The Flip Side of Gratitude

Written by NPN Guest on March 30th, 2012

Responding With Sensitivity
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Cajoled into seeing a friend’s obstetrician, the one she praised so highly, I came prepared with a list of questions folded in my jeans pocket. But I didn’t get a chance to ask about a doula, the Leboyer method or anything else. The doctor walked in, greeted me and looked me over without performing an exam. Then he announced with certainty that I had “insufficient pelvic capacity.” He assured me that my petite size meant I would never be able to deliver a full-term baby.

“What do you mean?” I gasped.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” he said. “It just means you’ll require a Cesarean.”

I was six weeks pregnant.

I may have been young and expecting my first child, but I dared to question his judgment. He became indignant. A lecture followed about the number of babies he’d delivered and his position as head of obstetrics at the hospital. He went on about anoxia and brain damage, then intoned the resounding words which surely convinced legions of women before me, “Do you want to endanger the life of your baby?”

That was it.

I never returned.

But how was this self-satisfied man to know if his assertion turned out to be valid? I didn’t get back to him. Nor did I refute the next obstetrician whose office I also left after he told me my vegetarian diet would result in a sickly, underweight baby.

Although these physicians never knew if their dire predictions came true, I went on to deliver a 9 lb, 10 oz baby quite naturally. In subsequent years I had three more sizeable vegetarian-grown babies.

On behalf of each of my children I learned to speak up, forcefully and often. This pushed me right past the shyness I thought was an indelible part of my personality. And once comfortable speaking up I developed a practice of one-to-one gratitude.

Often this means I write letters of appreciation to strangers. I leave a note for a waitress whose cheery demeanor has healed me of some common sadness. I send a letter to a nursing home administrator describing the tender affection I witnessed an aide show a patient. I send written kudos to the cast of a locally produced play.

Not long ago I was delighted to find the address of a local school bus driver. I regularly wait in my car as he stops on a 55 mph road and in only a few moments backs into a narrow entry way with the grace and dexterity of a ballroom dancer. So I wrote a letter to explain that seeing him drive with such skill gave me the sense one day I too might develop true mastery in my line of work.

I never sign my name. I think it’s better to write “your customer” or “fellow traveler” or whatever fits the situation. That way it isn’t about me, it’s about a wider sense of appreciation. Although I have to admit, I benefit too. Looking for the good in a situation changes my energy in a positive way.

But really, paying attention only to sweetness and light ignores the shadow.

People in positions of authority need to know when their judgments or actions are harmful. All of us can learn from mistakes, unless somehow we’re deprived of the consequences of our words or actions. Today many professionals are well insulated from those consequences unless they reach litigation.

I don’t advocate griping or threatening. I’m talking about communication that fosters understanding. A simple letter can spare future clients, students or patients the same struggles your family may have endured. Of course this isn’t necessary when the situation can be handled right away. But how many of us have faced long term predictions of doom? A family bed is nothing but bad parenting. Without this surgery you’ll end up crippled. Homeschool and you’ll have a maladjusted child on your hands. Ritalin is the only solution for that behavior. After years of hearing such pronouncements I have come to realize that updating a professional on his or her assessment is another form of kindness. The flip side of gratitude.

If you choose to get in touch with someone for these same reasons, here are guidelines that have worked for me.

  1. Be clear about your own goals before writing that letter or email.
  2. Wait until you can proceed without anger. The person you are contacting will be unlikely to learn anything unless you maintain a positive and respectful tone throughout.
  3. Refresh the recipient about your situation as it was when you were last in contact.
  4. State clearly and kindly that (as a physician, teacher, therapist) he or she is in a position to help many people. You assume that as a matter of professional interest it would be helpful to know about the outcome of a situation her/she assessed.
  5. Sticking only to the facts, explain how in your situation their judgment or actions were misguided. Then update with pertinent details.
  6. If relevant, include research or other data which the professional can use to gain insight.
  7. Wish this person well. Don’t expect or ask for follow up contact.

The highest response to nay-sayers is to flourish joyfully in our choices. So I say to those who predicted doom for my children who were held long and nursed often, to those who judged our learning or lifestyle choices harshly: we are well. For that I’m endlessly appreciative.

Lets try, whenever possible, to find the freedom right beyond the boundaries of old ideas. To do that we need to share the insight that comes from experience. There, even the flip side of gratitude turns toward wisdom.

_________________________

Laura Weldon lives with her family on Bit of Earth Farm where they raise cows, chickens, bees and the occasional ruckus. She’s the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything (Hohm Press, 2010). Visit her at LauraGraceWeldon.com.

This article has been edited from a version previously published in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of Natural Life magazine.

2 Responses to The Flip Side of Gratitude

  1. Michelle  

    Lovely piece. Thank you for sharing. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it this way but you’re right. There is absolutely a flip side of gratitude! I love the notes for people who have touched you in some way – no matter how small. It must make them so happy. I’ll be sure to remember this.

  2. Andrea  

    thank you for this. so many times we walk away without trying to understand – or surpassing our own anger. this made me stop and think. for my own part, i’m not sure how long i’ll need to wait for the temper to cool – could be a while – but – in some cases – likely worth sticking to it.

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