I know that I wrote about this before but it seems to me that, as we get closer to schools opening… or not … it becomes more and more obvious that this pandemic is indeed a portal (as an amazing article pointed out earlier in the year). Among others it is a portal to human connection. One rooted in understanding and empathy.
I remember reading about how the unrepeatable Harry Potter & Co. find this old shoe somewhere in a field and this seemingly useless and mundane object proves to be in fact a portal to a magic world that sweeps them off in an instant. I have started to look at the messages I get these days from parents like that. I got a long one this morning, from the father of three young children who haven’t been in school since March. Upon a first glance, just like the shoe looked abandoned and useless, this seemed like your usual bitchy, eyebrow up, finger pointing and you solve all my problems type of email. And just like Harry’s initial reaction must have been to not pay attention to an old and ragged shoe, in the same manner, my initial reaction was rage, irritation, a who are you to talk to me like that? do you even know how much we work these days and the sort of obstacles we have to overcome?type of reaction.
Now, this is where our magic powers come in, if we are in the right place working with people. Just like, being the wizard he was, Harry spotted a portal when he encountered one, if we are truly invested in serving our customers well, if our purpose is to really hear and connect, then we recognize such messages for the portals that they are: portals to empathy, compassion and shared humanity.
Of course, I can choose to label this parent as a trouble maker and respond accordingly, doing nothing but missing the point and elevating conflict. Or I could see beyond the black and white writing on the screen and read what he was actually writing: I don’t know what is coming, I am worried for my children and their social and academic future, I am sick and tired of what is going on in my house, I want my old life back, I can’t deal with this much uncertainty, I am the head of my family and everyone expects me to do something and have the answers and I have no idea what to do or what answers to give. I want someone to listen to me. Now!
And when we realize this, we know what we have to do. Simply put but so very complicated to achieve, we have to be there for each other. Period.
Now, and this is the important part: do you remember how Harry had to go to Hogwarts to be taught how to be a wizard, how to master and protect his special gifts, how to put boundaries in place so that the dark forces of the dementors do not suck his soul dry? It is precisely how we need to proceed in using our special powers.
Words are powerful, interactions can make or break relationships and businesses. It is therefore of utmost importance to be intentional and to tred lightly. What has helped me is to start every interaction – whether in writing, face to face or on the phone – by reminding myself to breathe and slow down. And actually doing this. I know there is good magic and bad magic in me; for every time I turn to the right I could have just as easily chosen the left (and more often than not, it seems this is the default and the instinctual). So, breathe, slow down, and start paying attention. Going by the goal of how can I be helpful here, start looking for commonalities, for experience you can relate to and for what you can say or do to move things in the right direction. Granted, sometimes all we can do is listen, there may be absolutely nothing we can do but the power of a good listener could never be overestimated.
Here’s the deal breaker though. Remember how the dementors had to first get close to Harry for him to invoke a protecting patronus? It is fine to get close and connect, but you can only do that if you know the ways in which you can protect yourself and recharge. And when you know the ways, you use the ways. If we are to be true wizards in connecting with others, we need to stand firm in our need to take steps back and care for ourselves, putting our oxygen masks on before we do anyone else’s and be fully unapologetic about it. Our depletion serves nobody, sacrifices on the altar of work are false ideas of commitment that serve absolutely nobody.
Photo by emercan arik on Unsplash