One of the most disappointing aspects of my recent psychosis is how certain people used it as a justification to dismiss anything I said which seemed a bit out of the ordinary.
Don’t listen to him, he’s got psychosis. It’s bound to be nonsense.
Firstly, that’s intellectually narrow-minded. Secondly it can be unnecessarily hurtful.
A close family member is a consultant in dementia care. Sometimes people living with dementia get confused and say things which aren’t true or don’t make much sense to carers and family members. But the important thing to remember is that they are still people and they still deserve to be treated with dignity.
When grandma accuses a staff member of stealing her reading glasses, some people might react by saying:
No grandma, don’t be silly. You’ve got dementia, of course no-one is stealing anything. It’s all in your mind.
Actually, it’s surprisingly common for people to behave like that. But put yourself in grandma’s shoes for a second. How would it feel to be spoken to that way?
If you’re grandma, then to you it makes sense that someone stole your reading glasses. They’re not here any more and the first possible reason that popped into your head was that someone must have stolen them. There are actually quite interesting and scientifically valid reasons why grandma’s dementia made it more likely she’d jump to this conclusion.
So for grandma, when someone tells you you’re being silly about something which feels important to you, it can feel absolutely horrible. No-one likes to be told they’re stupid, like my ex-friend has been doing to me recently. It causes you to start re-questioning everything you think you believe is true. Let me tell you, feeling like you might be going insane is pretty unsettling!
A much kinder (and intellectually rigorous) way to respond to grandma is to take her concerns about her missing glasses seriously and consider alternative explanations for where they might be.
Perhaps she just misplaced them. Maybe a staff member put them away in an unfamiliar drawer. Maybe a staff member really did steal her glasses. For this last option, it’s pretty unlikely, but we still shouldn’t instantly rule it out as a possibility.
Giving people the benefit of the doubt is much kinder than telling them they are wrong.
Please don’t totally invalidate someone’s view of reality – it’s soul destroying. Instead of thinking, “That can’t possibly be true,” try thinking, “Well, this person seems to think it’s true, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt,”
“Being kind is more important than being right“– Bollinger, R. (2019)
I mean, I get it. Life is incredibly fast-paced these days. Our lifestyles and use of modern technology is shortening our attention span and forcing us to make decisions ever more quickly.
It’s becoming necessary to make snap decisions in many cases. If we leave room for uncertainty, then it’s too late.
I see this as a huge problem facing society. Our public discourse has become dumbed down and shallow. People are publicly rewarded for emotionally-laden invective rather than carefully reasoned argument.
We need time to think. But even more than that, we need time to listen. If you’ve stopped listening to opposing points of view, then you’re likely already in an ideological echo chamber. Have you picked a team, either religiously or politically, which you’re duty-bound to defend? Then you’re part of the problem.
All of us need to get better at making room for doubt. We all need to continually ask ourselves, “Might I be wrong about this?”
We need to get better at understanding opposing arguments, rather than dismissing them as stupid, ignorant or racist.
Left vs right, atheist vs believer… so many of us are engaged in needless wars when we should be listening to each other instead. It makes me sad.
How to deal with life’s fast pace
- SLOW DOWN.
- Question your underlying assumptions.
- Make better choices about where you put your attention. What could you cut out of your life that’s not adding anything meaningful?
- Listen more carefully to opposing views.
- Assume the person you’re talking to knows something you don’t (one of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules).
- Try to “steelman” your opponent’s arguments – assume they have good reason for their thoughts and beliefs.
Let’s start treating each other as dignified human beings again: Individual person first, everything else second.
Person first, dementia second.
Person first, drug-induced psychosis second.
Person first, religious or political beliefs second.– Bollinger, R. (2019)
There was actually so much more I wanted to write about today, but this post is already pretty long and I feel this is a good place to stop for now.
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