Thursday, 22 March 2012


That the divine becomes challenging rather than comforting.  

Of course there are times in our lives when we are utterly and completely fed up with challenge - our life is like an obstacle course or perhaps an army assault course. In these circumstances we would wish for more comfort and less challenge. 

When I was a social worker many moons ago I was in supervision one day with my boss. I was telling her how I didn't know how I was going to cope - I did a regular stint on the duty desk, had a caseload of clients', had oversight of a day service for people with mental health needs and was training to be an approved social worker. I described this issue as a problem for me. She, fresh from a management course, told me that this wasn't a problem but was a challenge. I can't remember if I said it or thought it but my immediate reaction was that challenges were things you wanted and problems were things that you didn't. And I didn't want this one.

It is interesting how we play around with words to make us feel better or worse about life in general and specific people or issues. Sometimes it works very well perhaps removing emotional content and judgement. I talking once with a man with schizophrenia about how people responded to him. One example stuck in my mind - he was talking about being sad and because he had a psychiatric label people wanted to say he was depressed. The words appear similar but they create a very different picture. Sadness is a normal human emotion, depression is a mental illness. He was denied the human experience of sadness.

It can take quite an effort to speak carefully, to consider the words that we are using so that we show that we appreciate how the other person is feeling. When my boss spoke about challenges rather than problems I felt that she had not heard what I had said, did not appreciate my daily struggle with too much work and was not going to do anything to help. All that from one sentence. My next boss when I said something similar talked me through my work to see what I could stop doing. Perhaps he hadn't been on the course!

Reframing our perceptions by using different words can be helpful but it usually takes more than this. Whatever words we hear we must be alive to the life situation which lies behind.

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