Provision #579: A Beautiful Mosaic

Laser Provision

It’s easy to love people who are similar to us and who are doing what we want in the way we want them to do it. Most of the time, however, we are dealing with those who are different from us and who have their own ideas and strategies about how to go about things. That’s when the going gets tough when it comes love, understanding, and respect. The more we object, however, the more conflict ensues. The more we appreciate the needs people are trying to meet, the more community emerges. I, for one, hope and strive for the latter. Read on to learn how to make it so for you as well.

LifeTrek Provision

I was speaking last week with a client in Vietnam who informed me that, yes, the Olympics are as big a deal in Vietnam as they are in the United States. There’s something about the idea of competing nonviolently across nations, cultures, and races that is incredibly attractive, and incredibly needed, at this point and time. Here’s to the Olympic spirit in all areas of human endeavor!

In watching some of the games, I have been impressed as to how people are approaching different cultural and personal preferences with respect and understanding. That’s the way it should be. Instead of objecting to or taking offense at those differences, it is better to appreciate and accommodate them. When Roqaya Al-Gassra of Bahrain, for example, competed in the women’s 200 meter race, she did so wearing a neck-to-ankle suit and hijab, a full Muslim headscarf. And she ran that way into the semifinals.

Did her choice cause any problems? No. She found it personally motivating to represent her country and her tradition in such fashion. And she celebrated the fact that at the Olympics there are no obstacles to participation. American Allyson Felix, wearing the more common briefs and singlet top, did not find Al-Gassra’s garb to be distracting in the least. She was focused on the competition, the crux of the matter, not the clothing.

On the human-interest side of the Olympics, perhaps some of you saw the story regarding the Panda baby-boom in the wake of the recent Chinese earthquake. Although two Pandas died in the earthquake, the rest were evacuated to a new Panda reserve where they been recovering both physically and emotionally. Through the adoption of a policy called “loving-heart action.” This policy involves:

— pairing up keepers with no more than two Pandas,
— staying with the Pandas every day until they feel safe and secure again,
— calling them by name, and
— patting their fur and head

One keeper, Xie Hao, came with the Pandas to the new reserve. He knows every Panda by name, include the nine newborn Pandas. When asked how he could tell them apart, he said, “From the face characteristics, but I cannot tell you the details. That’s a feeling. I just feel every Panda’s difference and I can tell which one, one by one.” To get them to where they can be reintroduced in the wild, Xie Hao concluded, “We have to have a relationship just like best friends. I must love them and they must love me.”

You can watch the story yourself by going to:

Life is like that. No two creatures are the same. Everyone and everything is unique. Yet we all need genuine caring and love.

That’s what empathy is all about: authentic connection. Xie Hao has an authentic connection with those Pandas. Allyson Felix had an authentic connection with Roqaya Al-Gassra. Through noticing and respecting differences we shift from judgment to appreciation, from fear to affirmation, from appearance to engagement. That is the spirit of the Olympic games and that is the spirit our world needs today.

So how do we do that? How do we cultivate genuine love and caring for all, regardless of differences and disagreements? It helps to recognize the universality of human needs. Although everyone is different as to their preferences, cultures, traditions, and talents, everyone is the same when it comes to the needs they are trying to meet. However well and however poorly we choose to express ourselves, the underlying intent of all our actions and words is to get our needs met.

To understand human needs, many have come up with descriptive frameworks. Perhaps the best known is the framework developed by Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology. Maslow created his now famous pyramid, with basic physical needs at the bottom (e.g., air, water, and food), followed by safety needs (e.g., security and stability), social needs (e.g., belonging, love, and acceptance), and self-actualization needs (e.g., fulfillment and self-expression).

Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist, developed a more robust taxonomy involving nine fundamental human needs (subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity, and freedom) each of which can be satisfied on four different levels (being, having, doing, and interacting). This creates a 36-cell matrix which Max-Neef uses as a more robust measure of a society’s development than strictly economic models. Kath Fisher reproduces the matrix as follows in her essay on Human Needs and Human-Scale Development:

Human Needs






physical and
mental health

food, shelter

feed, clothe,
rest, work

living environment,
social setting



social security,
health systems,

plan, take care of,

social environment,


respect, sense
of humor,

with nature

share, take care of,
make love, express

intimate spaces
of togetherness


curiosity, intuition

teachers, policies

analyze, study,

schools, families


sense of humor

duties, work,

dissent, express

parties, churches,



games, parties,
peace of mind

relax, have fun

intimate spaces,
places to be alone



abilities, skills,

invent, build,
design, work,

spaces for


sense of
belonging, self-

religions, work,
values, norms

get to know
oneself, grow,
commit oneself

places one
belongs to,


passion, self-esteem,

equal rights

dissent, choose,
run risks, develop


Marshall Rosenberg has incorporated Max-Neef’s distinction between needs and satisfiers in his model of Nonviolent Communication. We often confuse the two, he notes, which contributes to many misunderstandings and conflicts. People with different backgrounds and personalities may use very different strategies at different times to satisfy their needs, but they are all trying to meet the same, universal human needs. Looking for the needs behind the strategies is one way to approach people with respect, caring, and love even when their strategies are confusing, foreign, off-putting, or even repulsive.

That is the framework to come from if we want to cultivate greater respect, understanding, and love in our lives and in our world. We have to see the differences as a beautiful mosaic and we have to pay attention with as much love as the Panda keepers. Then, and only then, will we get beyond reactions of hostility and defensiveness to reactions of appreciation, affirmation, and engagement. It really is possible to see the beauty of the needs, regardless of how well or how poorly someone may be expressing themselves, if we choose to do so and if we practice accordingly.

Wonderfully, that choice and practice can make love and respect a more common experience in our world today. Until someone feels heard at the deep level of their needs, no progress is possible when there are differences over strategies. Everyone will just keep fighting over how to satisfy their needs, without recognizing the needs themselves as the bond we hold in common. By choosing to see the beauty of the needs, and by practicing our communication of that choice, it’s not beyond us to make the Olympic spirit more prevalent than an every-four-year occurrence.

Coaching Inquiries: When have you looked for the beauty of the need even when you have not understood or endorsed the strategy being pursued? How have you chosen to communicate that intention? What happened? How could you learn to love others, even when they are different from you? Who could you practice with today?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. To learn more about LifeTrek Coaching programs, Click Here.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

After reading your Provision on “Who’s Right?” I was moved to congratulate you on how well you explained the ideal of responding with empathy and example, especially when someone is behaving in a way you don’t like or understand. Thank you. More so, I know you practice this yourself whenever you can. Thanks for being the change you want to see, and sharing it!

I loved your Provision on playing the game of “Who’s Right?” – very powerful stuff – I “check” myself (often) when I get sucked into that game but never with the option of not playing. I usually just play a little more cautiously but allowing myself the option of not playing should be very empowering. I am going to try it the next chance I get.

Wow! Did you write your Provision on “Who’s Right?” before the SaddleCreek Forum with Obama and McCain? I think that your thesis is exactly what I concluded at the end of this forum. John McCann definitely had the rapid fire, “I know what I am doing answers” and Barak Obama definitely had the contemplative “Let’s think about this and come up with a solution that will be in the best interest of all.”

I applaud the SaddleCreek Church for such a great attempt to bring some civility to our national conversation; I did not change my mind but I did spend 2 hours listening to both candidates, when my previous response would have been to just listen to the person that I was supporting. Once again LifeTrek is on the cutting edge of the kind of thinking that resonates within my life. I am thankful that your Provisions are a regular part of my life. (Ed. Note: Yes, it was written before the Forum, which I did not have a chance to watch. Glad the Provision spoke to you!)

I just want to say I enjoyed your Provision on “Who’s right?” as well as the Wellness Pathway on running. I am running again myself. I am now training for a 10k that I have done the past two years in a row and I am totally enjoying it. Hope you are still running strong. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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