Seeing someone achieve his or her latest ambition is a potential cause of tears for me. Why? Because I think they are going to be happy, to reap success? Perhaps. But maybe also because it is such a relief to me that what we have been working towards together they can now claim as their victory. I have a real soft spot for others’ achievements – perhaps selfishly thinking I may sometimes have had a little to do with them. Parents’ pride in their children is very self-related.
There has been much discussion recently about what makes people cry. Sorrow at loss, of course, and anger at dispossession are two of the main causes. We are learning that our emotions are an integral part of our personality rather than something to be disciplined away or dismissed as weak. Just as we don’t know how much people physically suffer when in pain so, too, we cannot fathom the agony of mental deprivation nor the lasting effects of mistreatment, abuse and neglect.
Damien Mettan was an eight-year-old new boy at my rather Edwardian Prep School nestling at the foot of the Malvern Hills in England in the 1940s. I’m not sure I ever really met him because his tenure at the school was the briefest of the brief. He arrived one day and left two days later, sobbing his heart out for God knows what. I have never forgotten such deeply felt sadness. I hope he found something to cheer him up as he struggled to find his path in life. And I hope he found someone to guide him when he needed it and to listen when he talked. He created the first stirrings in me of wanting to be a mentor-coach. I was the same age as Damien.
Every time we come across someone who seems to be defeated by life we step back from the obvious, hearty “cheer up” mode and ask what lies beneath the dampened cheeks, the hooded eyes. In practical terms pulling yourself together is certainly better than self-pity – well, almost anything is. But knowing why we have moments of despair is also important. Probably to balance those moments of unbridled exuberance when we think we have won, I shouldn’t wonder. But if we were truly balanced we wouldn’t have the swings, would we?
Accepting our feelings as part of our existence is still seen by many managers as “touchy-feely” and therefore beyond the purview of an employer. This has always been quite wrong. It is doubly so today when the pressures of change exert themselves so rapaciously. They say that moving house is one of the major causes of heart-attack and that divorce is an ever more potent one. I can attest to both though I have so far fortunately avoided the heart bit. Moving employers, changing bosses, disrupting work routines, learning and accepting new technology and saying goodbye to old family and friends stricken or afflicted by the pandemic – all these are truly stressful.
Not one bit of how to handle this was taught at school or university. Parents are mostly not equipped to pass on the skills of dealing with what we now face. Employers are in a parental-substitute situation being the nearest, brightest and most influential people watching the day to day progress of those in their charge. Ignoring this responsibility cannot be erased by substantial donations to good causes however generous those are.
There is never a week goes by without several people coming to us and saying they want to “give back” to society some of the benefits they rightly think society has provided to them. A very worthy aspiration and we willingly help them in their struggle to find out who they are. But I always tell them of Mother Teresa’s response whenever asked by journalists how many people she had helped. Invariably she replied “I help the one in my arms” – such a wonderful commitment, such beautiful words, such a simple concept. We all have someone “in our arms”.
Giving back goodness is not just good behaviour.
It is good management, too.