.