I recently was talking to a man who’s difficult for me to listen to because he assumes he knows more than me on everything. He’s not aware of this. I unfortunately am. Nevertheless, there we were in conversation. He said he hated doing what he was doing for a livelihood, and told me about the things he had tried and couldn’t succeed in.
I interrupted him with “You’re not letting yourself even think that there might be other options, you’re shutting the door on yourself”. I suddenly heard myself. He was telling me about his challenges but I was discounting them and saying “I know better than you what’s right for you”. As it happens I was wrong. He was just telling me about the stuff he’d discarded because it didn’t work for him. When I heard myself, I apologized and let him talk.
He’s designed a prototype for a solar panel but can’t afford the patent, and doing work he hates is soul destroying. He wants to act on his creativity and succeed in it, but at the moment he can’t see the solution to his lack of resources. As I listened with empathy instead of judgment I watched his spirits lift. He came away with hope and belief that a solution existed somewhere. I had a flash of insight into what stops me from listening to others and what really empowers people.
Our needs are the truth about us and whether we should or shouldn’t have them is utterly irrelevant. I call them the X-factor; they’re what people don’t always see or understand, and what we can’t always express. A couple of blogs ago I wrote about wanting to look for funding that will allow me to finish the writing projects I’ve begun, but which have been flagging lately as my financial circumstances have gotten tighter and tighter and my self esteem has been increasingly eroded.
The option I’ve already explored is getting work here at $20 a day, working from 8.30 through to 6 without lunch or tea. If I work 7 days a week I still can’t earn enough to pay for rent and very basic food. When I come home in the evening I have to do a second job online. Then I’ll be able to pay rent and eat. The thing that people can’t see about that, the X-factor, is what it takes out of you, and why it does.
Maslow said that our basic need is for shelter, food and sex, I think. Right at the top of his hierarchy of needs is self actualization. We all make this mistake of saying “you have to eat first, and pay attention to your heart and spirit next” but actually it just isn’t so. I think it’s because we’re spirits house in bodies, not the other way round, and our spirit is the energy generator.
We all know what it does to people when they don’t have enough food and security. I know what it’s doing to me. But we also can’t lose sight of what happens to us when we spend too much of our time doing something we’ve got no passion for – particularly when we’re being exploited at the same time. It depletes us to the point where we can’t even be creative. What does that do to your soul and your capacity to flourish as a material being in a material world? I think it has everything to do with it.
Maslow got it wrong. We have to pay attention to the needs of our hearts and souls as much as those of our bodies. For me I’ve come to realize that if all I can do is stay alive by being exploited and working just to survive, then I actually don’t want to stay alive. It’s too big a price. It’s physical survival at the cost of my soul. I don’t know why it’s so for me, but it is. It’s my X-factor.