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The SeniorScape ™

The Cost of Sticking Your Neck Out

Several weeks ago, I posted a picture of giraffes on social media with the caption; “nothing changes unless you are willing to stick your neck out.”

This is aligned with the words of John Lewis, "When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something."

This past week I attended a business workshop wherein we were given an assignment to make a video that represented what we stand for and to share our video with other attendees. The person with whom I was sharing first asked me to describe my platform and why it was important. After my 1-minute elevator story I shared my video which began with the image of the giraffes.

Immediately upon beginning my video, he told me about the American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg who was a student and colleague of Carl Rogers, the American psychologist who developed the person-centered approach to communication based on qualities of empathy, compassion, self-respect, and respect for others, all of which foster improved and lasting relationships.

It is the basis of the Center for Nonviolent Communication. (CNV). Non-violent referencing the Ghandian movement, essentially communicating and resolving conflicts in a way that does not cause hurt, upset or harm to another person.

CNV allows you to understand that the feelings and emotions you are feeling are neither caused by the situation you are facing nor by the behavior of the other person, but by your own needs, which you need to address for your own well-being.

Marshall B. Rosenberg used two animals to describe the two types of communication that explains the Center for Nonviolent Communication.

o The jackal which represents more aggressive communication. this is based on domination and utilization of guilt, shame, punishment, and praise as the cornerstones of techniques meant to manipulate.

o The giraffe represents communication based in kindness. He chose the giraffe because of all land animals it has the biggest heart has few enemies in the wild. In this category, he references Thomas D’Ansembourg’s book, ‘Cessez d’être gentil, soyez vrai’, translated which means: “stop being nice, be honest”.

Flash back to a nursing home in which I covered as a speech pathologist. I was alone in a dining room with 5 residents. Though It’s required a nurse is present when residents are eating in the event of any emergency, in this case there was no one to be found.

After a considerable period of time a Nurse Aide finally entered the dining room. I don’t know why she approached me to tell me the information she shared, except that she hadn’t seen me before and thought I might be a sympathetic ear. She described a situation with 3 of the newly admitted residents seated in the dining room who she said were not vaccinated and was concerned about her own health and well being as well as her family, especially her older mother who has several underlying conditions.

Later on in that same evening, there was a situation in which a resident immediately rejected the dinner that was delivered to him by the nurse aide. He was a rather tall gentleman recovering from COVID. The dinner meal consisted of a sandwich with one paltry slice of meat between two slices of bread, certainly not sufficient for a dinner meal, nor for a person of his size. Upon hearing the resident’s refusal, the nurse aide picked up the tray and nonchalantly left the resident’s room without a word.

I instantly left the room. I approached the nurse on the floor to inquire how I could get the resident a decent meal. She informed me that the kitchen personnel rarely answer the phone and, more often than is not the case, the staff is relegated to going to the kitchen in order to resident’s a substitute meal.

Indeed, I called the extension…the phone rang incessantly, 5 times, 10, times…. no answer.

I hopped onto the elevator and walked the long hallway to the kitchen. After explaining the situation, I was given a plate that I can honestly say was probably not sufficient for a small to medium sized pet. It was like pulling teeth to get what would be considered a sufficient portion for a grown man.

When I returned to the floor, the CNA who had removed the tray from the room was glad to hear that that I was able to get the resident a meal he accepted. At the time she removed the resident’s she appeared uncaring and blasé. I remember feeling uncertain if she would have done anything to get the resident a dinner meal.

It was what she told me that made me think about her quite differently. With almost teary forming in her eyes, she explained she felt badly for the residents because of the little amount and poor-quality food they received. She used the word “pathetic” when describing some of the meals. The nurse with whom I had originally spoken corroborated what the nurse aide reported. She informed me that she’d spoken up several times and, though it may get better for a few days, before long it went “right back to where it was before.” Therefore, she gave up.

This hearkened back to what the nurse aide told me in the dining room. She said she no longer questions anything or speaks up about what is happening because, when she has done so in the past, she felt like she was ostracized and was in fear of losing her job.

This brings me back to the giraffe who sticks out their neck for change.

Many times in the past I’ve been critical of the fact that nursing home workers accept the status quo. When I ask about a variety of situations they often shrug their shoulders and say, “what can you do, this is the way it is”. I have often wondered why they didn’t speak up.

The reality may likely refer to the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Person-centered care begins with caring about the people who work for you. If they are valued for their observations, their insights, are considered the on-the-ground eyes and ears, rather than being ostracized, punished, shamed, they might speak up and stick their neck out for what they know is a better way for residents to be treated.


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