I’ve been binge-watching Mad Men recently, having completely bypassed it when it was on TV.
In one of the episodes I watched last night there was a scene where creative guru (and complicated human being) Don Draper takes Dr Faye Miller, a psychologist who has been conducting consumer research panels, to dinner.
Don asks Faye how she gets participants to make such personal revelations during the sessions, and in reply she recalls Aesop’s fable of the North Wind and the Sun. I’ve probably heard it before, but I’ve been thinking a lot recently about respectful communication to make effective change so it really resonated. The fable goes like this:
The North Wind is causing chaos with its icy blasts. This annoys the Sun, so it challenges the North Wind to a competition to see who can get a man to take off his coat.
The Wind thinks the competition is easy, so blows really hard and with all its might – but the man just pulls his coat around him more tightly.
Then the Sun has its turn. It shines so brightly and warmly on the man that he soon takes off his coat.
The point of reciting this fable?
So often we think the way to get things done, or to make others listen is with fierceness: a strong wind.
A couple of recent examples spring to mind.
The first is the memes about Remembrance Day poppies that have been doing the rounds on Facebook. You have probably seen them, or heard about them: they say things like telling people who don’t want to wear a poppy to eff off and live in another country. Of course, there is a strong implication that those who don’t want to wear the poppies are of a certain culture and religion, and that they all want to do us harm.
There are many reasons why I find this saddening: the main one is that while sharing such messages may well by some be in the spirit of honouring veterans, and the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice in conflict, it inflames hatred.
Those images and slogans don’t pause to consider some basic facts – like first and foremost whether it is actually true! – and what people of all cultures and religions think about wearing the red poppy.
There are those who wear a white poppy as well as or instead of the red poppy. The white poppy signifies peace, and can also be worn in honour of all the countless civilians who have perished in wars around the world.
Others wear a purple poppy in recognition of all the animals who died supporting the armed forces.
Many people choose to wear a red poppy, some choose to wear a poppy of another colour, while others choose not to wear a poppy at all. I personally choose to wear a red poppy, and am proud to do so. The key concept here: choice. We are privileged to live in a country where we are able to make free choices about what we do.
Let’s remember Remembrance Day, whatever your views on conflict and war is about honouring those who have died in war. Telling people who have alternative views to go and live in another country, or to send individuals death threats, is indefensible. Belligerent behaviour only fans the flames of hatred, which causes more pain, loss, sorrow, conflict, and in the most extreme cases leads to more war.
Surely it is better to talk about the reasons why people choose to wear a poppy of a particular colour, or not at all? Open dialogue can lead to understanding – and even changes in behaviour as a result of that understanding.
It is shining warmly on something to open it up, rather than blowing a fierce wind leading to the hatches being battened firmly down.
Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? We can all make faux pas, say something insensitive or completely inappropriate. I’ve no doubt I’ve done so, and I’ve been at the receiving end, too, especially since Hugo died.
I’ll admit there have been times I have got upset and angry as a result. Anger that has transformed me from Bruce Banner to the Incredible Hulk in the blink of an eye.
But it doesn’t get me anywhere. The anger (while a natural response) upsets and exhausts me, and puts the other person on the defensive, creating an impasse and usually further bad feeling.
Fighting fire with fire doesn’t help anyone.
I now try my very best to explain why whatever that person has said or done has upset me, or why it is insensitive. They don’t always listen, granted. Sometimes they may make an apology that seems insincere and adds further fuel to the fire.
Sometimes, though, the explanation can be like sunshine thawing ice. A relationship is built, the learning and understanding disseminates. Behaviours and attitudes can change, and for the better.
Doesn’t that make it worth making the effort?
Throw kindness around like confetti. Yep, some of it may blow away on a fierce wind, never to be seen again. It’s made of paper, so it can get burnt in the midst of inflamed passions.
But I throw it anyway, because I like it – and because some of it will reach where it needs to be.
Here endeth the parable of sun, wind, and fire.