Sometimes it is healthy to slow down and open your eyes that bit more.
Part of my weekday daily routine involves a stroll to Marks & Spencer to buy some fruit in the morning. I’ve already done enough work to ensure that my brain is buzzing, so I try to use the walk to take a step back and let things fall into place. It takes five minutes to stroll there, and I always choose to wait in the inevitably busy checkout queue rather than whizz through the self-service till.
As your life is paused alongside the other members of the queue, you can’t help but try to put yourself in their shoes for a few moments. The mum with a baby, the builder on his phone, the child eyeing up the sweets.
The ponderous old couple in front of you….
It was last week. They must have been in their seventies, but something didn’t seem quite right. The lady seemed hyper-vigilant about every aspect of her husband’s behaviour, guiding him as if he were a small child. It seemed somehow familiar to me.
I put my fruit and smoothie onto the checkout conveyor belt behind their purchases, and suddenly he started rearranging them into a pile. He shuffled over to me and asked with a blank look: “do you like fruit?” As someone who has just lost my Dad to dementia, this hit me like a sledgehammer. The symptoms were indeed painfully familiar.
My immediate reaction was empathy. I wanted to help that man make as much sense of the world as possible, so as we waited I tried to gently engage with him. Sadly, his wife’s reaction had obviously been conditioned by hundreds of such public encounters. She seemed frustrated by his intrusion on a stranger’s day and was immediately apologetic. He then retreated into himself and I found myself wanting to explain that I understood her.
Her experience of the situation wasn’t my experience.
There is little that you can say to some who has lost a loved one to the harrowing disease of dementia. They are there, but they aren’t there anymore. I made a point of catching up with them outside the shop and briefly telling her about my father and how I understood. After a fleeting moment of sadness, I saw some recognition in her eyes that far from everyone will be annoyed by his behaviour. On the contrary, for me, my dad came back to me for a split second.
My experience was shaped by my perspective.
At work or at home, we all approach situations from our own point of view. If we don’t consider the viewpoints of others when we interact with them, we will only ever see the world through our rose-tinted glasses.
The world is too full of people with rich and diverse experiences to do that.
Written by Alex Turner, Edited by Paul Drury