Today, while in the ladies room, I heard two co-workers talking. One was crying.
“I told her I got back together with him because I married him,” she sobbed. “I thought maybe he’d changed.”
Well, you can guess the rest of the story. He hasn’t changed.
“I know I’m a good person. I’m doing things I don’t want to do because of him.”
As I stepped up to the sink to wash my hands, I said to her, “you remember who you are and don’t let anyone change that.” She nodded, and opened up about what was happening. I listened.
Then I went on to say, “Sometimes we try so hard to make something work, and it just isn’t working. We try to change things, but there’s often something else going on with the other person, something we don’t know about. If someone else makes you feel bad, you need to walk away. Don’t try to figure it out and fix it. Walk away.”
I could see that had an impact. She heard me. Maybe, just maybe, something it took me a long time to learn can change things for her and make her life better now, while she’s still so young.
I’m not saying give up on marriage at the first struggle, but if there’s abuse, if someone is scared, it’s time to jump ship and swim for your life to safer shores.
We never know when what we’ve said changes someone’s life, or a part of it. Years ago I had lunch with a former colleague. He was struggling with a job he hated, and the weight of his despair was leaving him seriously depressed. I asked him the same thing someone else had asked me, and my answer had changed the course of my life.
“What you be doing if you were doing what you wanted to do?”
He didn’t answer me then, but I saw him a couple of years later. He bubbled over with enthusiasm.
“I thought about what you said, and I knew the answer. It changed the entire direction of my career. I have a job I love!” he told me. “Thank you!”
Really? Wow. Frankly, I didn’t even remember asking him that question, but I’m not surprised I did, knowing how it had affected me. What else have I said or done that has had a positive impact on someone else? (I ask forgiveness for things I’ve said or done that have hurt others.)
I hope my young co-worker makes the right decisions and moves on to greater things. I hope she holds out for a man who treats her right.
How many women have put on their sexiest voices to sing this campiest of all Christmas songs? Unless you’re Eartha Kitt, it’s an act. But she had the voice and the spirit to make this song more than a novelty.
Here’s the original, recorded in 1953 by a 26-year-old Ms. Kitt:
Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day in 2008, after nearly 82 years of a fascinating and at times poignant life.
Born the child of a black mother and white father, possibly as a result of rape, her mother had a challenging time finding a home for her small family because one daughter (Eartha) was “yellow” — light-skinned — and illegitimate.
She grew up to enjoy great success as an entertainer, but it wasn’t without its challenges. And despite limited education when she was a child, as an adult she reportedly spoke four languages, including French, and sang in eleven. Her roles as an actress ranged from Helen of Troy to Catwoman in the Batman TV series (replacing Julie Newmar).
About a year before she died, she made this comment about “Santa Baby” in an interview on NPR:
“every time I sing “Santa Baby,” I laugh more at myself when I’m singing that song because I know what I’ve gone through and the song says Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree. Well, all the men who have done that with me had never stayed with me, so I realized everything that I want in life I have to pay for myself, and I really love that because then nobody owns me, but me, and my public of course. “
Merry Christmas to all who struggle, whatever your pain may be. Find strength in the victories of others, knowing the same can happen for you.
Perhaps some of you have been taught the communication technique of “echoing” or “mirroring.”
After listening to a colleague’s thoughts or explanation of a situation, you summarize what you heard and, in your own words, repeat it back to them, prefaced with something like, “what I hear you saying is…” I think it’s suggested for personal relationships, too, but that’s a different topic for another day.
I’d learned about this approach to understanding, but hadn’t truly had a chance to use it, when I began a new job at a major corporation in the southern U.S. I was learning, through one painful lesson after another, that the direct approach was rarely appreciated here. Instead, a passive-aggressive, read-between-the-lines method of communication was considered professional and respectful.
For example, if someone asked for my help with a project that afternoon, and I knew my own deadline would preclude me from being available, it was best not to say, “I’m sorry, the Acme project is going to keep me busy all day. I won’t be able to help you.” The preferred response was, “As soon as I’m done I’ll come over.”
To me, it was dishonest and disrespectful to imply there was a good chance I’d be able to pitch in when I knew full well it would never happen. What I didn’t realize was this was code for, “no way will I have time for anything but my own work” and those raised in this area of the South clearly understand this convoluted language.
The lesson slammed down on me one day when I was called into a meeting with other managers in my department. They wanted to discuss a program our superiors were enthusiastic about, but was difficult to make practical. It sounded good. For one week, a manager and an hourly worker would partner together and train each other in their respective responsibilities to help understand the highs and lows of the “other side.”
In practice, this idealistic program was fraught with problems. While my colleagues agreed on the surface it seemed like a good idea, the stories they told me illustrated how frustrating it really was for everyone involved. However, it didn’t matter what they thought, they were mandated to make it work, and they were hoping I might have some fresh ideas.
I mirrored back a summary of what I’d heard them tell me. “It sounds like you’re being asked to manage a program you believe has possibilities, but what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t been working.”
The meeting ended with that statement. Two of the women walked out in disgust at my “rudeness.” Another sat there staring at me, as if she didn’t know what to say. A fourth pulled me aside and lectured me on professional behavior and respecting the feelings of others.
As someone who always, always considered the sensitivities of my co-workers, to a point where one of my supervisors listed “too nice” as my greatest fault, this was a shock. I struggled to understand, tried to explain the method of communication, and asked what I “should” have said.
I never got a response to the latter, and they brushed off all my explanations. In retrospect I believe there was something else going on. There had to be. I said nothing insulting, my intent and manner were respectful, practically deferential.
Yet communication is different in various regions of the country, and for that matter, the world. Those women would have fallen flat on their rears if they brought their communication expectations to a company in New York, just as I would have been told to be more straightforward.
Minnesotans pride themselves on what they term, “Minnesota nice.” You drive a few hundred miles south, and people who hear that phrase will think you’re being facetious. “You know, he was (air quotes) ‘Minnesota nice.'” What’s considerate in the Upper Midwest is blunt and coarse in the South.
How did I handle the frustrations of this communication block? After two years of the underhanded words and behavior of others in my department, I quit. I didn’t have the strength or wisdom to fight it, or the savvy to appropriately adopt the same thinking. I didn’t even fully understand what was going on.
Experts will tell you that when indirect communication is used, a knowledge of the culture is essential for understanding the meaning. That’s a challenge when you’re unaware of the depth of the cultural differences, even in your own country.
What I saw as disrespectful in what I earlier called “underhanded words and behavior,” people whom I came to respect believed was considerate, putting the other person first. Of course you don’t tell them you can’t help them. That’s rejection. So they developed this method of (as they see it) kindly saying “sorry, I’m not available.”
Communication is more than words, although some try to limit it to such. It is knowing the people around you and the environment you are living in. It is understanding when the issue being discussed isn’t the issue you’re dealing with, when to fight for your rights and dignity and when to maintain that dignity by bowing out.
It is being human, and letting others be the same.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Our face is a mask, sometimes opaque, sometimes transparent.
Recently a friend of mine was taking an online test about reading emotions, and not doing too well. She was frustrated. I suspect the test was flawed in multiple ways, and even if she did read the emotions correctly, there’s never any way to be certain of the reason for the feelings. We can’t read minds, and we don’t know all that is happening in anyone’s life.
Someone may smile at something we said because it ties in with a conversation they had only a moment before. We’re unaware of what was said, however, and think they’re smiling inappropriately at our tale, and become frustrated. It happens everyday.
That’s a simple misunderstanding. Just as we don’t know what is spoken in the moments before we join a discussion, we most often have no way of fully knowing what’s happening in the lives of those around us. People are discreet enough generally to keep their private lives private, and sometimes they do so almost to a fault.
I have a friend who was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s last year, and I never knew until shortly before her mom died. She and I had been working on a project together and I’d wondered why she’d lost her enthusiasm for it. Was it something I said?Had I been too controlling? I can get stuck in my ways. Now, that could have been the case, but more likely, she simply had other priorities.
She kept up a brave face around me, and maybe wondered why I never asked how her mom was doing. You see, others knew. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have known. We live in a communication age, but our own personal interactions frequently suffer from presumptions and assumptions all around. We rely too much on expectations and, as I alluded to above, expressions of emotion.
How we view our peers and others around us is more than just reading facial expressions, of course.
As well as how they view us. We’re born with a look that defines us, or helps others think they can define us. We grow and mature and that look changes and develops with us, but never truly reflects all that we are. It limits our definition of ourselves to other people.
When I was in high school, I peripherally was friends with a young woman, a year older than I, who to this day I’d have to say was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Another woman in my group described her by saying, “she looks like a cover girl, only she hasn’t been airbrushed.” The only person to come close to matching her beauty (and it may be a tie) was her younger sister.
But beauty had its price. Let me add here these were two of the nicest, most sincere women you’d ever meet as well, and their parents were great people. Yet despite all the kindness they’d show to others, they were subject to vicious rumors and gossip simply because of petty jealousy. They faced other problems directly related to their looks, such as expectations from men when they were far too young to handle that sort of thing, and so on. It wasn’t fair.
The older girl, my friend, was often cautious around other people, knowing what they would be saying as soon as she left the room. That in turn led to talk she was “stuck-up” because she’d be reluctant to open up to someone new, or even those she knew well enough already.
We make judgments sometimes to feel in control of a situation. If we understand what’s going on, we can deal with it, so we seek an answer — and run the risk of being horribly wrong.
How do we discern a person’s heart?
Respecting another’s privacy is an important value to many of us, and in doing so, we also must respect we will likely give up some knowledge we may find useful, whether we have a right to it or not. That knowledge includes the ability, at times, to fully understand someone’s painful history and appreciate their distant behavior as a symptom of that aching within themselves.
I do believe we should, in general, live with an attitude every person is far more complex than we can recognize when we first meet them. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, understanding we don’t know what secret sorrows they face, is the gracious thing to do.
Having that open mind and open heart, giving others a chance to reveal themselves, will help teach us the perception and insight we seek. It is immensely rewarding to be the one who discovers the cold and bitter outsider is a warm, kind person waiting to be loved.
Yes, we must always use discretion when reaching out to others to save ourselves from being taken advantage of by manipulative and greedy people. A slow and steady approach of grace with the counsel of others is always wise.
Grace, wisdom, warmth of spirit. Gifts of human kindness that can change the world.
A friend of mine has been battling obesity for a long time now.
It’s affecting her in a multitude of ways, physically and emotionally. Recently she made the difficult decision to address her problem surgically. That means a series of tests before the surgeon would consider her case, including a psychiatric examination.
The conclusion? She wasn’t a suitable candidate.
She was deeply disappointed, but still determined to fight her battle with her weight. However, she wanted to address the issue of her mental or emotional health one more time, so she went back to the psychiatrist who had made the diagnosis.
Turns out, it was a clerical error and didn’t reflect the psychiatrist’s opinion one bit. In fact, my friend is considered to be someone with a high level of probability for success, both short- and long-term.
What she came to realize through all of this was the bitter treatment people with mental illness face. After this mistake was made but before the error was discovered, she found herself being treated harshly by the staff who once were so kind to her. When her chart was corrected, they returned to their friendly behavior.
It reminded me of a close friend’s experience with bigotry after she had a liver transplant. Nurses and others on the hospital staff were abrupt and, on occasion, downright rude. Finally, she asked her doctor to please note her transplant was necessary due to an auto-immune disorder, not because of substance abuse. The doctor wrote AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE in big letters on her chart, and the staff turned around in their judgmental attitudes. Jean was disgusted.
Mental health and substance abuse remain stigmatized in our society,
even among medical professionals who should know better. They presumably have accurate information about the nature of these diseases, and after all, haven’t they committed themselves to a profession of compassion and empathy?
It brings me back to singing a familiar tune: you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s easy, and convenient, to judge another’s behavior. It gives us a feeling of control.
But it’s dangerous, and a crutch for the foolish.
I respect those who are gracious enough to give those with mental illness the room they need to deal with their disease. One of my closest friends has two sisters diagnosed with bipolar disorder, at different levels of severity. The oldest sister has a difficult time functioning in society. With the help of family, she’s chosen to live in a halfway house in a remote area.
The other sister, after years of destructive living, was able to get a handle on her disease and maintain both a job for herself and a home for her son. About every seven years, however, she had a severe relapse. Her son would live his with father during that time, and her employer would give her a leave of absence for as long as she needed it.
The time came when that company was sold, and she decided to apply for disability, knowing that odds were another employer wouldn’t be as kind about her mental health. The courts agreed, and at the age of 56, she was granted disability. She still makes a valuable contribution to society through volunteer work, and her son is healthy, happy and completely supportive of his mother.
Her volunteer work is with mental health awareness, and people listen to her. How they apply what she has to say in their own lives is, of course, an unknown, but we can only hope they open their hearts and listen to what is unsaid.
Because we are often best understood by what is unsaid.
Recently I was tempted to very loudly tell a salesperson to shut up and leave me alone.
I’ve worked retail long enough to know management puts a lot of pressure on sales associates to push the company credit card. They provide all sorts of helpful tools to overcome objections, and expect their workers to talk a certain percentage of customers into applying right then and there.
Most of the time, a bored sales associate rattles off a line something like, “Would you like to save ten percent today with a (company name) credit card and receive notices about special sales exclusively for our card-holding customers?” I smile and say thank you, no, and we proceed with the purchase.
Recently, however, my mom and I were shopping, and it didn’t go so smoothly. After the initial question, I replied, “We’re not interested.”
“You’d get special discounts throughout the year, and can easily take advantage of our already low prices.”
“We’re not interested.”
“It would only take a minute to apply. I’m sure you’d be approved.” Seriously? You’re sure?
“We’re not interested.”
“We have so much wonderful merchandise, I’d hate for you to lose out…”
This was the point where I wanted to shout, “WE ARE NOT INTERESTED. JUST RING UP OUR PURCHASE AND STOP HARASSING US ABOUT YOUR DAMN CARD.”
It was my mom’s birthday, and we were shopping for her, so I stopped myself. Okay, I may not have done it anyway. But I really wanted to let this whiny-voiced woman know how offensive she was being.
Moderation in everything. I can’t say it’s outside the realm of possibilities that either my mom or I would apply for that company’s credit card in the future. If we do, I can guarantee it won’t be because of pushy sales tactics.
Persuasion is a game for diplomats. To truly bring someone around to your side, you need to find some common ground, build a rapport. I don’t know how you’d do that in the above situation, except to say I do know most of us expect the question and know whether or not we want to save ten percent today. Your best bet at winning me over is a friendly attitude and understanding smile.
But what if what you’re trying to sell is something far more personal, something that people feel passionately about? Never discuss religion or politics, the saying goes, and we all know why. You’re likely to end up in a fruitless argument.
Today I (somewhat foolishly) responded to a friend who is a true believer in an Unnamed Politician. Okay, Donald Trump. I’m not. Wisest to stay away from any confrontation, because I won’t change my friend’s mind. But he had written something on Facebook I strongly disagreed with, so I felt compelled to respond.
I knew what not to say. I laid out the reasons for my feelings in a straightforward manner, and sought the narrow path of common ground with my friend. “I don’t expect any president to be perfect,” I wrote in part, “and I respect that it is a challenging job. I want all of our presidents to succeed, just as I want our country to succeed. I just don’t trust President Trump.”
My friend, who has different ideas than I do about what will make our country successful, replied in a gracious and kind manner, saying (among other things) that while he didn’t vote for President Obama, he was willing to give him a chance, but disagreed about the direction he was taking.
We will never agree about politics, but we will listen to the other, and maybe learn something valuable.
And we’ll remain friends, and that is more important than any argument about politics.