Saturday, May 05, 2012

What Really Matters

By Belinda

It was just over a week since the last meeting of the Anger Management-Peace Like a River Group. The stormy weather upstairs, that led to the founding of the group seemed much more settled. 

One of the group members asked yesterday morning, when were we going to meet again, and if the book (recommended by our friend Dave) had arrived yet. I said it hadn't, but I was sure it would be here soon and we'd meet then. 

But as I moved something in the piles around my desk yesterday; as if it were meant to be; from somewhere they had been hiding unseen for several months, and so long that I had forgotten them, I found pages from a training, that happened to be about extreme behaviour.  The pages were an Anger Diary and Inventory--perfect tools to spark a discussion at more than one session. 

So this morning as soon as I arrived at work, I went upstairs, knocked on the door, interrupting a fine breakfast of French toast; with an invitation that was accepted; to meet late this afternoon.  

The day zoomed by, I kept my eye on the clock and  prepared an agenda. 

As we all headed down to the other side of the house, we passed one of their housemates, sitting in an orange chair. In fact he sits in the orange chair a lot of the time. 

"Can I join too?" he asked.

"Sure," we said, and he got out of the chair and came along.

The group set some rules, and checked in as to how the week had gone. There were a couple of real situations that were hot topics and the friend from the Orange Chair got up several times out of anxiety, almost leaving to have a cup of tea. But each time he sat down again, saying, "No, I'm staying."

 One person did leave in an angry huff, but was surprised to get a pat on the back for that later. After all, leaving angry was better than staying and exploding.

In 45 minutes we were done but giant steps were made in understanding boundaries and mutual respect. My heart and soul sang at the opportunity and privilege to be part of the dynamic.

I went back to my desk, packed up my briefcase and laptop and  left for a dinner date with Paul, but  before leaving I went upstairs to say goodbye. 

Three members of the group were busy making dinner together with their support staff. 

It was one of those moments when I knew what I wanted to do when I retire, when there is no more paperwork; just be with people and be part of  days like this.  

Later on, as we drove to the restaurant for dinner, Paul listened as I went on about how the time to invest in teaching is hard for staff to find with all that they have to do, but so worthwhile in the long run. I remembered how, forty years ago, as an idealistic graduate, passionate about his work in the institution where he then worked, he developed and taught classes on social skills, nutrition and health for the people with intellectual disabilities that lived there. 

Then he said this: 
"It isn't always 'what' is being taught that makes the biggest difference in the lives of people."

He said, "It comes down to, you're touching somebody's spirit as opposed to their intellect."

"Even though the people in the institution who attended, may not have understood everything that was presented, they were obviously aware that somebody cared enough to spend time with them, and if you are modeling the interaction and behaviour that you would like them to exhibit; almost like osmosis, it begins to happen."

It made me think of our first group meeting, when I had nothing but a heart to help and our adapted paper on not feeding the flames of anger; and how in spite of that, the people listening honoured me with their attention and participation. 

Paul had just shared a huge insight into what really matters. Yes, it is important that you have tools that people can understand and that will help, but it's not the most important thing. I think it matters that you care to teach, because in doing so, people know that they matter.


Anonymous said...

People over projects. One of my personal guidelines. We often get so lost in the "doing" (and doing it right) that we forget the "being". One wise person told me that to remember that it was people that Christ died for on the cross - not things, projects, buildings, charities - people. People over projects - the right choice every time.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Could you hear my 'AMEN SISTER' echo up the 400?

Belinda said...

Anon, the biggest struggle we face at work is paper (and projects) over people. The paper is supposed to support and hold us accountable for the work we do with people, but it often feels as though we are serving the paper. I sometimes think back wistfully to the days when things were so much less complex. Not everything back then was good. I'm so thankful that institutions were closed, for instance, but we have lost something along the way. The good news is that lost things can be found!

Belinda said...

Dave, I always appreciate an "Amen" from you! I respect your opinion so much.