Sunday, 9 September 2012

Toughness, indifference, or something else

Summer of 2007. The time when my (then) best friend’s mother was terminally ill and finally passed away. Normally a human’s psyche is deeply affected by such traumatic experiences. Usually people react sensitively, can’t help crying, or get carried away by emotions. Most of us do, but not Mateusz (name this time not changed). When I talked to him or met him he showed absolutely no emotions, behaved like a doctor looking after another patient about to die sooner or later. He did take care of his mother, did everything to relieve her pain (she was down with a rare illness, called amyloidosis) and waited patiently for her death. The day it happened, he called me in the evening, announced the wait was over and promised to let me know about the date of the funeral. Before the burial ceremony I visited him in his house. The room where his mother died was tidied up – the hospital bed was pushed aside, all medicines, equipment and other traces of her last days were gone. To mark the mourning, Mateusz wore a black tie and had a black bow attached to the right sleeve of his shirt. His face and so his eyes were as hollow as over the previous weeks. He briefly, with technical details described how she departed. I listed and after a minute it occurred to me I seemed to be more touched then him.

A year or two ago I recalled those days with his grandmother (whose daughter deceased). Matuesz and his grandma have broken up any bonds soon after the funeral but both cited different reasons and accounts of event after Mateusz’s mother’s death. The grandma with dread recalled how Mateusz behaved on those days, chiefly his absolute lack of emotionality. It all prompted me to consider whether this has not been inhuman. Today Mateusz’s father is dying from cancer and Mateusz acts in exactly the same way…

In some cases getting immune to other people’s suffering is the only way to avoid going crazy. Imagine an oncologist who works every day with people terminally ill on cancer. Such person, even if they care for their patients, can’t be oversensitive. Otherwise, they would have to go through bereavement every few weeks or so.

Whenever a difficult situation strikes us for the first time, we are more likely to fail do deal with successfully. Each next occurrence of a similar experience finds us more accustomed to face the hardships and better prepared to overcome them.

The key concept, crucial to understand what I’m getting at, is the hackneyed adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I’ve been pondering upon this for weeks and reached a conclusion that as long as the pain, trauma, suffering, etc. is not overwhelming, it should add us resilience. The magnitude of experiences we’re exposed to determines the way they shape us. Life without suffering is impossible, so life must toughen us up. Of course there are situations which would bring even mentally toughest people to their knees and there are individuals who let insignificant hardships overpower them.

Again, I began to draw comparisons between the moment I was hired where I work now and today. This time I focused only on my psyche and toughness. I evolved from a moderately fragile person, prone to give up in stressful situations to the strongest link in the chain. Spontaneously I’ve taken up the role of the person in the team and in the department who takes stuff on the chin, often even if someone else has been assigned to deal with it. For instance, for my colleagues going to a credit committee meeting and presenting a transaction to a group of nine decision-makers, including three management board members and then responding to their questions, is a very stressful experience. The tension paralyses them, they shudder before going there and agonise over what they are going to tell and even after they come back and it is over, they take their speech and the whole meeting to the pieces. For me such task involves a dose of stress that stimulates me, motivates me and sends my adrenaline rise a bit. I doesn’t mean I’m totally laid back, credit committee meeting involves a lot of responsibility. The way I present a deal may influence the committee’s decision and this in turn may lead to losses of millions of zlotys, so I can’t be indifferent, I just don’t let stress take hold of me.

If you’re tough, it doesn’t mean you’re indifferent. If you’re tough, it doesn’t mean you’re devoid of any emotions. It may mean so, but usually doesn’t. Your toughness just proves you’ve learnt how to cope with emotions and bears out your maturity, it also predestines you to become a leader and to assume responsibilities. At work emotions shouldn’t play a role, this is obvious, in private life it’s not that easy, but it’s good to try. Sometimes, when push comes to shove, in emergency situations, such toughness helps take wise decisions swiftly and doesn’t let you fall into panic. Again, keeping a cool head, keeping your distance, should not be mistaken for indifference.

Funnily enough, these weren’t several stressful situations I have been exposed to that have toughened me up. I intended not to revert to it, but to complete this post, I need to. It was the violation of a good practice that one should separate private and professional life, in particular not to start intimate relationships with workmates. Quite predictably, the forbidden fruit was delicious, but such affections, full of twists and turns are clearly asking for troubles. I haven’t fallen in any real troubles, but the by-product of this God only knows if actually reciprocated affection was the rise of my strength. Oddly enough, I feel more than ever before and act as if I felt less than ever before. I sometimes have remorse on account of appearing to be stone-cold, but at the end of the day I think I’ve pursued the best face-saving strategy that helped me avert going mad.

I actually planned to examine the new economic agenda of PiS, presented last Sunday and again ended up compiling a post akin to a page torn away from a teenager’s diary. One day I’ll mend my ways and return to the original formula of this blog.

No comments: