“Well we didn’t know what to do. That’s why we came”
2 sisters. Both absolute characters. They had lived with each other for over 50yrs. Had cared for their parents together. They finished each others sentences. Took comical swipes at each other whilst doing so. I admit I broke down laughing a couple of times. They had a knowing look on their faces. Their faces not so dissimilar peering back at me. The elder sister (83yrs old) had developed shoulder pain. The GP had given a diagnosis of frozen shoulder and sent them through to me. And they were the highlight of my day. Amongst the chaos of the history I heard the word ‘protecting’ crop up a few times. So when I had gained my composure and appropriate space was there to do so I embarked on how I saw protection.
I can see how people want to be protected or to protect themselves. This is surely a human quality. But how do we protect ourselves? Does carrying a weapon actually make you safer? And is it good? What do we mean by protection? Prevention is a big driver in reducing ‘burden’ on healthcare systems. Is prevention protection? If it was we wouldn’t need separate words. We can prevent something from happening. Or we can protect something that is happening. The first is in the future. The second in the present. I’m a lot more confident about changing now than the future. In fact causation happens in the now. The present knocks into the future but it happens now. If we want to change the future we must affect here and now (though this assumes the future is additive, progressive). Infinite complex variables exist in the future. The now might be complex but pales in comparison.
There has to be something in the now to protect. It needs to be worth protecting. I am a keen gardener. When I’m not working, writing, reading, spending time with my family or playing football then I’m usually trying to grow stuff. I know my Paeonies from my Calendula. This provides a good analogy. When trying to grow something first of all the preparation needs to be right. Does it need ericaceous soil? Will it take to a North facing fence? What conditions will it thrive in? Once the context is set often you will need to shield the new growth either from weather, pests, infection. It needs to be nurtured. This is one side of protection. It allows for natural growth. As a gardener I am not the cause of growth. I leave that to the mystery of nature.
This is true of small people too. I have 2 small people who I am responsible with my wife for nurturing. These also need protecting from time to time. But here lies another side of protection. What do I protect my boys from? Everything that could possibly be harmful? There are as many problems with over protection. If protect them from negative experiences what will happen when they finally do experience this? Over protection can stunt growth and lead to frailty when obstacles are encountered. Over protection also takes a lot of time, effort and consciousness that could be used in more life giving activity. My eldest is 5yrs old and at school they are being taught about resilience. Not giving up. Bouncebackability. The ideal is that when they are grown and I am not there to protect them that they will have grown enough to survive without me. Independent. This takes time, challenge and failure.
All this does leave me somewhat uneasy though. Is independence a ‘good’ aim? As humans are we meant to be independent? Socially isolated? Is independence required for quality of life? Humans are community dwellers. We rely on others. We are dependent for many things. Is dependence a dirty word? What about those with disability who have higher need for dependence? Should we presume their quality of life inferior?
The 2 sisters seemed to understand quickly. Protection isn’t always what we think. “Ah well she’s been doing the wrong thing then haven’t you!” Her sister said. “Well we didn’t know what to do. That’s why we came”she retorted. All in good humour. I sensed they had become dependent on each other along time ago.
So do we prevent or do we protect? How can we protect people we see with pain, reduced function or capacity? And how can we not protect them? Once people have left our care and protection have they grown to be resilient? Or will they wither? Do we erect temporary scaffolding to hold them up? How are we nurturing what people have now? How are we challenging people to make them more resilient? Do you know your Peonies?
Be more human. Be less robot.
Thanks for reading this far.