The power of a few words results in an event where everyone walks away with a sense of satisfaction. Without these words, frustration elevates anger, and anger escalates to danger. When words that increase anxiety are used, all hell breaks loose. A typical scenario that once was handled with an act of kindness now results in security, police, and danger. What has changed over the past few years to drive a wedge between humans interacting in a way that is genuine to interactions of hurt feelings, judgment, and acts of ill compassion?
I want to share a story. This story takes place 15 years ago when "times" were different. I am not 100% sure why "times" were different, but these are the common phrases we use to justify the present. So, when "times" were not the same as today, I handled a situation in a way that did not result in police, bloodshed, or broken windows.
The story only requires a little explanation. The story was not broadcast on social media, was not live, and did not go viral. As I reflect, would the story have been magnified back then if it had the power to go viral and be shared with millions of people to judge, criticize, explain, and offer an opinion? People tend to elevate their role when a situation offers the potential for attention beyond the event. I am not judging, instead offering my observation of human behavior over the past decade.
Here is the story!
The hospital that I worked in called a behavioral code. A code summons support to go to an area where a person is behaving in a way that could cause harm to the person or others. As the nurse leader on duty, I jogged across the hospital to the area the operator announced on the overhead. I arrived at a large crowd of staff yelling at someone. I could not see the individual the team was yelling at. I pushed past the angry staff and found a middle-aged man holding a chair. The security guard next to me shouted, "put that down, or I am going to take you down, man!" Another staff member, upset, bolstered back to the man with the chair, "who do you think you are? You need to leave and get out of here." I felt my heart rate jump to a million as I knew I must take control of the situation. I am a 6"4, 220+ pound guy who could quickly jump into the action. Hell, I was an Army Infantry Medic, for Pete's sake! I took a deep breath, counted to 10, and then spoke to the man swinging the chair around over his head.
"Excuse me, Sir," I said as I raised my hands to show him they were empty. "Ummm, sir, sir, can I ask you a question?" The man with the chair looked at me. He did not speak, but he looked at me. I had his permission and attention to ask my question. "Why are you swinging that chair around? Why are you so upset?" The man looked at me and, with the chair in the air, told me, "my mom is here dying, and these people will not give me any information. I don't want her to die alone." The man's eyes filled with tears. Staff around me muttered, "you can't talk to us like that." and "he needs to be escorted out of here." What I did next aggravated the team, who seemed to want the man thrown out of the hospital.
I want to discuss this event as if it happened in 2023. People would have their phones out, recording the situation to gain views and popularity and to share their unhappiness with how the man was acting. I bet you that staff would later share their take on the situation, and people would comment and blame the poor system that does nothing to protect workers. What we need to see is the other side of the situation. We need to know the man with the chair and why he is holding it in the first place. The lack of clarity leads to misconceptions and false manifestations of dangerous and unsafe conditions. While this is true in some situations, it does not apply to all situations. Over 15 years ago, I offered him a choice when I encountered the man with the chair. He had the option of telling me why he was mad. I removed my personal opinion of the man from my mind and asked him a question. I did not judge the man, and I did not think he needed to be tackled like a WWF wrestler.
The man looked at me as I processed his words. He looked scared, sad, frustrated, and alone. He lowered the chair as I kept eye contact and walked toward him. "Sir, who is your mother? I want to take you to her right now." Within 10 seconds, the man's pain was gone as he told me about his mother. We walked away from the muttering staff and went to his dying mom. I always remembered that event and shared those simple words with people all the time. Instead of screaming, threatening, and taking the man's actions personally, I asked him why he was doing what he was doing. Sometimes it is that simple! Forget the audience on social media, the views, and the opinions. Don't make another's pain your problem. It is their situation, and your job is to help them get through it. I dream of a culture where people receive help, not tossed outside like a criminal. Reinvigorate humanity for a better tomorrow.