Sunday 25 May 2014

Cruelty or Kindness?

I've had this problem ever since I qualified as an Acupuncturist and started my practice. As it turns out, this problem is a recent manifestation of a pattern of behaviour that I've adopted for most of my life, and now that I'm aware of it, I have made it very much a work in progress.

The problem I've had is that of charging patients a fee for the late cancellation or failure to attend an appointment.

I've always prided myself in being flexible and have been eager to accommodate last minute rearrangement of plans. I've shown limitless patience and understanding towards people in general, particularly of late to patients who either change their appointments at the last minute or just plain fail to turn up ("I got my phone reminder five minutes ago but I'm in Braintree" - that type of last minute!). 

I've always smiled, shrugged and said "Oh never mind, just one of those things, happens to us all", in the hope that patients will re-book (which they mostly have done) and I've absorbed the inconvenience, the disruption to my work pattern and the cost of putting the heating on for two hours prior to the appointment.

When this degree of acceptance has been challenged in the past (by my clinical supervisor, my peers and my husband) I have justified my actions by saying things like "Such is life", "Can't be helped" etc, but mostly it was because I thought I was being kind.  In my mind, to make a charge for late cancellations or missed appointments would be a punishment for something that was unavoidable, and so would be cruel. There was also the resonance of knowing that actually I too was once that person who would change arrangements at the drop of a hat because someone or something else took priority.

And that's the crux of it.

I would allow other people and their arrangements to take priority over my own plans. But who was to say that their stuff was any more important than my own?It was purely my perception and I had chosen to put myself in second place - because I felt that other people were more important than me. And this is a mindset I'd adopted for most of my life.

That is, until I decided to change this mindset - and in so doing, also changed the habit of a life time.

I now put myself at the top of my list of priorities, especially when it comes to arranged appointments. And because I have greater respect for myself, I am able to consider my own arrangements important enough to take priority. This level of commitment also reflects the fact that I have, and show, an equal respect for the person with whom I have made the arrangement, and so I will keep to my word and will not let them down.

The minute I allow something else to take priority and fail to keep to a commitment, it immediately intimates to the other person that they are no longer as important to me at that moment as they were previously. It is one thing to have a lack of respect for yourself, but to disrespect others is lamentable. 

In conclusion, my perceived 'acts of kindness' were a total misconception. I was in fact denying myself respect - from others and well as from myself; I was enabling and actively encouraging disrespectful behaviour; and in relation to patients, I was denying them the opportunity to commit to looking after themselves and to gain their own self-respect. 

And how can we possibly expect others to respect us if we fail to respect ourselves?

I now regard my insistence on payment for late cancellation and failure to attend appointments as a true act of kindness. It would be a misconception to see it as a cruel, financial punishment.

Friday 2 May 2014

What is Normal?

Wednesday 23rd April 2014 marked the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. It also happened to be World Book Night 2014.

World Book Night happens on April 23rd each year and is an initiative started by The Reading Agency, a charity with a mission to encourage people to read books for pleasure.

Volunteers across the UK and Ireland sign up to receive a consignment of books which they give out to non-readers or to people who don't regularly read - FOR FREE.  Why? Because everything changes when we read.

For the third year running I volunteered to be a Book Giver. I stood in the greengrocer shop on Nacton Road and gave away 18 copies of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' - or at least, that's what I tried to do.

Giving away free books is actually more difficult than you might think. People are naturally very wary of being approached in the street. I was in a shop, which I thought would be less threatening both for myself and the recipient but folk seemed to be really reluctant to accept a gift from a stranger - they wanted to know if there was a catch.

I tried to explain the concept of World Book Night (which incidentally, only one out of the eighteen had actually heard of it) but still people were fearful of there being religious, political or monetary overtones. Several people just wouldn't entertain the idea in any shape or form; one or two declined the book, saying they didn't have time to read, but most accepted the book, albeit reluctantly, before making a hasty exit from the shop (I did wait until after they'd made their purchases before speaking).

Only one person accepted the book enthusiastically - she asked what the story was about, listened intently to me talking about WBN and even asked how she could get involved herself for next year. And yet she was the least likely person that I expected to have such a response. She was dressed in black punk gear, had black and red hair, numerous piercings and tattoos. She said she worked in a youth center and thought people there might be interested. So I gave her two books.

This experience left me feeling bemused, mostly because people were prejudging me and seemed unable deal with a 'normal' person trying to give away something completely harmless, as an act of kindness. At least, I regard myself as normal, and I think I look fairly normal in an average kind of way - but then, what is normal? Certainly, giving away books on a Wednesday evening in the local greengrocer shop is not normal, but has it also come to pass that acts of kindness are also now considered not to be normal?

Perhaps if I had looked less normal and more like the punk girl, then my random act of giving would have been more acceptable - odd behaviour from an odd-looking person.