HONEST BACK PEDALING
OK, let's start at the top and work our way down: The highest, most noble, most "appropriate" motive for helping others is Love. Good ole altruistic, sacrificial love. You and I are motivated more by loving concern for others than by anything else when it comes to caring for others.
But that isn't all that motivates us, is it. We've already mentioned the ideal of professionalism as a motivation. That was a moving force that I had to come to terms with before I could grow in my abilities to give effective care. Are there other, lesser, motivating factors that we need to consider in order to grow in our abilities to give good, effective care?
Certainly. And until we face those factors, and either use or nullify their effects on our mindsets, we will continue to fall short of the kind of care that we wish to be able to give.
One such motivating factor is our fondness for social interaction.
Almost all of us like to get together to talk and to interact with one another. It can be one of the most pleasant things that we do while attending church, or while in school, or certainly at parties, marriages, and other social occasions. It is not so odd then to admit that we would (very discretely mind you) enjoy the social interactions we have with our friends while we are at the bedside of an ailing person, at a wake, at a funeral receiving line, even at the graveside of a loved one!
That may sound somewhat morose and highly inappropriate, but it's not. Not really. We are social creatures and at those times when we are stressed and are facing something uncomfortable (like the loss of someone we love), we find relief in talking with our fellow sufferers. It is a coping mechanism that we use, but rarely are conscious that we are doing so. In fact, when we are deeply introspective and are honest with ourselves, we discover that not only do social interactions help us to deal with stressful events, they also motivate us to participate in the first place.
It is that motive, the quest for social interaction, that we need to acknowledge and examine, if we are to be effective in our attempts to give meaningful help.
Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about:
There was a time when I had trouble admitting to myself that I actually enjoyed myself socially while at a "receiving" (called wake by some). Being Baptist, the receiving was usually held in a funeral home on the night before the funeral. Often, more people would come to the receiving than to the funeral proper. So there I would be, standing in line waiting to speak with the surviving family members. Invariably, I would end up using that time in line socializing with the folks around me. (I never was good at waiting for anything.)
Of course, the folks who were waiting in line with me were there for the same reason as I was, and therefore conversations were naturally going to be struck. The longer the line and the longer the wait, the more conversations took place. The more that those conversations took place, the more comfortable people become at what is normally a somewhat uncomfortable event. And the more comfortable we conversationalists became, the louder our voices would rise, until in the end, the receiving (or the wake) evolved into quite the social event.
This is not to say however that I, or the people around me, would knowingly become disrespectful of the family and their feelings in their hour of need. Indeed, there were actually some unspoken rules that we would observe. For instance, the further away from the family we were, the freer we felt to have social interchanges. Stories would be swapped, jokes shared, rumors spread. But as the distance between the family and my cohorts became shorter, our conversations lost their volume and would take on a much more solemn tone. Once the words of comfort were spoken with the deceased's family, there would always be a reverent reverent quietness around the casket.
Then, we'd depart from the casket and move further away from the family, and guess what would happen. Yep, the social agendas would regather their veracity. I"d greet persons I hadn't seen in a while, as well as those I had just left at the cafe'earlier that day. I'd give and receive many hugs, I'd share smiles, winks, nods, and waves...all of these things filling a need I have within me for good, loving, social interaction.
Is there harm in that? There was at one time. That was before I stopped to realize that my social needs were impacting how well I was able to give care to those whom I wanted to help...in this case the family of the deceased.
I cannot point to one specific occasion that prompted me to do some self-examination, rather it came more in a process of on-going reflection. I found myself from time to time thinking about different receivings which I attended, trying to recall exactly what it was that I had said to the families. Slowly I began to notice that I couldn't recall very many specific things I'd said to the family at all, but I could remember with a great deal of clarity the stories I'd heard, or the jokes, or who had said what about whom.
I realized that something was out of skew in that. I stop short of saying that it was wrong, it was just not what I wanted the focus of those visits to be. I came to grips with the fact that sometimes a part of what motivated me to attend a person's receiving was my desire to enjoy social interaction. Acknowledgeing that, I was then able to modify its impact upon my ability to give good quality, effective help to those grieving family members.
The lines remained, the numbers of conversations and varying interactions continued, but I began to be even more aware of my proximity to the family. Knowing that I'm not the fastest gun in the west at shooting from the hip in what I say, as I got in closer to the family, I would purposefully distance myself inwardly from those immediately around me.
I'd give myself some time to think about the grief surrounding the family members. What did I want to say to help soothe some of their pain? How was I going to say it? I did not want to be forced into repeating some over-used cliché just because I hadn't taken a moment to think things through. I wanted to give myself the chance to be effective in my response to the family by having put some forethought into what the deceased meant to me and/or what the family members meant to me. What had the deceased said to me that might help soften the blow of his/her death? How I might offer to be of assistance to them in the future without just popping out the standard “Just call me if you need me”? These were the types of things that I'm apt to miss if I'm focused on a conversation about the last pig pickin I attended.
The motivation of social interaction spreads far and away from the funeral home. It can play just as big a part in a trip to a person's home. It's just a change in the playing field if you would. Therefore, I have to allow myself the same kind of introspective preparation almost each and every time before entering a person's home.