Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Not waving, but drowning

Some years ago a good friend's brother died as a result of drowning after falling into the sea from some cliffs he was climbing.  His wife, on the beach with her children, had videoed this not knowing that he was in difficulties.  Today I've been thinking about how often we see people in distress and not really notice the extent of their difficulties.  When we pass them we automatically ask "How are things?" and we expect the answer to be "Fine".  Often, even when people aren't feeling fine, they still answer in a positive way because it's not really acceptable for us as adults to say "I'm feeling awful, I'm drowning in negativity."  I often think that children are much better than us at this.  It is acceptable for them to cry and to say they are hurt and upset.  Somewhere along the way we lose the ability to do this.

Two days a week I do a duty on the Early Years playground.  There I see children who are very quick to cry and very quick to get over things.  I hear parents who say to their children "Don't cry, be a big boy" as if it is wrong to feel things so strongly.  As a teacher to teenagers I've also, at times, been quick to negate someone's feelings.  For example I remember a 10th grade girl telling me she didn't want to move back to the USA because she didn't want to leave her boyfriend in Holland and I remember saying "Don't worry, you'll get over him, you'll meet someone else."  Looking back now I think that was pretty insensitive of me, especially as some years later when I actually had to leave Holland myself I seemed to spend months saying goodbye and crying about it.

Sometimes, of course, when you are drowning people do throw out a lifeline and haul you in.  We should never underestimate the power of kind words.   Earlier this week, when I was having a particularly dark moment, I got a lovely note from a colleague that said:  "Either you can fight against the waves, or they can carry you to a brighter future.... Surf's Up, Girl!"

OK, time to grab my board .....

Photo Credit:  Wave by Kevin N Murphy AttributionNoncommercial 


  1. As a first-time summer camp director, I learned that drowning people don't often look like the Hollywood version of drowning. There aren't any big motions or frantic splashing--just a robotic effort to keep their heads above the water. For me, that image of a drowning person perfectly sums up the way some students float through school looking as if they don't care--when in reality, they're barely keeping their head above water. I've taught students who have masked the pain of sexual assault, death of a loved one, and betrayals of all kinds, but feel they must conceal all their emotion because there's a test on Friday.

    Thanks for this blog post. It's got me thinking about all the polite lies we tell and those we encourage others to tell us.

  2. a very though provoking post - thanks. Reminds me I need to really listen when I ask people "How are you?"