“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” ~ C. L. Stuart.
When I was about seventeen, I was itching to learn to drive. This was in Jamaica, back in the days when stick shifts were standard, automatics were rare. I was the youngest child, and only one still at home. My father refused to even consider the possibility of teaching me. He claimed he would teach me his bad habits. My brother, a car and truck fanatic from youth, had managed to learn to drive away from home, courtesy of his friend Bunny, long before he hit the legal driving age. Once he got his Learner’s permit, he and Bunny would go driving and to taunt the local police, Bunny would duck down in the passenger seat to make it look as if Andrew was driving unsupervised, resulting in my father getting calls to complain.
Once, I decided I was going to force my father to show me a few steps, but he still demurred, promising to pay for my future driving lessons. I found the keys, went and started the car, managed to get it into reverse, started out of the garage and then stalled out. No knowledge of clutch control. I didn’t even know the theory! It was our soccer coach, the famous ‘Chungie’ (Winston Chung-Fah) who, in response to my complaining about not being able to drive, let me drive his car back and forth a few yards, the first baby steps to managing the delicate dance between clutch and gas.
I have often thought of my father’s ‘excuse’. I had no idea what he meant by bad habits at the time. He was an obeyer of road rules, a good citizen. With a sense of humor. Some years before, when driving along a typical narrow country road, he was driving to avoid potholes when he met an oncoming car. The driver, assuming he was an American not used to driving on the left, shouted at him “Which side of the road do you think you are driving on?” to which my father replied “The middle, like everyone else?”
I started nursing school in the days when the audio-visual component of a lecture was comprised of 9mm films and projectors. Just like the present day, they were subject to technical hitches, but of a slightly different description. There were two films that stick in my memory still (I have no idea if they were the only two, or just the most memorable). One was a story of a little boy going to the hospital, carrying his favorite ball which he bounced as he went along the corridors. Of course it got away from him every so often, and friendly nurses, or porters, or visitors would pass it back to him. But Tommy was sick with an infectious disease, which was demonstrated by a dab of what appeared to be tar on his hands. The tar got on the ball, went on the floor, the doors he touched, the friendly people around, and we were given a graphic display of how easy it is to spread infection in a hospital setting. Fast forward almost 50 years, add a sneeze and a cough, and you have your Covid 19 Public Service Announcement!
The second film strip was about patient teaching, and featured a patient who was to undergo a bone marrow biopsy. The focus of the story was the importance of proper patient teaching, not the bone marrow procedure. They demonstrated the power of negative impressions by having the procedure explained (in black and white, with no speaking, just ample visual enactment) by a physician who mimed a large instrument, which he would be boring into the chest of the patient (the sternum used to be the bone of choice), he wore an expression of intense seriousness as he loomed over the patient waving a large instrument which he would be using. He left to get ready for the procedure. When he returned, much to his surprise, the patient could not be seen as she cowered beneath the bed. This was back in the days when beds were of a standard non-adjustable height, designed for bed-making comfort, not for patient safety. Not only did we learn that we must be careful in how we explain procedures to patients, that negative image is still clearly in my head!
Even though I took my father’s excuse for not teaching me to drive to be a cop-out, thought it was because he was older, didn’t want to be bothered, but recently I have been reflecting on the power of negative lessons. Sometimes nursing students have bad experiences during their clinical rotations. They observe nurses taking short cuts, not following recommended policies and procedures, perhaps not being as patient or communicating in a non-therapeutic way. When they bring their concerns to me, I advise them that they can learn a lot from negative lessons. This should show you how not to be, how not to act, what not to do. I have been seeing the correlation lived out in our leaders each day, as we are being given lessons in how not to manage a pandemic, how not to lead.
As we are being taught our own live lesson in viral transmission, we are encouraged by the many hints that the enforced idleness of the excessively consumptive Western world has given our Planet Earth (our home) a much-needed respite. There are amazing images of smog-free cities; views of the distant Himalayas not seen in decades; flamingoes flocking in Mumbai; mountain goats taking over the streets of a Welsh town; the ozone layer healing. Those of us who have been paying attention to the way we have lives lived with a disregard for environmental damage, who are concerned about climate change, are now praying that our recovery from this pandemic will not bring about a return to business as usual. We are wishing that, once the bans are lifted, we will not see a rebound of waste and thoughtlessness. Will we learn our lesson, even if it is a modest increase in consideration of our fellow man and the earth we rely on? Will it result in an evolution of practice, which we hope will not be like the evolution of our species which took place over millions of years.
What do you plan to do differently, once we return to ‘normal’? Will you rush out and go shopping, purchasing things you will never use, can never consume? Will you be more generous to charities, having had to deal with dwindling savings and having to dig deep into your pantry to fix a creative meal? Will you be more mindful of keeping in touch with far-flung relatives and friends, having had to skip get-togethers and visits? Will you slow down, visit national parks and thank the trees for all they have done to keep us alive and healthy over the years? Will we evolve into gentler consumers of the earth’s resources, with a greater appreciation of what the human connection is all about?
On this Friday morning we are being given the opportunity to reinvent how we live in this world and with each other. Have a wonderful weekend, Family! May you and your loved ones be safe at this time. May our evolution lead to a better community for us all.