Hey, David? Do you know Frank?
No matter what they regret to inform you about, a call or visit that starts like this is rarely going to be good news. There has been a lot of this lately. Lots of painful news. Parents losing children. People I know dying. The way the bad news is communicated is varied.
How do you react? My reaction is often “What happened?” Followed quickly by empathy for the people involved.
But does it really matter what happened? Do I need to know how a child died? Do I need to know why someone went to prison? I think it comes down to teachable moments. That teachable moment isn’t for me to decide though. It is up to the parties involved to share.
This is an incredibly sensitive topic. I believe that we must pay more attention to how we deal with this type of news. I will offer a couple personal examples.
In 1991 I had a bad farming accident. Totally preventable if I had been informed of the issue with the equipment I was operating. It almost cost me my life. The teachable moment here is to fix unsafe equipment. The boss made light of the problem and didn’t fix it.
I had many injuries that stemmed from that; some that still affect me today. Those details are not teachable. Even those who think they know what I go through don’t really know. I talk about my mental health challenges that have arisen since the accident, but by and large most people do not need many details.
Unless you are in my shoes, it’s impossible for you to know what I deal with. I dislike pity and all I really need is support to see a brighter future ahead.
Here’s what I mean: In the first few years after the incident, I had many asking me what happened. It gets tiring. I felt I should have a one-pager written out to give people an overview. I trust that most meant well, but it was tiring to rehash. Those who came up to me and put their arm around me, or even just smiled as they greeted me, lifted my spirits tremendously. The biggest lesson was to cherish life and what I have.
If I felt they needed more information, I would tell them. I wanted that to be up to me. My focus has always been to improve. The first week in the hospital I learned that I did not want sympathy or fake attention.
In March 2001 at a truck stop near Daytona, Fla., I witnessed a hit and run in the parking lot. I ran after the guy and identified him to a manager. Together we found the “hit” driver eating lunch in the restaurant. He was then able to get information on who hit his truck.
I took this as a teachable moment for myself, and when I parked later that day near Tallahassee, I tried to find a quiet corner so I wouldn’t get hit. It didn’t work, because in the middle of the night my truck got hit and I was thrown out of my bunk, clobbering my head on everything available before stopping on my gearshift. It was a 1996 Western Star and those weren’t built for exiting the sleeper horizontally.
So much for being “smart”. It took me almost six years to get back to work in full time. No doctor expected me to get there, but I did. Not by myself. Lots of support from family, medical personnel and friends, all coupled with a strong faith.
I could list many other examples from my life and talk about the teachable moments to help others. I only describe “what happened” in a funny storytelling way to make others smile.
The teachable moments can go both ways. Life is funny that way. You can do everything right and stink up things like burnt brakes. Or you can do everything wrong and come out smelling like a new air freshener.
Either way, when you hear about something tragic, don’t focus on what happened. Focus on loving those around you today and being the support that is needed.
That’s really the most important teachable moment.
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