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the magical formula of physics in which the more you give the more is available

2020 October 20
by Rachel Turiel

Last night, after a full weekend of butchering Dan’s bull elk, the kids joined us for the finale of packaging up the elk grind. It wasn’t quite like the old days when Rose skipped around the solarium draped in cheap purses and wielding a sharpie, delightedly scrawling her name across a bazillion packages; no longer was Col poised on a chair, belly to the butchering table, saucer-eyed and aiming a sharp knife at raw muscle meat , all the adults slightly awed and terrified. 

No, this year I tried to pull the teenagers out of their rooms via text message. “Would you be willing to help for an hour to finish up packaging?” I typed out, feeling extremely attached the outcome I wanted.

“I’m working,” Col replied, referring to his eBay research involving Pokemon cards and a very dubious wealth-building scheme.

“I would, but I’m folding laundry,” Rosie texted back. 

I was staring down a dizzying mound of ground elk, pork fat and spices, which needed to be thoroughly mixed, hand-shaped into 1-pound patties, wrapped in plastic wrap then butcher paper, taped up, labeled and sunk into the freezer. It was 9pm, the hour at which we’re all usually tucked into bed, the house quiet and free from any aspirations of effort. I had been at this butchering table all day. My body ached, a certain panic settling into my joints.

In the paradigm that permeates our parenting culture, I had two choices. I could give up on my need for support, which would likely involve telling myself that my kids are selfish and unwilling to help others. This discouraging story would embed itself in my consciousness, becoming the explanation for why the bathroom floor still hasn’t been swept after 3 reminders, or why the house is peppered with dirty socks, flung from sweaty, selfish feet. 

The other option would be to fight for my need for support by motivating them with guilt or bribes, which still involves telling myself the same story: I need help and these selfish, self-absorbed kids will only make room for my needs if it benefits them.  

I’m interested in something different.

I showed up in person at their bedroom doors, blood-smeared apron, hair disheveled, and said “Hey, I know you’re busy with others things, and I wish Daddy and I had planned better so we would have finished up during daylight. But I’m super exhausted and would so love your help. It would make this final stretch so much more bearable to have all four of us in there. Would you be open to giving us an hour of help?”

And then I paused with a silent prayer about their willingness to stretch and my willingness to hear no gracefully.

Soon all four of us were in the solarium, each of us focused on a task, all contributing to the whole. “It’s a family affair,” Dan sang as he dumped another grinder-load of meat in front of me for spicing. I shaped patties of meat, while Col ripped squares of plastic wrap, into which Rose swaddled the meat. Over and over. I could feel my burden lift, carried now by four sets of hands. A small balloon of celebration rose in me for what’s possible.

Col and Rose weren’t excited about helping, but they were willing. And contributing to others’ happiness actually boosts our happiness because we’re wired for interdependence; interdependence runs on mutual generosity. It’s the game where everyone wins.

And yes, I could have insisted they help. (And, there are daily and weekly contributions that we each have agreed to). But when we help out of obligation we miss out on the beneficial feelings generated by true willingness to give to others. This willingness creates the scaffolding that supports cooperation, creative problem-solving, fearless honesty, and the trust that everyone’s needs matter. This is the fuel I want our family to run on, rather than the hope of reward or fear of punishment. And willingness to show up is sometimes enough to get a bull elk in the freezer.

The next day, I got this text from Rose who was biking home from her job at a coffee shop, “I’m five minutes from being home. Wondering if you could prepare a snack for me so I could get right on my schoolwork? Something like chips, vegetables, fruit roll and something sweet?”

I was in the middle of writing this, but yes, like a magical formula of physics in which the more you give the more is available, Rose’s willingness to care for my needs creates more willingness in me to care for hers.

The willingness snack plate.

How to Make a Request using principles of nonviolent communication

  • Requests are clear and specific. Rather than, “Can you give the dog some exercise?” You might ask, “Can you throw the ball for the dog for a few minutes before you go to school?”
  • Requests express what you want, not what you don’t want. Instead of “Please stop flinging your sweaty socks all over the house,” you might ask, “I’d love for all dirty socks to go in the hamper. Can you do that?”
  • Requests are doable. A successful request won’t compromise anyone’s values, and usually doesn’t contain the words “never” or “always.” 
  • Unlike a demand, a request maintains everyone’s dignity and allows for honest assessment of capacity by allowing for the option to say no, or for negotiations. “I’m willing to help package the meat but I’d like to be able to  listen to music/join you in ten minutes/choose the butchering tasks I do.”
  • Requests are more enjoyable to meet when we know how it will contribute to others’ happiness. “If you could silence your phone while we’re chatting for the next half hour I would so appreciate a chance to have your full attention.”
  • Sometimes finding willingness, rather than a big YES, is enough. And, willingness is a muscle that grows in proportion to its use. “I know you’re enjoying reading right now, but do you have any willingness to throw the ball for the dog for five minutes this morning?”
  • If someone is hesitant to say yes, get curious about the obstacle. There may be an easy solution.“Yes, totally fine if you follow up on some texts before silencing your phone for half an hour.”
  • If it’s not a request, don’t phrase it as one. We all appreciate honesty.
  • If an alternative solution can’t be found, and it is a true request, accept the ‘no.’ When people are free to say no without consequence, trust will build, which leads to willingness and the joy of knowing a ‘yes’ is a true yes, which is the best kind of yes.

p.s. New Class Announcements here . For non-locals!

p.p.s. These movies were so, so good: Ladybird and Ali

12 Responses leave one →
  1. Lauren Patterson permalink
    October 20, 2020

    Dearest Rachel,
    We are on the same wave length. I spent last night and this morning pondering the best way to let my adult son know I needed help without being a nag, bitch or martyr. Of course I leaned heavily on what I have learned from you and NVC. You are a national treasure to me.
    Love, Lauren

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      October 20, 2020

      Love hearing this, dear Lauren.

  2. Maggie permalink
    October 20, 2020

    Good work, mom! (And Rose and Col!)

    Reminds me of the day Michael and I packed the truck that would move me to California. We worked ALL day and at 5:00 pm, I hit the wall. Couldn’t do anything but lay on the floor and cry. So, I called you and asked if Dan would be willing to come over and finish the last hour in my place (yes, even with only an hour of work left to do, I couldn’t do it!). Gratefully, your sweet Dan said yes. Willingness is indeed a gift!

    Love you always…

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      October 21, 2020

      I had forgotten this. Thanks for this story. It’s so beautiful to ask for what you need and have people willingly say yes, knowing they are giving from their heart.

  3. LucyQ permalink
    October 21, 2020

    This resonates so much for me. Thank you.

  4. Pam permalink
    October 21, 2020

    Tears of gratitude for this, Rachel. Miki would love it too!

  5. Nancy permalink
    October 21, 2020

    Loved reading this and want to add a side note:
    Congratulations to Dan on the successful hunt! Elk in the freezer is a wonderful bounty!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      October 22, 2020

      Thanks, Nancy! We are grateful and thrilled!

  6. Solyssa permalink
    October 22, 2020

    Just thinking of butcher day gives me a sore neck, and we have only done deer, never an elk. I always enjoy the fall installment of Dan’s elk hunt! It sure feels good to have full freezer as the cold sets in.

  7. October 26, 2020

    Gosh, I love reading your posts! This is so timely. I *feel* like I express myself using the NVC principles, but you always refresh my memories (we need a lifetime membership to classes!!) of little tweaks that make a major difference. Thanks so much for sharing this here! The practical examples of your life told in such a beautiful (and sometimes very funny – love your humor!) is a real gift.

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