Reality Check: I Heard a Story

I heard a story recently. Here’s how it goes:

“When mom was admitted to the hospital, the nurse asked me to come in and show them how I handle mom’s feeding tube.”

What was your first reaction to that statement? Were you shocked? Pleased? Disgusted? Delighted? Confused?

As I don’t know any better, when I heard the story, I thought, “Isn’t that nice? The nurse wants her mom to be as comfortable as possible, so she wants to see how the daughter has been handling this procedure. That way, she can handle it the same way and it will be less distressing for mom.”

That wasn’t the way that the daughter chose to interpret the request, however. She sputtered with outrage as she recounted the story. “What a useless outfit! The nurses don’t even know how to use a feeding tube!”

I don’t know the facts of the reason behind the request. Perhaps it was motivated by kindness and the wish to offer the best possible care, as I perceived. Or perhaps it was coming from a lack of knowledge or competence, as the daughter perceived. Or, there might have been a completely differently motivation altogether.

The daughter has choices in how she responds to this request. The response she apparently chose was one of righteous indignation, implying that the nursing staff is incompetent and not adequately equipped to handle their tasks.

She could choose a different response. She could choose to indicate that she believes that the nurses are doing whatever they can to offer the best possible care, and that she will do everything she can to cooperate with them.

A helpful starting point for many endeavours is to ask, “What do I want?” While sometimes mistaken as taking a selfish perspective, in fact, this question provides an opportunity for honest clarification.

In this situation, the daughter presumably wants the best care possible for her mother. How is fulfillment of this want most likely to come about? It would likely be helped by developing a good relationship with the hospital staff.

Even if the reality of the request is that it did come from a lack of knowledge on the part of the nurses, which response will more likely lead to the best care for mom?

When you respond as if a request was made out of kindness and care, that is, by deliberately choosing the best possible interpretation, (at least some) people have a tendency to rise to that interpretation. Their outlook changes. Their behaviour changes. Even if their original intent wasn’t based on kindness or caring, when you act as if it was, this can cause a change—a positive change!

On the other hand, if one’s choice of response is one of indignation, annoyance, or outrage, it’s hard to change to a cooperative, helpful response. Even if your understanding of the situation has changed, it’s hard to move away from that first response, isn’t it?

This isn’t to say that one needs to choose an unrealistic optimistic perception that everything is designed for good and everyone has your best interests at heart. As nice as that might be, I’d suggest that it’s simply not true.

Instead, this is about what behaviours are effective and helpful.

Will outrage and righteous indignation get you closer to what you want? Do you have anything to lose by choosing a different perception?

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