A call for kindness
This year I made a resolution to meet more people and make new friends.
Shouldn’t be too hard, right?
I mean, you’ve only got to watch young children to see how naturally it comes to us.
One minute they’re sitting side by side warily in the sandpit, the next they’re inseparable ‘best friends’.
As we get older, however, our insecurities shine through more than our gappy grins and our self effacing selves throw inner tantrums.
And it’s especially difficult to meet people if you can’t get outside because you’re agoraphobic, or have social anxiety disorder or suffer from panic attacks.
Like I do.
All three of them.
But we have a choice – we can be victims to the situation we find ourselves in or we can turn obstacles into stepping stones and skip merrily along them to find a solution.
Falling into the latter category, I sent out an invitation to complete strangers from my Streetbank Community and invited them around for ‘coffee and conversation’.
I can appear relatively ‘normal’ and feel safe and ‘in control’ in my home, so it seemed the perfect solution.
Five people turned up and we had an amazing time.
The conversation was incredible; scientific brains debating with esoteric, pragmatists in discussion with idealists, A PhD graduate learning something new from the guy who left school at 15 and all sorts of topics covered from wildflowers to website code.
But most fascinating of all was the discovery that every one of us had our ‘issues’.
One person was drinking herself into oblivion every night and was on her way to the Doctors after our meeting, another was a secret binge eater while another battled with debilitating self esteem issues that made him behave in an aggressive way towards others.
And when I think back to all the people I know, family and friends, I can see that each and every one of them is battling with something. It almost appears to be the thing that makes us human…
I’m wondering, if you met me, how you would deal with me if I refused to step outside the front door with you.
Would you shout at me to get a grip? Would you bribe me with something to make me see sense?
You’d most likely accept that I couldn’t do it and come back and sit on the sofa with me.
Sadly, we don’t always treat children with the same amount of understanding – we brandish them as being deliberately uncooperative or selfish.
We blame them, cajole or ridicule them in order to get them to conform…
This week I was talking to someone who introduced the term ‘Selective Mutism’ to me.
It’s a relatively rare anxiety disorder that prevents children speaking in certain social situations, such as school lessons or in public. They’ll speak confidently to close family and friends when nobody else is listening – for example, when they’re at home; but outside their comfort zone they are unable to speak.
They might use gestures such as nodding or shaking their heads, they may whisper or they may literally freeze and be unable to communicate at all.
Being a rare condition, it’s often misunderstood and teachers and the medical profession often resort to bribery or shouting.
Selective Mutism is an anxiety disorder so I understand that shouting and bribery are at best unhelpful, and at worst damaging; exacerbating the condition and even turning it into something more serious. You can be sure that either of these ways of dealing with ANY anxiety disorder brings about humiliation, rejection and isolation.
I think what I learned from my ‘coffee and conversation’ morning and the appalling way in which Selective Mutism is dealt with, is that we all need to be kinder to one another.
Earlier I said that battling an inner demon seemed to be part of what makes us human. But alongside that is our capacity to reach out to others with love and an extraordinary amount of compassion.
So this week, why not take a moment to listen and get really present for someone?
Not the sort of listening where you’re waiting for air space to say what’s on your mind.
But to open your hearts and ears and connect in a deep and profound way with someone who is struggling.
We need to grab all our tenderness and empathy and tune into one another.
We need to cast judgements and perceptions aside.
We need to treat others, and ourselves, with the unconditional love we humans are capable of.
If we can achieve this, none of us need put on a brave face whilst dying inside, or cry ourselves to sleep, any more…
If you want to find out more about Selective Mutism, please visit their site where you can read about their research, download fact sheets and donate to their valuable work.