Les­sons we learn, les­sons we trans­mit

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - PSYCHOLOGY - • BATYA L. LUDMAN The writer is a li­censed clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist (PsyD) in pri­vate prac­tice in Ra’anana, and au­thor of the book Life’s Jour­ney: Ex­plor­ing Re­la­tion­ships – Re­solv­ing Con­flicts. [email protected]­sion.net.il; www.dr­batyalud­man.com

Ire­cently re­ceived the news that a col­league, a senior psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor I worked with in New York a num­ber of years ago, passed away after a short ill­ness from a very ag­gres­sive can­cer. Hear­ing from another col­league just how old our mu­tual friend was, I was shocked to dis­cover that he was 78 years old. How was it pos­si­ble that since I hadn’t aged, he had? I couldn’t imag­ine him be­ing “that old,” in part be­cause he was al­ways so young at heart.

While my body re­minds me that I, too, must be get­ting older, in my head I haven’t aged more than a year in the 33 years ago since the three of us would oc­ca­sion­ally put out the “Do Not Dis­turb – In Ses­sion” sign on the door in the Mount Si­nai Hos­pi­tal clinic and sit to­gether for a very se­ri­ous ses­sion – of Triv­ial Pur­suit!

My dear friend, the as­sis­tant de­part­ment head at the time, showed me back then that, while we knew how to, and did, work very hard, we also knew how to have fun. Over our games of Triv­ial Pur­suit, we got to know each other well, and in many ways that was where the real work of de­vel­op­ing trust, team build­ing and strength­en­ing of our de­part­men­tal goals was achieved. Back then, with­out hav­ing to punch a clock, with tremen­dous ded­i­ca­tion, we al­ways en­sured that our work got done.

As a young pro­fes­sional start­ing out, he taught me many valu­able les­sons. Here are just a few.

• Make time for fun. Life is short and you never know what to­mor­row (or even a few hours from now) will bring. If you want to do some­thing, just do it. You prob­a­bly won’t re­gret it. For me per­son­ally, I have al­ways felt that the only re­grets I have are over what I haven’t done, not what I have done.

As you age, you may even de­cide that you won’t do any­thing that you don’t re­ally want to, or have to, do. But, with ev­ery­thing you strive to do, work hard, do it well, have fun do­ing it, and al­ways make time for laugh­ter. Hu­mor is an es­sen­tial el­e­ment of life and makes us feel good. If you take your­self so se­ri­ously that you can­not find even a lit­tle bit of hu­mor in what­ever sit­u­a­tion you find your­self in, you just are not try­ing hard enough. Laugh­ter, as they say, is great medicine and has been proven to be good for the soul.

• Treat ev­ery­one, es­pe­cially those ju­nior to you, and most es­pe­cially your chil­dren, with great re­spect. Be­ing treated so re­spect­fully as a young in­tern gave me the con­fi­dence to take chances. I felt heard, and even if my ideas did not bear fruit, I al­ways had the sense that what I said mat­tered. Imag­ine con­vey­ing that mes­sage to your chil­dren. It is in­cred­i­bly em­pow­er­ing.

• Don’t take on any­thing that is not yours to take on. You may have broad shoul­ders, but only take on what are your is­sues or con­cerns, not those of oth­ers, un­less you tru- ly choose to do so. If you do choose to take on is­sues that are not yours, be mind­ful of this and rec­og­nize and ac­knowl­edge that you have made the choice to do it, and, as a re­sult, there will be con­se­quences, both good and bad.

While, as a so­ci­ety, we must care for oth­ers, you can­not do this to the detri­ment of your own well-be­ing. As they say on the air­plane, put on your own oxy­gen mask first, before help­ing oth­ers. Some­times we are do­ing so much for oth­ers that we in­ad­ver­tently ne­glect our own needs, and then ev­ery­one suf­fers.

• Al­ways ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion. Even if you think you un­der­stand some­one, don’t be afraid to say, “Let me see if I un­der­stand you. So you mean...” and wait for the “Yes, ex­actly” or the “No, that’s not what I meant at all. Let me ex­plain.”

This is the key to, the very essence of, the cou­ples work I do. Of­ten, the longer cou­ples are to­gether, the less they ask their part­ners for clar­i­fi­ca­tion, as­sum­ing they know what the other is think­ing and feel­ing, but of­ten they re­ally don’t.

The as­sump­tion that you know what oth­ers are think­ing may re­sult in your re­spond­ing in anger or feel­ing stressed, or cause you to shut down, when the other per­son may not have even spo­ken a word. If he (or she) did, you may have mis­un­der­stood what he (or she) said. Clar­i­fi­ca­tion of what was said is so easy, yet so of­ten not done.

• Be con­sis­tent. Say what you mean and mean what you say. While the three of us ate most of our lunches to­gether, our friend made it clear that what was his was his when it came to food: no tast­ing, no shar­ing. This was es­pe­cially odd, as he was al­ways so gen­er­ous in shar­ing his thoughts, ideas and ev­ery­thing else. Ini­tially, we thought he had to be kid­ding, as he wouldn’t share so much as a potato chip. We will never know why, but we ad­mired him for hav­ing his rules and be­ing clear and con­sis­tent about them. Be­ing con­sis­tent is the back­bone of suc­cess­ful par­ent­ing, and he par­ented the two of us very well.

There is never a good time to die, and for those we love, who are young or young at heart, we can’t help but feel that they died before their time. As we soon leave be­hind the hot days of sum­mer, head back to school and look to­ward the New Year, it is so im­por­tant to re­flect on the val­ues of those loved ones who are no longer with us, re­mind our­selves of the beauty within each and every one of them, and work on our­selves to see if we can trans­mit their legacy to oth­ers in all that we do, as we carry on our lives with­out them. Our goal should be to make the world a bet­ter place, and those who have taught us so well help guide us in how to trans­mit their mes­sage to oth­ers. ■

(Val B. Mina/TNS)

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