“NASA has said that if all the ice in Antarctica melts, the oceans will rise by just two decimetres.” My father looked at me encouragingly and waited for an answer. I asked (a bit weary) “Can you show me the source where NASA claims this?” For the next few hours, he sat in front of his computer in silence. I think he tried to find a source, but he never returned to the subject.

While visiting my father for a few days, he happily and willingly shared various theories such as: “The human influence on the climate is a hoax”, “Hilary Clinton is a leader of a pedophile network” and “Islam is religious Nazism”. I tried alternately to understand the needs behind his statements and to come up with factual counterarguments. When my energy ran out, I retreated. In my mind, my beloved father had turned into a conspiratorial fanatic.

The need for shared understanding

The need for “shared reality” is one of the needs I’ve pondered on the most in recent years. I find the term “shared reality” difficult to use in everyday speech and even in NVC context I don’t hear it very often. However, I haven’t been able to find a fitting synonym that catches the same essence. To me, this need captures an important aspect of interpersonal relationships, and it’s very obvious to me when the need is not met.

In the case of my father, at times I experience that we are from different planets. In these moments I have no points of connection and I don’t understand his reality. I lack a logical frame of reference to hang his thoughts on. I’m not saying I’m right and he’s wrong (although I may have those thoughts). Somehow I don’t have the ability to grasp his worldview.

It’s not about opinions and values

For me, shared reality doesn’t mean that people need to have the same opinions or worldviews as me. However, I need to share enough reference points with others about how the world is constituted to experience this need fulfilled. I haven’t looked into the matter too closely, but in my experience, other people’s opinions and values ​​can differ significantly from my own, while the need for shared reality still is met.

Another thought I have is if the need for shared reality is a typically human need? I think animals can like or dislike individuals close to them, but I don’t think giraffes and jackals pounder about whether their fellow beings share the same view of reality as them. Whereas in the complex physical and virtual realities we humans operate within, we need to agree on certain basic concepts to have a functional co-existence.

Limits of observations

The need for shared reality also leads me to the NVC concept of observations. I’m convinced that there is an objective reality outside of myself, a reality I share with all other humans. However, I perceive this objective reality through my senses. My image of reality is created by my mind which receives signals from my surroundings passing through several filters.

One of those filters is my brain’s physical limitation to receiving information. For example, humans have limited vision and hearing. Some other animals see and hear things we cannot. Another filter is our consciousness. We are only mentally aware of a tiny fraction of all the information that floods our minds. An additional filter is the cultural context we are marinated in. Depending on our background, we interpret the same bits of information in vastly different ways.

My view of reality is based on the few bits of information that manage to pass through all my filters. Other people will receive partially different pieces of information from our shared objective reality. These filters make all of us construct subjective images of reality. Therefore, none of us can claim to possess a completely accurate picture of reality.

Take more perspectives into consideration

When I’m aware of the need for shared reality and that I experience a subjective reality on which I base my observations, it’s easier for me to receive other people’s perspectives. I no longer have to argue that I’m right and try to convince others that they should change their position in favour of mine. At the same time, I do not have to regard all worldviews as equally valid. Some worldviews include more perspectives and have the potential to meet the needs of more people, without neglecting other people’s needs. I’m trying to include as many perspectives as possible when interacting with my fellow humans.

What are your reflections about the need for shared reality?

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-47/


Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On 25 November at 19:00-19:45 CET, you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Hanna Savanna. We will talk about the need for shared reality.

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

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

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