GROWING OLD IS NOT FOR SISSIES, Part 1:
Seeing the World Through John Smith's Eyes
"Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection - or compassionate action."
How do we persuade aging relatives to cooperate with our recommendations for their care? That was the topic of a recent chat I had with a client and friend about his 87-year-old mother in Toronto and my wife's 90-year-old mother in Mississippi. I was agonizing over an upcoming trip to the Magnolia State to help deliver some bombshell news: she would have to leave the house where she had lived her entire life and move to a nursing home. For several days thereafter I was all wrapped up in resenting my assignment and feeling sorry for myself for getting stuck with this dreadful responsibility. This was going to be ugly, I thought.
And then, out of the blue, a little ditty from the past - seemingly unrelated to the task at hand - popped into my head: "If you would sell what John Smith buys, you must see the world through John Smith's eyes." Hey, wait! Where did that come from? So this is about her and not about me? Forgetting briefly my own anxieties and self-pity, I allowed my heart and mind to reflect on my mother-in-law and what this would mean to her. I began to ask myself: "What does the world look like through her eyes?" I pondered the question again and again, turning it over and over in my brain, exploring its many facets. It felt as though I had stumbled upon a rare and valuable gem, the gem of empathy.
Changing my focus from my problems to her problems completely changed my attitude about traveling to Mississippi. I tried to imagine how gut-wrenching, how life-shattering, this would be for her. I tried to consider what explanations or information would make sense to her. What could I do or say that could soften the blow to her? Those were my thoughts and prayers as I boarded the plane to meet my brother-in-law at the New Orleans airport and then drive to southern Mississippi. . . .
To be continued.