How it works when it’s not working


Part of my day job involves working with people who are not always inclined to listen to what I have to say or to do things the way I want to have them done. I try not to take it personally but it’s hard.

Sometimes I encounter individuals who refuse to join in an activity I have designed especially for them. Some of them cry or turn their backs to me when I approach them with requests to change their minds.

It happens that some people I observe on a regular basis struggle to meet all the social, emotional and cognitive demands placed on them. Their coping strategies are multiple and varied. My responses are not always as compassionate as I could make them.

Some of the people I describe are very young and many are not so young any more. Some of them I count as students, others as friends and family members. Some of the people I know well and others I am just getting to know. All of the people above are people I care about.

I have also been all of them at different points and in different stages of my life.

When things aren’t working for one of these people on my watch,

Instead of saying “Don’t cry,” I ask: “Do you need to cry about it a little more?”

Instead of running to crowd them with my comforting platitudes, I leave them alone, give them some space and come back later when the jets have cooled.

Instead of telling them my own story in a similar situation, I try not to talk , or I talk about them by sharing my observations: What I see, like, and hope for them.

Instead of rushing to explain, I try to slow down and listen for understanding.


Things don’t work for us all the time. Things don’t work for others all of the time. Learning to respect that space where situations can change and develop without direct intervention is hard. It’s unnatural to many of us. We want to fix things; make them better. Make the baby stop crying. Immediately.

But sometimes the baby needs to cry.

The loved one needs to be left alone.

The student needs space to reach their own decision.

We need silence more than we need talk sometimes.

When things are not working, some of us need to simply stop working.

That’s a particularly hard lesson to learn.


images via CC0

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