In this time of so much controversy, so many personal opinions differ, and while some keep it to themselves, others are quite vocal. How do we handle that in our daily life? I was talking with a friend the other day, a friend I have had for many years, and while I have heard her off color comments before, I ignored them and never said a word. But recently she made a comment that I could not tolerate and was so against many things I feel strongly about, I had to stop her, I had to let her know that her choice of words really offended me. I haven’t talked to her since. Let me re-phrase that, she has not talked to me. I am not sure if she is angry with me for disagreeing with her, for having a differing opinion, or for making it known. Whatever it is, our friendship wasn’t worth finding a way to accept our differences, and I really struggle with that.
I have thought about this a lot. I have thought about how differently we feel about some things and how similar we feel about others, and how it affects us personally when we do not agree. I am proud to have stood up and said something, I think it is important that we feel safe to be able to defend our beliefs and ask that they be respected, in a kind way of course, but I also think we need to learn when to stop the conversation before it turns into an argument that will not be productive for either of us. How can we find that balance as we precariously teeter on two different sides?
In patient care, this is something we have to practice often. We must keep our opinions to ourselves, and not let theirs affect us. In this work, we come across beliefs that can very strongly go against our own and we have to take pause and remember that this is not about us. It could be about politics, religion, life choices, or the color of someone’s skin that might elicit a response by a patient or a family member that could very easily make your skin crawl. You are not required to agree, you are not required to respond, but in this role, when we are in their home, during their experience, we are required to practice acceptance, at least in that moment.
I tend to turn a deaf ear when someone says something that I take offense to, but what I have been working on most recently, is the response I give back when they ask me a question or expect a response about something they said. I never argue with them, and I never try to redirect them towards my way of thinking. I believe everyone has a right to their own opinions and I do not verbally pass judgment. But when cornered, when almost forced to respond, I politely say, “I have some different opinions about that, but I respect yours”, and I change the subject. I have mastered the art of responding in such a way that I can appease them and not dismiss my own thoughts and feelings at the same time. I really do try to be considerate in these moments, but it isn’t always easy.
In end of life care, our role is to be fully present, to hear and to listen respectfully. We do not have to agree, but I do feel that we have to accept their words, allow them the freedom to express their own thoughts and opinions and not let ours enter the conversation. Sometimes there are moments when you can agree to disagree, but when you don’t, it is best not to engage, and do your best to change the subject.
I had a patient who was in her 90’s, very old school and quite opinionated about a lot of things. She made some comments that really upset me. I shook it off and continued to sit at her bedside with her. She caught on, and she knew she had offended me. She kept pushing the subject, not so much because she wanted to hear my differing opinion, but because she wanted to understand why I took her opinions so personally. We ended up having a really great conversation about how open and accepting I am to the variety of different cultures, religions, traditions, and choices there are in our world. I explained what I see in my line of work and that at the end of the day, the differences we have make us unique and I like that because it constantly teaches me and opens my eyes as well as my heart. I told her that I don’t want to ever be the kind of person who sees anything only one way. She asked me, “am I that kind of person"? I responded, “Are you”? She looked at me with a funny expression and laughed a bit… “well honey, I don’t have a whole lot of time left, but for what is remaining I am really going to try not to be”. We had a good giggle after that.
“Have a big enough heart to love unconditionally, and a broad enough mind to embrace the differences that make each of us unique.”- D.B. Harrop
Photo credit: Thank you to Jennifer Grais for this wonderful photo.
Singer, Shamanic Healer, Author and my friend…