Friday, April 28, 2017

Pet peeves and blooming hope, compassion and empathy

There more we read, listen, reflect and observe, the more one has to wonder how we have survived thus far and whether what today looks like so much dramatic bluster will not lead inevitably to some miscalculation, some mis-communication, some deviant and aberrant behaviour, whether by a large political actor, or some mole somewhere.

Irritability, suspicion, cynicism, distrust and outright disbelief are everywhere. Just yesterday, while walking on a designated path, I moved two steps to my left, to cross over to my car, when I heard these words from a silent cyclist, “I could have fallen!” To which I replied, unceremoniously, “I did not hear you, you jerk!” There was no auditory signal of anything coming behind me, and there were no other sounds that would have prevented my hearing a bell, or even a small horn, or even a small voice, “passing on your left”.

Having lost sight of responsibilities, we revert nearly always to “rights” as if my walking interfered with the cyclist’s right to safety, without his having to play his part by signalling. It is hardly surprising that cyclists and motorists are in a conflict on city streets constructed for cars and only much later modified, but only slightly to avoid huge costs, to accommodate the two-wheelers. And my insignificant incident did not occur between opposing cultures, religions, languages or even nationalities. Imagine the potential for conflict when any combination of those factors is introduced. History, tradition, belief…these also play a part in our perceptions of the potential for conflict.
And we each have our “red-line” when walking through our normal day:

·      A customer who mis-represents the work of a colleague,
·      the receptionist or clerk who does not seem to “hear” the details of our message, and does not provide the comfort of repeating both our needs and his/her instructions so that ‘cleaning up’ whatever the fall-out might be,
·      a mechanic who snuffs off a client’s question about what was wrong with the car,
·      a colleague who makes a request to fetch mail and paper while on vacation having already made the similar request to another friend, without telling either party
·      a co-worker who defies modest and polite and respectful requests to not shout to another co-worker, preferring not to make the 20-foot walk, to ask the question quietly and in private
·      a supervisor who utters the words of reductionism: “everything that led up to this conversation is in the past, and has no bearing on our going forward”.

All petty peeves, yes?

And they also encapsulate an attitude of both the scribe and  the  culture. Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, expressed an incisive view, very hard to refute: people generally see what they want and hear what they want and expect. (Thanks to Julie Nesrallah, CBC Radio 2, "Tempo" host, this morning, on Harper Lee's birthdate)

In the light of that insight, your scribe could well be depicted as the “author” of his own negative perception, and the river of peeves that listed above.

 Just as this piece is being written, I meet a young recent university grad who announces that she will start, on Monday next, her new career… counselling, coaching, mentoring and treating elderly people with dementia, following a four-year course to prepare. My eyes welled, my heart skipped a beat and I congratulated her not only on the accomplishment of her graduation, but even more for her choice of vocation. A member of the new cohort of university graduates who have had the opportunity to study abroad (she in Sweden!), when asked, “What is the most important thing you learned in your preparation?” responded, without skipping a beat, or taking a breath, “Well, that everyone is different and we have to listen carefully, and treat each person in a manner that is appropriate to them!”

Her smile, her enthusiasm for both her accomplishments and her prospects and the modest yet unmistakeable courage and strength with which she is approaching the next chapter of her life made all the petty complaints, irritations, complications, unmet expectation and thwarted human encounters pale, dissipate and dissolve in hope, joy and wonderment. In whatever nursing home she works, the elderly will be the beneficiaries of her “presence” not merely her skills. And there is little if any doubt that their lives will be infused with a new light in the midst of their unique and sometimes frightening darkness.

With all the blather about the Korean peninsula, (and who can either ignore or dismiss the dangers?), the pounding executive orders just today overturning the Obama environmental ban on fossil fuel drilling in protected national parks and potentially off the coast of oceans, the “me-first” bullying sanctioned, lead and unleashed by the “leader of the free world” and the deception and chicanery coming out of too many political sewers (capitals) to mention, this young graduate’s person, life, education and determination put it all to shame.

As one who could need her professional insights in the not-too-distant future, I am more aware than she of the irascibility and the intransigence, and the depression and the fatalism of her prospective patients/clients. One can only hope that those in whose professional company she works will comprehend the magnitude of her responsibilities, and the support and compassion she warrants for the full length of her professional life.

It is little candles of hope, light, promise, optimism and courage that will be needed not only to care for the elderly suffering from dementia, but to inspire generations after her to continue to tilt the scales in favour of humanity, compassion, empathy, agape and understanding and away from the current reduction to numbers, dollars, actions and eviscerated reports and bylaws that crowd both the consciousness and the unconsciousness of millions.

It is almost impossibleafter only a few hours  to recall the encounter with the cyclist from that early morning walk….thankfully! I want to meet more graduates like this one and read and hear much less from the Oval Office and many other political operatives as well!

Don’t we all!

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