People in positions of authority need to know when their judgments or actions are harmful. All of us can learn from mistakes, unless somehow we’re deprived of the consequences of our words or actions.
I was pleased to get an appointment with the obstetrician my friend praised so highly. I came prepared with a list of questions folded in my jeans pocket. But I didn’t get a chance to ask about a doula or the Leboyer method. Without performing an exam, the doctor announced with certainty my petite size meant I had “insufficient pelvic capacity.” He assured me I would never be able to deliver a full-term baby.
“What do you mean?” I gasped.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “you’ll just need a Cesarean.”
I was six weeks pregnant.
I may have been young and expecting my first child, but I dared to question his judgment. He became indignant. A lecture followed about the number of babies he’d delivered. He went on about anoxia and brain damage, then asked, “Do you want to endanger the life of your baby?”
That was all it took. I never returned.
I left the next obstetrician’s office too when he said my vegetarian diet would result in a sickly, underweight baby. Neither physician knew I went on to deliver a 9 lb, 10 oz baby quite naturally. In subsequent years I had three more sizeable vegetarian-grown babies.
On behalf of each of my children I learned to speak up forcefully. This pushed me right past my innate shyness. I became more assertive about expressing gratitude too.
Research tells us being grateful boosts our health and well-being. Small acts of kindness also create a ripple effect, generating more compassion in others. Sometimes it’s easier to thank those who are close to us but it’s powerful to acknowledge people who are consequential strangers or people we’ve never met but whose efforts make a difference.
I left a thank you note for a waitress whose smile cheered my day. I sent a letter to a nursing home administrator describing the tender affection I witnessed an aide show a patient. I even wrote to a school bus driver who backs his bus every day into a narrow drive on a 55 mph road with the speed and grace of a ballroom dancer, telling him he gives me hope that I too might develop mastery in my job.
I never sign my name. I think it’s better to write “your customer” or “fellow traveler” or whatever fits the situation. That way it isn’t about me, it’s about a wider sense of appreciation. Although I have to admit, I benefit too. Looking for the good in others makes me a more positive person.
But really, paying attention only to sweetness and light ignores what doesn’t work.
But really, paying attention only to sweetness and light ignores what doesn’t work. How do people in positions of authority know when their judgments or actions are harmful unless the consequences result in litigation?
A simple letter may spare future clients, students or patients the same struggles you have endured. Of course this isn’t necessary when the situation can be handled right away. But how many of us have faced long term incorrect predictions? Without this surgery you’ll end up crippled. Ritalin is the only solution for that behavior. Homeschooling leads to maladjusted children. After too many such pronouncements I’ve realized that updating professionals on their assessments is also a kindness, the flip side of gratitude.
I don’t advocate griping or threatening. I’m talking about communication that fosters understanding. Here are guidelines that have worked for me.
1. Be clear about your own goals before writing that letter or email. Wait until you can proceed without anger. The person you are contacting will be unlikely to learn anything unless you maintain a positive and respectful tone.
2. Refresh the recipient about your situation as it was when you were last in contact.
3. State clearly and kindly that (as a physician, teacher, therapist) he or she is in a position to help many people. You assume that as a matter of professional interest it would be helpful to know about the outcome of a situation he/she assessed.
4. Sticking to the facts, explain how in your situation their judgment or actions were misguided. Then update with pertinent details.
5. If relevant, include research or other data which the professional can use to gain insight.
6. Wish this person well. Don’t expect or ask for follow up contact.
The highest response to nay-sayers is to flourish joyfully in our choices. So I say to those who predicted doom for my children who were held long and nursed often, to those who judged our learning and lifestyle choices harshly—we are well. For that I’m endlessly grateful.
Lets try, whenever possible, to find the freedom right beyond the boundaries of old ideas. To do that we need to share the insight that comes from experience. There, even the flip side of gratitude turns toward wisdom.
Originally published in Natural Life Magazine.