I had an interesting experience yesterday. A small bird, maybe a swallow, got into my chimney and when I opened the flue, it came into my house, careening wildly from window to window in an attempt to escape. Hmmm……. what to do? First the cats had to be corralled as they were intrigued by this potential treat and I’m sure added to its’ panic. My neighbour caught me at my open door waving a dishtowel madly in an effort to redirect the poor thing, and bravely came in to see if he could help, so there were two of us ducking as it screeched through the air, neither with the faintest idea what to do, except to opine that hopefully it would not settle in the skylight. Of course it did, at which point both of us agreed that my neighbour couldn’t really add anything else to the mix. I decided to toss items up at it in hopes of scaring it out an open window or door with no luck but managed to decorate the stairwell with odd items and books. I stayed nearby and continued to check on the bird as it carried on trying to find an exit into the sky, scaring it witless I’m sure every time I appeared. Eventually, it occurred to me that it was unlikely to try coming down in altitude as long as I, a threat, remained nearby, so I decided to remove my self from the mix as well. Downstairs, to the accompaniment of whirring wings against the skylight, I settled in to read. Caught up in my book, it took a while for me to realize that all was quiet upstairs, with the occasional exception of scratching and other sounds from the jailed cats. My feathery friend had finally relaxed enough to scout out the territory and find the open window through which to escape.
You ask……….of what relevence is this to my blog topic – thoughts about life? Well, it’s like this………….sometimes you just have to remove yourself as an accelerent to an existing problem. My bird was panicked, probably angry, and certainly not happy about its’ situation. In my efforts to help it escape this predicament, I added fuel to the fire. When I cleared the way for it to solve its’ own problem and removed myself, it was able to calm down enough to sort it out. How often, well meaning or otherwise, do we fan the flames of another person’s emotional state, waving the equivalent of a red flag at a bull? Why do we do this?
Two main reasons, I think. The first is getting panicked ourselves, trying to fix the problem but with a faintly hysterical response. From life in general, and from my counselling practice, I can think of a few examples of this. When someone brings bad or painful news, often the response is to solve it, for ourselves or another, throwing out assumptions, suggestions, counter-arguments, well-meant but often unwelcome at the moment. Less often, we are able to take our own pulse, breathe and explore the situation calmly, to find out what might be needed or wanted. In the bird event, the bird needed me to remove threats (cats and myself!) and let it work through its’ own plan. In the case of a friend or family member in a crisis, what might be wanted and needed is a calm and safe environment, in which to reflect and receive kindness.
The second is perhaps more self-focussed………. what does this mean for me? Worse, how dare you bring this into my life? The response in this case is aggressive, angry, intended to strike back at the bearer of bad news. If you’re angry and hurt, I’ll give the same back to you. I’ll personalize your emotional state and defend my self by blaming you. Righteousness is a risk here……………convinced of the rightness of your own reaction (despite not having given it the benefit of thought or analysis), you can easily miss the crucial truths that you may need to work out the situation.
So my bird experience is the former rather than the latter, but both originate in the response of immediate panic and reaction, natural when something unexpected happens, especially something that scares us. However, neither response is helpful. It has been said by wiser people than me that the first thing a doctor should do in the case of a patient’s heart attack, is to take his/her own pulse. Best to register within your own self what you feel when startled, set upon, hurt by another person, acknowledge it and proceed slowly. Information, by and large, is a helpful commodity. Clarifying, assessing the initial assumptions you make, and reflecting on your response, can help you to avoid jumping into a crisis and making it worse.
At risk of repeating myself from earlier blogs, I’ll again emphasize the importance of breathing deeply for a moment. It will clear your mind and enable a response that better fits a difficult situation.