Get Understanding


I am a dedicated reader of motivational writers and equally enthusiastic follower of self-help speakers. Life circumstances added this chapter to my list of “likes.” I am, therefore, compelled to make clear that, while I find this area interesting, I cannot yet follow it with blind loyalty. In fact, all too often, my critical mind takes over. Just as well, one can always use those two small, overused but still significant words, namely, “objective and subjective.” You see, on many occasions, I am forced to ask whether the writers and speakers share the same Planet Earth with their audiences. Regardless of the magnitude and range of problems and challenges placed before them, their counsel is always positive, perhaps, unearthly. Their words of encouragement are a perfect picture of disconnectedness.

Once, during a time of bereavement, one counsellor tried to railroad me into adopting the mantra, “I am a winner, I am not a quitter, winners overcome!” The words would come out because I was parroting him. Yet, they was a lump in my throat as I produced the words, a near-sense of eroded sanity: what is “overcoming,” when I am trying to understand my loss.

But then again, that is their calling, their area of expertise, is it not? However, I fear that in trying to help the emotionally broken and temporarily lost, the self-help practitioners outdo themselves. Life is never completely blissful. It does not smell like roses all the time. And, yes, that cliche – “one size does not fit all!” But the indefatigable motivational guru has one message: “come on, get up, dust yourself up and keep moving!” I admire the oomph and effort, I truly do.  But then life’s challenges do not have a single remedy, never have, never will.

I feel challenged and angered by those who seemingly gloss over grief. I am particularly grated by those who are quick to say “you are not the only one who has suffered loss. You need to get over it.” Perhaps, they should pay heed  to the lucid and honest observation that “there is so little of life we control. Grief’s timing is among the uncontrollable.”

Franklin P Adams and Brook Noel give sober analyses of the grieving soul. Their voices need to be amplified. How is this for a reality check?

Grief knows no schedule. In today’s world we have grown accustomed to scheduling so much of life. Yet grief is one thing that will never fit in an appointment square. Add to this Charles Darwin’s acceptable observation that “it is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”

From the medley of voices I heard during my bereavement, I remember too many rushed words and unnecessary pronouncements. I am, therefore, thankful and heartened when I find some people who refused to be part of the noisome and dramatic scenes. They did not give weird incantations or the promise of instant healing. The sober voices taught me about the importance of closely reading the cocktails served by life and studying their respective ingredients. Where comment became necessary, it only came after full understanding of the situation.

I have used grief as my main talking point because it left me gutted. Yet in all communication, we need to fully understand the intricacies of the situations before us, before attempting to make comment. The great writer, George Eliot, left us with the great reminder that “blesssed is the man who having nothing to say, abstains from giving wordy evidence of the fact.

When I lost my dear parents, I could try and walk on, finding some measure of solace in knowing that they saw me through school, university, my first job and second jobs. More importantly, they made me proud at my wedding. And they welcomed and spent  some time with their grandchildren. In those circumstances, I could understand the words of encouragement I received. Not so when it came to the death of my wife.

My wife passed on when I held a job where social interaction was virtually non-existent because of the hours I spent in the office. More importantly, it was one of those jobs where I had to be careful about my choice of friends. I had found myself in a place where I was a potential source of news, often, negative news. My wife thus represented the entirety of the friends, advisers and confidants I needed. She was my shoulder to cry on when stress and emotion overcame me. Besides my wife, the nearest place for friendly and trusting relations was at work.

Sadly, over time, but in clearly traceable movements, the work place relations became tainted with considerations beyond the professional call of duty. Other interests began competing with one’s earnest desire to still deliver a professional performance on the job. You see, because of the time we spend at the work place, it is only natural for one to expect relations that foster the element of team play. As happens in many other slices of life, victory is only possible when people work with a unity of purpose. Some labour specialists note that superior-subordinate relationships are unlike those between parents and children. But research culled mainly from newspaper reports shows some “bosses” (that is how they portray themselves) who go all out to treat subordinates like children. I have lost respect for them. They do not have any legitimate claim to respect.

Lies, hateful sentiments, spiteful behaviour, these are their defining characteristics. I am impressed by Daniel Goleman’s studies on emotioanl intelligence and the potential this holds for improved relations at the work place. Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) is defined as “the capability of individuals to recognize their own, and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and to manage and /or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieveone’s goals.”

This presents a potentially stimulating area of study for me because I sincerely believe the age of impersonal relationships is long gone and cannot have a place in today’s company which must recognize the competitive environment it works in. Consequently, the  need for effective interpersonal relationships must receive the serious attention it deserves.