Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Softening the blow...and other skills I do not yet possess

At some point in our life it is highly likely that we will all be recipients of bad news. Yet I have never considered what it means to be the bearer of sad tidings, nor indeed the skill set required for such a role.

I can't imagine that anyone likes giving bad news, and yet this last week has taught me that the ability to communicate misfortune and to deliver misery with compassion, empathy and humanity is a phenomenal capability indeed.

How do you shatter someone's world, yet leave them clear about how, in time, the broken pieces of their life may be reassembled? How do you simultaneously remain firm and authoritative whilst conveying genuine regret and sadness?

I've never had to think about such things until confronted with them head on. 

The surgical registrar at St.George's hospital charged with telling me 'it was not good news,' that within 30mins I would be 'in theatre,' and that I would wake up with a colostomy bag and ongoing uncertainty about my future prognosis was extraordinary. I will never forget the kindness, clarity and compassion with which he delivered such sudden and shocking news. He made it easier to accept and set the tone for my journey ahead. My brain is too fuzzy to remember his name, but whoever the on call, South-African surgical registrar was on Sunday 23rd October. I will not forget you.

This experience has left me profoundly grateful that such people exist. On reflection I have realised that many professions; the police force, the judiciary system, health and social workers and doubtless countless others all need this skill every day. To all those who have this skill.. I salute you. 

This revelation has also made me ponder what other skills I do not yet possess. Clearly the tangible, hard skills like roofing a building, making an origami animals, plucking a partridge, playing the bassoon and writing Arabic are things that can be taught and learned. I can easily list capabilities that I have... or believe I have(?)... and those where I haven't a scooby-do (that's 'faintest clue' in rhyming slang FYI).

But soft skills are different. Harder to acquire yet arguably so much more important to our lives and to how we interact with those around us. How often do you meet someone that REALLY listens? How frequently are you impressed or touched by people who engage you in your everyday life?

These soft skills, particularly compassion and empathy make the world a better place. 

Last year in Sainsburys, whilst chaperoning a fractious and teething toddler around the store chomping on breadsticks, simultaneously heavy pregnant and exhausted myself, I encountered two more individuals who really   moved me. 

At the checkout, whilst paying, I lifted a now wailing daughter out of the trolley seat. She promptly vomited profusely over me, herself, the till, the card reader and my shopping. Faced with this situation the cashier could have rolled her eyes, and the lady behind me in the queue waiting with own groceries on the conveyor belt could have grumbled and chuntered, but neither responded thus. 

The cashier could not have been kinder. Without betraying a trace of irritation she called colleagues over the tannoy to bring baby wipes, a clean T-shirt for my toddler, tissues and a mop and bucket, and could not have been more reassuring and gentle, insisting that 'it didn't matter' as I desperately tried to apologise to her, to the queue and to dab most ineffectively a what felt like lakes of vomit with a few mangy, pre-snotted tissues from my pocket.

Similarly the lady behind me in the queue came up to me, put her hand on my arm and 'It'll all be ok. Don't worry. I can easily wait.' Compassion AND patience. Patience is another item to add to the list of qualities I'm not strong on (although I deserve an 'improver' badge thanks to three years of parenthood).

At the time I recall bursting into tears at the kindness of strangers. A combination of pregnancy hormones, exhaustion and my own predisposition to crying, but perhaps also because I fear/know that I would have been the one stamping my foot, rolling my eyes, huffing and puffing as I relocated my groceries to another checkout.

So my reflection for today is to feel grateful for those people who every day manifest those amazing soft skills like empathy, compassion and humanity, and to consider how I can work on my own in the future.
The origami Pegasus of my dreams

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