A former colleague of mine had this wise saying, “Be nice to people on your way up, so they can be nice to you on your way down.” While he intended it in the context of work, the saying remains valid in any human interactions and supports the concept of humanistic relationships.

We all want to be treated nicely. Then, why is it that in certain situations where there is power imbalance, like in caring for a vulnerable person, we allow ourselves to use words or adopt body language that offends that person? We may justify the behaviour by saying, “This is just the way I am. I don’t mean to harm anyone.” Unfortunately, unkind words and impatient gestures have a huge emotional impact and hold the unpleasant, but inescapable, label of verbal and emotional abuse.

On the other hand, people who foster humanistic relationships self-reflect and are aware of the impact they have on others. They have developed the compassion to read emotions, understand diverse perspectives and really listen. They approach situations from a belief of capacity and honour, without judgment. What’s more, they nurture a holistic communication style that centres on fellow human beings, paying attention to their feelings and validating their needs and desires.

Vulnerability takes many forms. It can be temporary, such as experiencing the loss of a job; and it can be life altering, as in the case of a diagnosis of dementia. Vulnerability can happen to anyone, at anytime.

It’s always a good idea to continue working on developing better communications skills, but it’s doubly important when addressing vulnerable people. This is because, given their current situations, they may not have the where with all to defend themselves or, worse, safeguard a fragile state of mind, thereby perpetuating notions of inadequacies.

Careless communications are abusive. Yes, they are! Then, how do we break the pattern and develop humanistic relationships?

A good place to begin is to exercise compassion. The more we shift our mindset and see others within their own circumstances, the more we can naturally develop empathetic skills. Compassion focuses on kindness, affirmation and encouragement. Over time, its practice becomes an integral part of who we are, breeding values like integrity and trust, and ultimately resulting in meaningful and healthy connections.

We have the power to stay the same and invite continual patterns of dysfunctional relationships or self-reflect and make a difference in a complex world where safe havens can prevail for everyone. What quid pro quo do you to subscribe to?

By Louise Tremblay, Director of Development at UNITI

Article was first published in the Peace Arch News on February 7, 2020.

UNITI is the partnership of three affiliated societies that have provided important community services for decades. Semiahmoo House Society provides quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in Surrey and White Rock. Peninsula Estates Housing Society provides affordable and inclusive housing that reflects the diversity of our community. The Semiahmoo Foundation assures that UNITI has the recognition, relationships and resources to support an inclusive community. Together we’re stronger!

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