“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Commonly known as ‘The Golden Rule’, versions of this sentiment can be found in many cultures and religious and moral frameworks.
It has a strong humanitarian message and seems to work well in a lot of situations.
However, the underlying assumption is that the treatment or behaviour we want or expect from others is the same as they would want from us – and there’s the rub.
In the absence of information to the contrary, it’s a good starting point. But we are all individuals with different backgrounds and life experiences and we each have our own values, interpretations and preferences.
To give an everyday example: when we are feeling ill, say, with a bout of flu, what we want from others will vary – some of us like to be cared for/nursed by someone else, some prefer to be left alone in our sickbed with someone else just bringing us drinks and meals – and others want to be left alone completely until they feel better and well enough to cope with being around other people at all.
If we listen, really listen, to what other people say we can pick up clues as to what they want or need from us at any given point. This is particularly important when they are having a difficult time and might be struggling to ask for the help or support they need.
Or, of course, we could just ask them – and we might be surprised by the answer…
This came through as one of the key messages in a book I read recently: ‘Option B: facing adversity, building resilience, and finding joy’ by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant where Sandberg discusses some of the awkward encounters often experienced after someone has died – from the ubiquitous “… if there’s anything I can do…” to the people who avoid the subject, or the person, entirely.
She writes very openly about the death of her husband, her reactions, the responses of other people, how she coped, and how she had to let go of how she’d previously thought her life would be and embrace a different future – the ‘Option B’ of the title.
She acknowledges the pain and suffering involved but has some positive things to say, too.
Like Rio Ferdinand, whose recent documentary features in my blog ‘How Do Men (and Boys) Grieve?’, Sandberg has young children to take care of as well as herself. I like her strategy of making recordings of them talking about their Dad now so that in later years they can watch these back and know that these were their own memories.
And, as well as talking about adults developing their own resilience before and after traumatic events, she describes how we can support children by helping them develop beliefs that they have some control over their lives, can learn from mistakes, have strengths – and that they matter as people.
Painful or challenging experiences can highlight vulnerabilities that were previously hidden and loss or trauma in one area of our lives can lead us to doubt ourselves in other areas, too. We can lose confidence in our ability to do all sorts of things.
Sandberg admits to this and I can testify to the truth from my own experiences and from those of many of my clients. Sandberg says on this aspect that, for her “… Empathy was nice but encouragement was better …” – another good example of what the person wanted/needed being perhaps different from what some others might have thought.
I’ve found that dealing with difficult times can uncover hidden strengths, too. Sometimes we remember ways in which we’ve dealt with things in the past that can be applied, now, to a different situation. We learn new things, develop in different directions, or meet new people who help us. This is the post-traumatic growth that Sandberg refers to and which I’ve seen in many people I’ve known.
Friends and family may be right there with us – or disappoint us. Perhaps they don’t understand what we need or are too scared or awkward to get involved – or they might just have so much of their own stuff going on that they’re not able to be there for us. Some disappear from our lives, temporarily or permanently.
But support can pop up in unexpected places, too – people turn up to help out just for now, and some stay for rest of our lives.
Kindness from total strangers in difficult times was very much in evidence this week in the UK after the bomb at the Manchester Arena. People really pulled together to help others who were hurt and/or searching for family members.
When some people couldn’t get back to their hotels afterwards because they were behind the cordon, local residents came out into the street and offered beds for the night.
Manchester public transport was severely affected and there were lots of taxi drivers who turned up to take people home – short journeys and long ones – free of charge.
After a loss or trauma the depth of our sadness is a measure of who or what we’ve lost.
We realise that life will never be the same again and we need to find our own ‘Option B’.
The tasks of mourning our loss, and rebuilding our lives, take time and patience and, although there are broad similarities, each one of us undertakes these in our own unique way.