Conflict and Compassion

Crane Beach, Ipswich, MA, USA

I’m in the process of interviewing for registered nurse positions.

In my first interview, I was asked to recall a time when I experienced conflict in the workplace and how I handled it. Yes, cue the dancing (I had totally prepared for this one)…

I shared a story about a patient encounter I had during my time working as an Emergency Medical Technician here in Boston.

Now, before you assume anything about how bada** these two years of my life were; I wasn’t exactly rushing off to bloody trauma scenes, or saving people in cardiac arrest on the daily. Of course, these happened from time-to-time, but most of the time, we adrenaline-junkies only dreamt of bright flashing lights, ear-piercing sirens, and a superhero status.

The reality of working for a Boston hospital-partnered private ambulance company was this; we spent 85% of our day transporting patients from hospital to home, rehabilitation or hospice center. Oh yeah, AND to and from doctors and dialysis appointments. Riveting, right?

Actually, yes.

As it turns out, the close to 2,000 hours I spent in the back of that ambulance, are, in part, responsible for not only the caregiver, but the person I am today. Nothing about this work was easy. It was rarely sunshine, and very few rainbows. I spent my days providing comfort and care to people who were sick, recovering, dying, hopeless, hopeful, joyful, in despair, optimistic, fearful, angry, in 10/10 pain, longing for the comfort of home and support of their loved ones.

I began to realize that it didn’t matter what the scenario was, who the person was — they were linked by one common thread; this was, and forever will be, one of the worst days of their life. And here I was playing a star role in the act.

So was there conflict? Yes. Everyday. How did I manage it? Well, poorly at first. I took everything to heart. I still struggle with this and my ability to let things go. I have been cursed at by patients, yelled at by their family members, I’ve been treated with utmost respect and a total lack thereof. But regardless of the conflict, I remind myself that in moments of suffering, people often express their feelings in ways that may not properly reflect their true character.

Here’s an example — To the patient stage renal disease, the one who no one volunteers to transport because it’s well known it will be 60 minutes of conflict and complain. To you, the one has no choice but to take 6 ambulance trips per week, to have a machine compensate for the work your kidneys are unable to do— to you, the one who has to remain seated in a chair for 4 hours, 3 times a week, 12 hours a week…only to put a temporary save on your life until, maybe, you are graced with the blessing of a kidney transplant, I am sorry if I ever reacted to your way of moving through this journey.

When we are able to take a step back, turn ourselves around, and attempt the impossible; to fit into the shoes of another, then and only then, can we understand.

In this space, I come to understand that you may have bad days, just like I do. I come to understand that you may be feeling an entire mix of emotions, be going through something that I can’t see. You may just need someone to be kind to you, or remind you that this too, shall pass. In this space, I come to understand that others I encounter have pain, just like I do. In this space, I free myself from chaos, from anger, and find peace in conflict.

Conflict roots itself in moments when individuals fail to set themselves aside to consider the experience of the other. It’s so easy for us to become angry when we feel wronged by another person. Whether that’s the stranger who cuts you off in traffic, the person who steals the parking spot you’ve been waiting ten minutes for, or a friend, family, co-worker who says something hurtful or betrays you. And let me be clear — it is totally normal, okay, and acceptable to be angry in these situations.

But there are a couple things I want you to consider —

I’m inclined to believe that all people are made with goodness; that at least, all people are doing the very best they can, with what limited knowledge they have, and what resources were made available to them. Aren’t you? Aren’t we all?

Can you consider that in these moments, that you actually have a profound amount of power over what happens next. You have the power to change the trajectory of your day, and the other person’s day; to react in anger, or to pause. You have the power to take a breath. To ask your ego and your pride to step aside. To open your eyes and heart to the person standing in front of you, who is, after all, just like you; who is, trying to do the best they can, everyday, with everything life has thrown them, and denied them.

Let’s commit to this practice of everyday compassion. This consideration of the transformative power of empathy, understanding, and belief that good exists inside of everyone. Our ability to be patient in these moments; to proceed with compassion rather than defend, is our very ability to change the world around us.

With this, peace is possible.



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