Published 15 November 2016
I’ve been thinking a lot about mirrors lately. There are mirrors everywhere in life if you look for them. I’m not talking about the kind you have on your bathroom wall. I’m talking about our interactions with other people. Your experience of an interaction with someone is often exactly the same as theirs. How a person makes you feel is often how you make them feel. How a person makes you feel can tell you a lot about yourself. It doesn’t always hold true, but it’s common enough to learn something from it.
I’ve been thinking about how the mirrors work inside 139 Club. I mentioned to a colleague recently that there are folk who are saying hi and chatting to me after I have been passing them in the hall for nearly two years. Then I thought about the mirror. What did this tell me about me? I realised that sometimes I find it difficult to walk into a courtyard of people and just start talking to them. Sometimes, like many, I feel a little awkward or shy around people I don’t know well. So is it them or is it me? I would say it’s both. I have learned that I have an opportunity to open a door of connection for our guests by the way I behave and what I say. If I can take the first step, they will follow.
We recently spent time interviewing a range of guests to our service, to understand what brings them to us and what their perceptions are about who we need to be. There was some affirming feedback with powerful but simple learnings. People visiting us highlighted the impact of the small things our team does like saying hello, stopping for a chat or acknowledging them from a distance.
A few weeks back I stopped to talk with a young man who has been visiting with us for about a year. When he first arrived he was wired on drugs, pacing and constantly moving, talking non-stop about nonsensical things, his words full of grandiose statements about his abilities and talents. His mother was addicted to amphetamines throughout her pregnancy, he was removed to foster care, had severe behavioural and development challenges and addictions to a range of prescription and illicit drugs. His energy agitated the people around him. There were a lot of days where it was easier not to engage with him, particularly if one was short on time. It took a lot to remain calm in his presence.
The bloke I spoke to recently was a different man. He was not particularly approachable, but I decided to approach anyway. At first I stood and chatted to someone close by. He was playing some music and I started to sing the words.
“Do you know these guys?” he said, looking surprised that I recognised his music.
“Sure do – got a heap of their music on my phone.”
“Ha! “ he said – laughing to himself.
The door was open so I walked through. I shared with him my thoughts on how different he seemed. He told me a little about his life, his addictions, his relationships. At times I could see him leave me, lost inside his own thoughts, experiencing a memory he wasn’t up for sharing, but laughing to himself as he relived it. He talked about how he had been off the drugs and how hard that had been, how he was caring for his health, eating well and exercising. I told him I thought he was doing very well and had the smarts to keep going. I saw him leave me again, lost for a moment as he processed what I said. Then he chuckled, looked up and said “thanks”. I heard him ask the person next to him as I walked away “What’s her name again?”
You don’t have to know someone well to share a story, your thoughts or your history. Be the reflection you want others to see when they look at themselves. If you want people to care, be caring. If you want people to feel like it’s ok to ask for help, be helpful. If you want forgiveness, be forgiving. If you want someone to act with empowerment, be empowered. More and more we realise that the small interactions can be as powerful as the big ones. A few moments or hours spent with someone can leave them reflecting for days and weeks. Small events can be life changing. Our sphere of influence is bigger than we know. Explore it!