COLUMN: A different kind of quid pro quo

The way we treat society’s most vulnerable people matters

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.

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 have a huge emotional impact and hold the unpleasant, but inescapable, label of 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.

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 any time.

It’s always a good idea to continue working on developing better communications skills, but it’s doubly important when addressing vulnerable people.

Careless communications are abusive. How do we break the pattern?

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 practise becomes an integral part of who we are, breeding values like integrity and trust, ultimately resulting in 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?

Louise Tremblay is Director of Development at UNITI and Regional Mentor at BC Association of Community Response Networks.

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