Monday, June 17, 2013

Reading Between the Lines

There's a PSA running on Quebec radio that goes something like this:


"Yes, my air conditioner is broken."

"Lady, this is 911. For emergencies."

"Yes, my air conditioner is broken and it's getting hotter in here by the minute. My address is 6595 Any Street."

"I understand, Ma'am. We'll send someone over right away."

Then it cuts to a message about you can call for help with domestic violence.

A not-unrelated story: a friend, detailing the physical and emotional abuse that led up to the dissolution of her relationship, shared a story where her partner broke her cat's leg by throwing the cat across the room. She said, "The vet knew. And probably also knew that I was in a DV situation before I did. "She fell" sounds a lot like "I walked into a door" or "I fell down the stairs".

How much of our ability to save each other, to care for each other, to break the cycle of abuse, is dependent on our ability to read between the lines. It's not enough to hear what is said. You have to hear what is meant. Sometimes that means listening for the words that aren't there, the things that aren't said.

There are reasons his is difficult. The first is that we're collectively not in the habit of paying attention at all. Never mind listening to what isn't said, we don't hear what is said. We're not present in our conversations. Sometimes we don't even know who we're talking to at all:

There are reasons we don't pay attention. We're busy. We're overwhelmed. We have places to go, people to see, important things that require our attention more than what or who we're currently engaged with. We live our lives on autopilot: how many times have you driven a familiar route - let's say from home to the office - only to realize you didn't see anything along the way? Our minds are continually occupied and this keeps us from living the lives we're supposed to have.

The 911 dispatcher gets thousands of calls a day - some of them from people who are calling because their air conditioners *are* broken, which is generally outside of 911's scope of service. It takes a cultivated awareness to pause long enough to think "Maybe something else is going on here!" and discern the meaning behind the words.

Vets, like other health care providers, are forced to see more and more patients in less and less time to make their revenue model work. It takes experience, compassion and a cultivated awareness to stop long enough in the normal course of events and say "Cats don't just fall like that. What's really going on here?"

There's very little education in our lives about how to develop our awareness, to discern the meaning behind the worlds, to look a little deeper. But that's exactly what we must do if we're going to change the lives we live, the lives other people live. If we're going to build a better world, we need to start paying attention.

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