Comments and conversations on Facebook are often quite inspirational and thoughtful.
Over the weekend I have read a couple of quotes that people have posted – they could be about anything, but mainly about life, I guess.
And as I was feeling philosophical, I thought I would look at why things don’t work out as we expect, or plan, or hope. This could be anything – personal relationships, jobs/work, a holiday, and sometimes even life itself.
I certainly didn’t plan at the age of 50 to be living in a flat in Gibraltar and not working. Nor did I plan to get married in Sydney when I embarked on my world trip some 25+ years ago.
So, back to the question. Here is a random list of causal factors, to me:
• circumstances, this could include lots of things, but I was mainly thinking time and place • external factors, eg the unexpected that is totally out of your control
• conflicting relationships and personality clashes
• health problems
• addictions – drugs, alcohol, tobacco, gambling – they are health issues too, but can be so destructive, and are not readily solved by willpower, that I figured they needed a separate category
• power imbalance
• not working hard enough to make something work
A few comments on some of these. I’ll start with the last one first and talk about general breakdown in communications, or poor communications. After all, what else would you expect from a journalist?
In my years working in the UK public sector, poor communications was nearly always mentioned in any complaints about the health service, and was often regarded as the main problem. And in child protection incidents, it always featured highly. Wherever there are multi-disciplinary teams, the potential for communication mishaps is high because bluntly speaking, people just don’t speak to each other, or they work on a ‘need to know’ basis.
I really dislike ‘need to know’ because it invariably means someone else is taking decisions about what I need to know when they don’t know my job. There is no way that you can advise on the best PR line to take when you don’t know the full story. Similarly the medic who thinks the social worker doesn’t need to know something or vice versa, can result in some tragic cases.
Interestingly, I’ve just read a book about the sinking of the Indianapolis, the American warship that carried the casing and uranium for the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima. I added that for those of you, who like me, know very little about American history. It was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine – after, obviously – it had delivered the bomb. Of some 1200 people on board ship, only 25% survived – slightly more than 300. The ones who did survive and were finally picked up had spent days in the South Pacific surrounded by rings of sharks that invariably chomped a body in half for tea, or lunch, or breakfast or whatever.
But if reading about that was bad, what was worse was reading the communication blunders that didn’t log the Indianapolis as missing. Either someone didn’t get one radio message, someone else decided to ignore another one, yet someone else decided to keep information to themselves, because no-one else needed to know. It was a disaster waiting to happen and it did. Still the US Navy changed procedures afterwards which was of no use to the relatives of the 900 men killed. The navy also court-martialed the captain, the only one who was ever court-martialed for the loss of his ship as a result of an act of war.
So when people treat communications as a sort of minor, not very important issue – it isn’t. People died at sea 65 years ago because of crap communications. Oh, Doug Stanton, ‘In Harm’s Way’ if you are interested. A good read.
And still on communications, I remember endless courses and lectures during my management studies about Active Listening. It seems to me, in my cynical non-managerial older days, that this is a fancy way of saying ‘listening to what someone is saying.’ The difference between hearing and listening. Not what you think they are saying, not what you want them to say, but actually, what they are saying. And if you don’t understand then you ask for confirmation, and if you think there could be ambiguities you do the same.
But how many of us ever do it? Especially when we are wound up over our own issues or thinking about something else. Have we any idea what issues the other person is contending with? Bad communications are a minefield (to continue the warfare analogy) on their own. When you add in any of the above factors in my original list, it’s a wonder anything ever works out in life.
A couple more examples. If you have health problems, you are waiting for test results, an operation, or having treatment with nasty side effects, that’s all going to be uppermost in your mind. Anything else takes second place. Relationships, whether family, friends or partners, are fundamental. Everyone needs contact and relationships (Maslow’s Triangle). When they don’t work out, like health issues, it impacts on the rest of your life. So try going to work and feeling crap and having argued with a friend or a partner and trying to get through an important project. On top of that, someone else doesn’t want it to go through for whatever reason. Maybe they feel crap too, or don’t like the project. Maybe they just don’t like you. Take family issues. Those of you with happy families are lucky. Can’t say I know a lot about it. Always seems to be someone, somewhere who wants to be in charge. A bit like work.
Let’s finish with relationships. Of any sort as this is probably what concerns all of us so much. I like to lecture on this topic as I am so bad at it. Do as I say and not as I do in fact. But ….. try and listen to whoever it is and ask for clarity. Make sure you really are both even discussing the same topic. If you like them/need to get on with them (ie family or work) then, don’t blow up unnecessarily, shrug your shoulders, and, ask if it’s worth it. How many years do you go back? And if you are really sure, then yes, move on and leave them behind.
Don’t burn your bridges unless you are sure though. Because each time you burn them, and later decide to rebuild them, it gets harder and harder to build that bridge back to where it was, or even anywhere near. There will come a point when you can no longer rebuild.