If you’ve poked around at the other site I blog at (http://blog.whyjesus.ca) then you’ll know that I’ve had a lot on my plate in the past couple of weeks. My wife had a cardiac arrest on April 16. It’s been a long haul, and it’s not done yet, but all indications are that she will recover quite well.
One part of her journey on the road to recovery is brain rehab. A cardiac arrest means blood is not flowing to the brain on its own. With lack of oxygen the brain starts to lose some neural connections and some brain function is lost. I’m not a doctor, but that’s my lay-level understanding. So she has begun brain rehab.
Her first Occupational Therapist (I’ll call her Alice) was an absolute delight to watch in action, and she gave me pause to reflect on how we communicate the truth to people.
Denise is having some short-term memory issues and even some of her long-term memory is off. When asked what year it was she didn’t even get the century right at first. Clearly there is a lot of work to do, and clearly she will make a lot of mistakes along the way.
Alice has absolutely one of the most delightful dispositions I’ve ever seen. Even after Denise transferred out of her direct care she saw me in the hall and stopped to ask how Denise was doing. I didn’t see her so she could have just walked on by without even being noticed.
Part of Alice’s job is to help Denise correct her errors. When Denise gets something wrong Alice doesn’t try to impose some kind of positive spin on that error. She didn’t say anything like, “ok, well that can be your truth for now,” or “that’s an excellent guess but let’s talk about something else.” She would correct the errors. Of course when she corrected the errors there was never a hint of condescension or mockery. Frankly, when she corrected Denise’s errors she was very forthright about the nature of the mistake, but the discussion was always cordial, encouraging and respectful.
If she can do that with a patient with a brain injury, shouldn’t we all be able to do that with each other all the time? If a person believes something that you know is false, there is no need, whatsoever, to turn it into a negative conversation. We do not need to take on an air of superiority. We ought not to laugh at their mistake. We should never respond with any form of, “you should know better than that!”
Conversely, we should also avoid pretending that everybody’s beliefs are true. This is inherent nonsense. If two people believe mutually exclusive propositions then it is not possible that they are both right. We do nobody any favours if we pretend everybody can have their own truth, just as Denise is not served well in her rehab if those around her do not correct her errors. In fact Alice even told us to correct Denise’s errors round-the-clock, not just during therapy.
We should follow Alice’s lead and gently, respectfully correct other people’s errors and move on. No need to harp on it, no need to count that as some kind of victory for us. If truth is really your goal then puffing up your chest at the expense of somebody else’s self-respect will never even cross your mind. Furthermore, if truth is your goal then you will never stop at “that’s true for you,” you will keep searching until you discover what is true, period.