On Tuesday I facilitated a group at the assisted living residence where I have my internship. I handed out a variety of quotes and residents paired off to talk about them together and then we talked about each of them as a group. At one point, one woman went off on a complete tangent (as she is known to do), but she was talking about her son who died several years ago on Thanksgiving, so I let her go with it hoping that the rest of the group would be understanding. Well, most of them were, but some of them immediately jumped on it and talked about how they love Thanksgiving and how could you feel that way about Thanksgiving? Are you kidding me? This woman is talking about how her son DIED on Thanksgiving, and you can't understand why she has a hard time on Thanksgiving morning? I was really floored. I reiterated her point to the group, but it didn't seem to matter. Another woman went on to say that she loves Thanksgiving because it is the day her son was born. Is it just me, or is that really insensitive? Anyway, the conversation continued a bit as I tried to steer the group back toward the topic. The woman still wanted to talk about her son, which I understood, but we needed to get back to the rest of the group. As she continued to talk and I caressed the conversation back toward our quotes, the second woman said (under her breath, but audible) "Oh, enough about it and shut up already." I wanted to cry, and as I write this I am finding myself tearing up again. I am so ANGRY about this reaction. And I am angry at myself for not saying something right there. If I were still teaching, that child would have been out in the hallway in an instant. But these are adults that I am working with--my elders--and I want to show them respect. At the same time, if they can't show each other respect, is it my responsibility to call them out on it? I am conflicted by this, and hurt for the residents who are on the receiving end of the mumbled insults and comments. Thankfully, I don't think that this particular comment was heard, but to me it doesn't matter--it was said.
Words are SO powerful! I have talked to a few of the residents about this, and they feel it is okay to say these things as long as the person it's being said about doesn't hear it. But if another resident overhears and says something about it, GOD FORBID! How DARE you tell them what they CAN and CANNOT say about others. When one of my clients told me that so-and-so shouldn't have told her what she can and cannot say about others, I told her I agreed with so-and-so! If I heard someone talking badly about others, I would absolutely say something.
Hey, maybe I just answered my own question. It really shouldn't matter how old the person is that we're talking to, or what gender or race they are. We're all human beings, and mean is mean. Rude is rude. There is right. And there is wrong. And we owe it to each other to hold one another to a higher standard, whether that makes us the next victim or not, whether it makes us popular or not, whether we get anything out of it.
I truly believe that the majority of people in this world are good. We are capable of good. And good is reinforced (or not) every day by the people with whom we interact.
I'll end with a quote from my number one guy:
I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day. ~Abraham Lincoln