Sunday, September 23, 2012

Perception: Pt 2

When I was in college I worked as an aide in a nursing home for while. We had a resident there, I will call her Rosie.

Rosie suffered from what we called "sundowners". It was a form of dementia that sets in the evenings, around the time that the sun goes down.

Each evening after dinner Rosie would regress to her childhood. She would become anxious and concerned that her mother would be looking for her. She needed to get home. Rosie would fight with the other aides that tried to push her wheelchair down the hall to her room. They would badger her and tell her, "Rosie, your mom is dead. You are 89 and you are in a nursing home."

I watched as Rosie threw her head in her hands and hopelessly wailed as she was forced down the hall in her chair. She would cry out in confusion. She would get violent at times. My heart ached for her.

I cannot imagine what that moment must have felt like for Rosie. I cannot imagine how it must have felt to have the world as she knew it shattered by one heartless statement: "Your mom is dead." Her perception; her reality, all shattering into pieces underneath the wheels of her chair.

Rosie had to endure this emotional and psychological trauma every single day. I wondered how long it had gone on? It didn't seem right.

I stayed up for what seemed to be an eternity one night drawing, coloring, and cutting out bills that looked like money. I was determined to help my coworkers understand that for Rosie, we needed to share her perception and her reality versus forcing her into ours.

I went to work the next day and put a game plan into play. At the end of dinner I walked up to Rosie with a big grin on my face and asked her if she was ready to go home. Like clockwork Rosie responded, "Oh, no. I can't. My mother will worry and I must wait for her to come and get me."

I sat next to Rosie and leaned in. "Rosie, my name is Sarah. Your mother hired me to take you home. She said she was going to be out of town tonight and she is paying a few of us to see that you get tucked into bed. Look, she put money in your bag to pay us." I pointed to the satchel on the chair. Rosie looked inside, saw the money, and grinned.

"Now, Rosie. We must hurry. Your mother is going to be calling you at home to see that you made it back safely," I said.

Rosie agreed. I was ecstatic. We exchanged conversation up the hall and she told me about her dance that evening and the boy she met who would become her husband one day. She pointed out the window naming constellations, and shared hopes of camping one day soon.

We strolled past the nurses station and I gave a nod to the nurse. As we cornered into her room, her phone began to ring. It was the nurse posing as Rosie's mom. I saw Rosie grinning and laughing. She was so happy. I don't think I ever saw her this way before. She was so excited to talk to her "mom" and she was an absolute delight up until the second she fell asleep that evening... and every evening after that until the day she passed away.

My experience with Rosie has really helped me to re-evaluate the times in life that my perception may not be the same as someone else's. Watching Rosie that evening: her pain, her confusion, made me realize something. I don't have to be right all of the time. Sometimes it serves no good.

I mean, why did the aide HAVE to argue with Rosie? Because, the aide was right and Rosie was wrong, right? But, for what purpose did it serve? So, you are right, and now Rosie knows it. Do you feel better? Is there some radical good that will come of it?

The answer is no.

The next time you see that someone is wrong and you so quickly want to correct them, I ask you: what good will come of it? Will it help them? Or hurt them? How with shattering their perception, their reality, make them feel?

I leave you with a story I also used many times in my former career. The author is unknown:

A woman is in an airport, hungry! She dashes into the gift shop, buys some cookies, and stuffs them into her carryon. She exits, scans the waiting area, and chooses a seat next to a business man who looks too busy on email to bother talking to her.

The woman pulls out her book and begins to read. Hunger pangs her tummy. She reaches over and grabs a cookie out of the bag and eats it.

The businessman stops typing and smiles over at the woman. He looks at the cookies, reaches down, takes one, and eats it.

Heat flashes the woman's face. "The nerve," she thinks. She takes another cookie and eats it.

The business man smiles, looks at the cookies, reaches down, takes one, and eats it.

Now, the woman is heated. She forces her hand down in disbelief and takes another cookie.

Back and forth the two go. She takes a cookie, he smiles, he takes a cookie, and back to her.

One cookie left.

The businessman's flight gets called. He stands up, smiles, lifts the bag with the one cookie, and offers it up to the woman.

"The nerve of this man," the woman thinks, "Offering me my last cookie. MY cookies that he had no problem eating. Smug, ungrateful, pompous..."

She takes the cookie and rolls her eyes. She can't decide if she should say something, smack him, or bite her tongue. Regardless, by the time she looks back up, the man has vanished into the crowd. Names continue to roll through her mind of all the unworthy things to call him.

Her flight gets called. The woman stands up to head to the gate. As she stuffs her book into her carryon she hears a familiar sound of foil and paper.

She stops. Her heart jumps into her throat. Her face turns beat red. "NO," she thinks, "NO, NO, NO!"

The woman reaches into her bag and pulls out a bag of cookies. She scans the waiting area, the gates. The man is gone.

In that instant she realized she had been eating the businessman's cookies the entire time!

That's what it feels like to have your perception shifted. To have your reality change.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Perception Pt. 1


In my previous career I led a lot of meetings. A lot of them. Along with these meetings were a lot of ice breakers and grabbers. There was one in particular that really stood out to me:

Everyone gets a sheet of paper. On the sheet of paper. I am going to say four different words. For each word I say, draw a picture of what comes to mind. When we are finished, everyone will share what they sketched.
Play... Open... Safe... Funky

I would ask the each person, "What did you draw for the word play?"
Some would draw theatre masks, others a ball and a bat...

"And open?"... minds, arms, heart, doors...

"Safe?"... the literal:  a safe, an arm's embrace, a home...

"Funky?"... a hippie, music, a chicken...

The point... yes, they are all the same words, but we all have different life experiences. When you put the two together, you get perception. While your reality of safe is a cold locked box, to me it might be an arm's embrace. Misunderstanding and our lack of validating the perception others have of us leads to conflict and to broken trust...

How many times have you said, "That's not what I meant by that." A lot a bet.

Regardless of how you meant it, that's how it was translated, and that's what you said.

Be willing to take feedback and to be warm when others are disgruntled with you. Is it always your problem? Yes, it is. There is always a way to prevent internal conflict! The best place to start is by treating everyone the way THEY want to be treated, not how YOU want to be treated!

Abraham Lincoln says it best:  "I don't like him. I need to get to know him better!"