A Cautionary Tale of “Right” and Wrong

By Jay Menard,

Accusations of racism, hypocritical criticisms for behaviour recently perpetuated by the other side, and admonishments by the most tone deaf for people not listening. The divide between us continues to grow.

So maybe it’s time for a story…

After all, I opined about how we often play our own “Trump” card in Canada way back in March. And things aren’t getting any better, so the probability of our Canadian version of Trump emerging is rapidly moving from being an “if” to a “when.”

And now, the story…

A couple of years ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to work on an article about a long-term, senior’s care facility in Toronto that was specializing in how to work with challenging people.

The people we dismiss. The seniors we classify as too difficult, too violent, too aggressive, and too stuck in their ways.

You may have or have had one in your own family. You may have thrown your hands up in despair. I had one in my younger years — a great-grandfather who we knew was ‘crazy.’ The great grandfather who got kicked out of homes because he would beat up the other tenants.

And there are a lot of them out there. Most people simply indulge them; others dismiss them — treating these seniors like they would infants. Insulting them by talking to them as a child.

Isolation, condescension, and dismissal — the unholy trinity of methods to deal with the unfavourable.

But this facility took a different approach. Understanding that sometimes physical and mental limitations accompany old age, it looked for underlying reasons that would motivate the behaviour. It looked at them less like reactionary, childish responses and delved more into the factors that motivated these responses.

Many of these seniors were unable to articulate their issues appropriately. They grew frustrated and lashed out. They screamed, they flailed, and they made a scene.

Yet they remained misunderstood.

They didn’t speak “our” language. They didn’t respond in the way we deemed “appropriate.”

The man who screamed and ranted throughout the news? Turns out he was having flashbacks to military newsreels. Another was reminded of his P.O.W. experience every time he saw an orderly that reminded him of his past.

Time and age robbed them of their higher-level expressive abilities, so they reverted to more primitive forms of expression. It wasn’t “right” but it was the only way they had to speak. One those motivations were addressed, they were able to be treated, supported, and eventually became a contributing member of their community. But only because they were actually listened to — not just dismissed outright because they didn’t conform to an expected behaviour pattern.

Those are extreme examples, but our political environment is emulating that behaviour with increasing regularity. Those in the “know” undermine, dismiss, and diminish those on the “other side” because their responses don’t align with what is “approved behaviour.” The underlying motivation and message gets lost because the expression is deemed wrong.

Just because we don’t like how someone says something, doesn’t mean there’s not validity to the message. Dismissing that outright is merely arrogant and elitist.

And it continues to set us up for our own Trumping in the not-too-distant future.

Listening is more than an act — it’s a process. It’s hearing the words, understanding the motivations and backgrounds, and trying to empathize with the person’s needs. It’s not about framing it in your own paradigm (privileged or not), but removing yourself from the equation and seeing what is being expressed.

After all, not everyone expresses their feelings the same way. But the how should never condemn the what to obscurity. Because eventually someone will listen — and we may not like the message that gets shared back.

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