Messages from the Directors

September 2012

Creating Community Through the Love Language of Giraffe

Lately, I have noticed a ramping-up of contentious communications throughout the world. I find talk of bullying, signs of anti-gay hate messages, politicians accusing each other of intolerance, anti-Mormon/therapy/gay/(insert label of choice) slurs filling the media almost daily. Is anyone actually communicating, or are people just trying to prove a point? Even in our discussion groups, when two parties disagree, it seems like they talk over each other.

In his book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion, Marshall Rosenberg, a global peace mediator, suggests that when such language abounds it is because both parties are speaking the language of the Jackal. He suggests that we ought to learn Giraffe language.

Rosenberg uses the Giraffe to illustrate his point because the Giraffe has some figurative qualities worthy of emulation. The Giraffe has the largest heart of all land mammals and is always sticking his neck out. With such a long neck, he is able to view things from a different perspective, seeing things coming in the future before other short-necked creatures.

Rosenberg gives some familiar suggestions on how to begin to practice speaking Giraffe. These have been suggested by many others, including modern and ancient prophets. I have personally put these ideas to practice and have found greater peace and an increase of the Spirit in my life.

Rosenberg suggests four elements of compassionate communication:

  • Observe
  • Feeling
  • Needs
  • Request

These four elements apply both to receiving and expressing compassionate communication. These elements coincide with four derivations of love listed in the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord, throughout the scriptures, admonished us to “Love the Lord thy God with ALL thy heart, with all thy might, mind, and strength…”(D&C 59:5). We are also told that, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me…” (Matthew 25:40).

I want to delve deeper with each of these four elements, to see how we might be able to apply them in our communications with others and with God.

Observe — (MINDful Love)

Elder Bednar, in his talk entitled “Quick To Observe,” (Ensign, Dec. 2006) defined observing in two ways: The first being a matter of perception “to look” or “to see”, and second as a matter of heeding “to obey” or “to keep.”

Perception requires us to make judgments but does not require us to pass judgment. I can observe the Law of Gravity in both of these ways. I can observe that when I drop a glass, it falls and breaks. Observing the Law of Gravity keeps me from jumping off of a cliff. Likewise, observing plays a big part in both perceiving and heeding the Holy Ghost. Elder Bednar promises that as we put this element of observing into practice, we will be endowed with the Gift of Discernment.

One of the ways Satan likes to mimic the gift of discernment is to turn it into what I call “B.S.” (belief system). I call it a “Shouldy-Committee,” as people are often inclined to tell each other what they should or shouldn’t do, based on their personal belief-systems. When others direct their “Shouldy Committees” towards me, my “B.S.”-detector goes off. Or, in Rosenberg’s words, my Giraffe-Ears go up. When this happens, Rosenberg counsels us to listen to the message behind the words. Such a situation could be when someone lashes out in language like, “You idiot, you should…,” or as some might say, “don’t get caught up in that ‘Gay’ mentality.”

By putting on Giraffe-ears, we can hear the real message behind someone else’s “Shouldy-Committee.” According to Marshal Rosenberg these messages are usually an unexpressed “thank you,” or “request,” (I will talk more about these later). When we hear them as such, we prevent the cycle of unnecessary trading of hurts. We seek the higher good of connecting in commUNITY. We can listen for the message behind the words. Many of us have been trained to do this already with regards to the Spirit as we are asked to listen with our “spiritual ears.”

Feeling — (HEARTful Love)

Even though feelings, emotions, and moods are quite different from each other, they are still interrelated and often confused. The term “emotional paraplegic” used at the Evergreen International Conference in 2009 by Bruce Hafen, is used to describe many of us who experience SSA. Not that we, with SSA, are past feeling, but are overcome, or paralyzed, by too much feeling. Considering how I used to often get stuck in a mood, and how I sometimes get my feelings hurt easily, I can see how tough, yet true this is for me. I have also heard this term in reference to a mood state such as depression or anxiety.

Rosenberg speaks more in practical terms about feelings. He differentiates feelings into those that point to met needs and those that point to unmet needs. He also talks about how we can often be self-deceived into mistaking an observation, judgment or belief as a feeling. These mistaken feelings are what I often call the “B.S.” referenced above. They usually show up in communication as “I feel like…”, “I feel that…”, “I feel as if…”, “I feel (insert passive verb i.e. judged, hurt, ignored, etc.).

Just because these are mistaken feelings, doesn’t mean there aren’t real, underlying feelings that have not been expressed. This only means that the person has not yet learned the language of the Giraffe. We can learn to translate these miscommunications into the HEART- language of Giraffe by putting on Rosenberg’s “Giraffe-Ears”.

Needs — (MIGHTy Love)

This part of compassionate communication is often associated with being needy. Scripturally, when I think of needy, I think of the Savior’s parable of the Widow’s MIGHT. I erroneously used to think that MIGHT was associated with power. I now realize that it relates to wants, unmet needs, and more appropriately resources…maybe even the Law of Consecration. When we listen to others compassionately, we can listen for their needs first. Sometimes people will relax as we hear their needs and communicate that we hear and care about them. Often that is really all they want is to be heard and validated. Acknowledging and unselfishly meeting these needs of others is also a way to show our love to God.

I also believe that this is where Gratitude comes into play. We can listen with Giraffe-Ears for others’ needs and express gratitude to them for sharing those needs. When others hear us express gratitude for their strong emotional communication (even if they are insulting), they see us as a friend who truly wants their needs to be met. What a MIGHTy-love is expressed when we listen and acknowledge the unmet needs of the other person.

Requests — (STRENGTHening Love)

This is one of the hardest things to do when emotions are high. Of all the aspects of compassionate communication described above, this one requires the most STRENGTH from both the speaker and listener. The speaker, when communicating in pure Giraffe, must become vulnerable by sticking his neck out to make a clear and present request. The listener often has to wade through a lot of unclear requests in the form of insults to truly hear the hidden requests with Giraffe-Ears. It takes a lot of guts to hear the request behind such phrases as, “Hey you idiot”, “You Mormons are so stuck up”, “Gay people are dangerous around children.” It is tempting to hear the judgment behind these, but a Master in Giraffe will hear the request.

Most Expert Giraffe Linguists will ask for clarity in the request. They might ask, “As a Mormon, what would you like for me to do otherwise?”; “I didn’t realize I did something wrong, what would you like me to do differently?”; or “It sounds like you value children’s safety, I do too. Do you want to know how to better spot a pedophile? I am not an expert, but I know someone who is. Let’s set up a meeting and we can learn together how best to keep our children safe”. Listening for the request is very hard, but it is key to compassionate communication.

Listening with all four aspects of love takes practice. The reward is a more unified community. In communing with God, we find that we love Him because He first loved us. Love is a commandment. May we, as a community, reach out to each other in compassion. May we strive not to hide behind our inner Jackal and speak the love languages of the Noble Giraffe within each of us.

For more information about Compassionate or Non-violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg, and learning to speak and hear in Giraffe, see cnvc.org.


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