About ten years ago I was an assistant during a Nonviolent Communication course for the first time. I spent a weekend in Tollare Folkhögskola (a school for grown-ups) with my teacher Kay Rung. It was fun, exciting and a great experience. While I could contribute in different ways, both to Kay and to the participants, I also learned a lot.

On the way back to Stockholm Kay asked if he could invite me to dinner. I hesitated and replied that I didn’t really know. “Well, you don’t have to” was his simple answer. When I heard it, immediately thoughts about missing out on something appeared inside me. So I accepted his offer. With pleasure I ate sushi at the Central Station before our paths divided.

Autonomy and independence

This was a turning point in my life. From now on I became more open to receiving gifts as well as more joyfully contributing to others. I, like many other people I know, have often hesitated to receive gifts from others. One possible reason is that we try to take care of our autonomy and independence. We might have been depending on others in so many different ways: as children, students or employees. Finally we want to show that we can manage ourselves. Maybe we associate help from others as a sign of weakness? Paradoxically, it can end with us saying “no” to support when we really need it.


I also think it’s about avoiding being in debt. The logic seems to be that if I receive something, I’m in debt to the other, and that feels uncomfortable. Therefore, I often choose to say “no” to different kinds of offers. The origin may be experiences of having been blamed earlier in life. Someone asks if we can help and we say “no” for some reason. Then we hear a variant of “How can you say no after all I have done for you?!” It’s uncomfortable to feel guilt, so a strategy to avoid feeling it is to not put ourselves in situations where we are expected to repay a favour. Even if that is not the intention of the person who wants to contribute. Även om det inte är intentionen hos den som vill bidra.

The evolutionary origin

In my latest blog posts, I’ve reflected on the evolutionary origin of our needs. It seems that we have lived most of our past in egalitarian groups. As humans, we didn’t manage on our own, but our survival was dependent on a group or a tribe. In such small groups, where we all depend on each other, it’s important that everyone contributes. If I share my food today, I will receive someone else’s contribution tomorrow. Our need to contribute has since then been part of our humanness.

I think Marshall Rosenberg would say that the need for contribution is a selfish need. We contribute because it benefits us – it feels good. Contribution to others is a side effect when we fulfil our own needs. I think this is true only partly. Depending on the stage of development we are in, I believe that the motive to contribute can vary. Sometimes we contribute from purely selfish motives. We calculate that when we contribute, it will benefit us in the longer term. But sometimes, I think, we contribute without considering “what’s in it for me?”. After all, we are social beings and at the same time as the needs of others are being met, our need to contribute will be met and we will experience emotions we enjoy.

To contribute as a strategy

Contributing can be a strategy to meet other needs. I may help others with different things and think that it’s my selfless need for contribution. In fact, there might be other needs that are the basis for supporting others. Maybe I want to be recognized and be seen? Or maybe I want to avoid guilt and shame and thereby try to fulfil my need for acceptance? And maybe I want to stay in connection, making sure that I am loved? 

One way I can check if it’s the need for contribution that is the basis for my desire to help, is to imagine that the person I want to help will never contribute anything to me. If the idea of ​​contributing is still joyful, it’s a clue that this may be exactly the need I want to meet. If, on the other hand, there’s a streak of disappointment in me, it’s probably another need I try to meet by my attempt to contribute.

The most fun game in town

Marshall Rosenberg said something in the style of “contributing is the most fun game in town”. It’s not fun to buy new things, it’s not fun to be right. It’s fun to be in connection with others and to contribute.

“What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others
based on a mutual giving from the heart.”
Marshall Rosenberg

When I have a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity, I live in a much more joyful world. There is so much I can contribute with. If I don’t have so many physical resources, I can contribute with my knowledge, my time or my presence.

How do you want to contribute?

Leave a comment below or, if you are a Premium subscriber of “The Needs’ Year”, at the online platform: https://empathiceurope.com/online/courses/the-needs-year/modules/week-38/ 


Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On 22 September at 19:00-19:45 CEST, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and David Kerry Weinstock. We will talk about the need for contribution.

Sign up for the Needs’ Year and you will receive a link to Zoom.

If you read this afterwards, you can watch the recording when you become a premium subscriber. Check the details HERE.

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