What’s your dog?
There isn’t resolution. Just a sense of need. To be as kind as possible seems the only thing worth doing. In my personal and professional life. And it is the only thing that seems to be a sensible anchor and effective, efficient mode of being in the confusion that is re-entry into my work, into a troubled 2017, and at home. And perhaps even toward myself.
But I rant on Twitter. I can lapse into assumptions that all Brexiteers are ignorant racists. I shout at my kids. I despair at the world. I cleave to safe opinions about how the world and people work. I am emotionally triggered by anything that Trump says.
It’s never my fault that I am triggered – of course :-). it’s always the other person’s. And the more that people don’t see this, the more the sense of wrongness and of being wronged is reinforced. And round and round I go, now with an additional note of self-pity and reinforced powerlessness. Sometimes we have been triggered intentionally. It is a conscious game that the haters play – People like Trump, Farage and the rest of them know this. And they revel in our reactions.
Sometimes it’s a less conscious game.
Whatever. The effect is the same. Every time I am triggered, I feel my life force drain away. When destabilised, we hate back. This is the world we risk exacerbating.
Some say mindfulness is apolitical. I disagree. When I am centred, when I have slept, when I have eaten, when I breathe in response to provocative opinions. When I can sort of see where people are coming from – even if their values aren’t mine – I am more able to respond in a way that is congruent with my own values; and to explore and question, build relationships and, yes, say things that are more sensible! I allow myself not to be swept aside by gusts of emotion and don’t serve to reinforce the yes-no, black-white, arguments, fights, wars.
And if I respond in line with my true values – particularly with kindness, curiosity and humility, I sleep better. I am no more effective when angry – actually, less so.
In my work, I see a lot of justifiably angry people – patients, users and carers who come to decision making tables with their jaws and fists clenched; health professionals (clinicians, managers, admin and non-clinical staff) tired and embittered by frenzied ways of working… And good people with good intentions turning on each other.
More than ever this year, we need to be of service. I have woken up that this is less about me and my ego (though that is still powerfully there). But if we allow ourselves to be dragged into too much catalysed anger, we risk not just our own sanity, but the future of our health and social care service, and of the planet.
How we react to provocation matters. As I wrote the above, I looked up at a football match. One player kicked another. The other player kicked back. And only the latter was booked. QED.
We need quick, small, re-kindling, reminders, to break the habitual response….
Like a dog.
This morning, I was tired and grumpy and let loose my frustrations. I went for a walk, and a stranger with a dog walked past. The dog wagged its tail and allowed me to stroke it. I talked for a couple of minutes to the stranger. I came back and apologised for my grumpiness and explained why it had happened.
And animals change relationships. There’s ‘evidence’ for that, as well as testimony. Yesterday, I was in a café. An older woman was sitting in a corner and seemed to be upset. A stranger walked in with a dog. You can guess the rest. By the time, the woman got a second cup of coffee, she was smiling. Two days ago, one of my colleagues brought in her dog to the office. It changed the dynamics. I got more done. I think we all did.
I am more tired and more grumpy these days. 2017 will make things worse. Find your way of dealing with it soon.
What’s your dog?
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© David Gilbert 2017