Lesson Number Nine

When it comes to human dignity, we cannot make compromises.

– Angela Merkel

A patient of mine, Christine, demonstrated grace in an unmistakable way.

I had only three hours of sleep the night before – and I was seeing her at the end of an eleven hour patient day. I yawned – I had hoped I had stifled it well enough. However, she picked it up.

That means you’re relaxed” – a statement that I have long since treasured.

She took the opportunity to rescue me and to make me feel good by reframing my action as something positive rather than negative. I therefore didn’t feel that much better about having yawned – but I certainly felt impressed with how she managed to make individuals feel better about themselves.

So many of the people I see are very fond, apparently, of making others around them feel bad – via criticism. I never quite understood why this was the case. What did it give to criticise somebody – was it the need to feel better than they were? Or was it to force them into ‘one down’ position? Was it to help them feel better about themselves – much in the way that Victorian ladies would take a monkey into the theatre on their shoulder so that in comparison, they would feel attractive no matter how plain they saw themselves as being?

However, the result is pretty unequivocal. I’m not quite sure how often people change as a result of being criticised. I suspect not a lot. My studies in basic psychology many years ago affirmed this, and I suspect that the conclusion hasn’t changed much since – negative reinforcement tends to not improve matters much. Rather, individuals still do the same thing – but try and avoid the consequences.

Thus I am always disturbed by those individuals who don’t save face for the other side. It is as if the battle goes on – individuals try to score points or gain the higher ground by criticism. Surely, the criticism or otherwise is not the issue. One wants the behaviour to change in others – and if so, I’m not convinced that criticism is the way to do so.

The solution? Making others feel good – and trying to find an arrangement that keeps both sides happy. Certainly, criticism doesn’t seem to do that.

Names have been changed.