Boundaries — well now, hasn’t that become a fashionable word? Who would have thought that a word that references separation and lines of demarcation would so handily describe our efforts to define and communicate to others the whole range of our needs and wishes?
We’ve all experienced them at some point, probably — people whose company leaves us feeling emotionally depleted and drained of energy. You might be familiar with the term ‘drains and radiators’, which contrasts the effect this behaviour has on us with the lovely warmth we experience from the company of those whose presence is uplifting and delightful. We can use the expression with a light touch. Its meaning is clear, and the plumbing reference acts as a buffer against hurtfulness.
Most of us are probably not aware that we use poetic language as a matter of course. Similes, metaphors, images, all that stuff is what playwrights and literary types come up with to convey and illuminate meaning and emotion. Nothing to do with the way ordinary people talk, right?
Easter doesn’t get much of a look-in when it comes to making resolutions. January is, of course, the top time for vowing to put ourselves through agony as we determine to do the things we believe we should, and beat ourselves up when we have broken every resolution by Burns Night.
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(With apologies to Joy Division)
Well, who would have thought that full stops and exclamation marks would ever play a significant part in our relationships?
‘Sorry for your loss’. In recent times, this sad phrase has resonated with many, far too many, of us. The expression encompasses what is so hard to express, our sympathy, our awareness of the devastation of death, our inadequacy in the face of grief and loss.
The words are a bridge, forming a connection between the bereaved and the person offering condolence. Sometimes there is a feeling of relief once they are spoken — there, I managed to say something, I did the right thing, I expressed sympathy.
The habit of comparing ourselves unfavourably with other people damages our self-esteem and wellbeing even during the best of times. When we experience more challenging times, it can take very little to make ourselves and our lives feel really rubbish.
It wasn’t quite so bad in the olden days when there was only limited exposure to the lives of others, seemingly so much more successful and interesting than our own. At the present time it is hard to escape the bombardment of words and pictures and images which suggest that all the people we know (and some we don’t) are having a brighter, better existence than us.
Values are the ideas that define the way we view the world. They are the abstract notions on which we base our judgements of what is important in life.
Our values shape our choices and decisions. The way we behave, how we live and work, our relationships with ourselves and with other people, are guided by these fundamental concepts.
At particular periods in all our lives, it isn’t possible to have face-to-face contact with the people who matter to us. It doesn’t matter that much these days, we say blithely, because of all the possibilities for voice and video calls. We can still see each other. We can still talk to each other. In fact, we can see and talk to more people in more ways than we ever could IRL.
But an old-school phone call is just the thing for a proper conversation or discussion, the kind that leaves you feeling pleased and satisfied that you have had a meaningful, enjoyable, worthwhile exchange with someone close to you. If using the phone is a habit you have got out of, or is something that you shy away from, why not give it a try.
You might wonder what would be the point of writing a letter during this period of forced separation and constrained activity.
After all, we’ve got the technology which enables us to see and talk to each other, even though we are miles apart. When you can actually get a large group of friends or a whole family together on a screen, as well as having intimate one-to-ones, why bother with anything else?
The contours of our lives have changed in the coronavirus lockdown or shelter in place. For now, we don’t have the regular rhythms and rituals which give shape to our days. Without the activities which normally punctuate our waking hours, we are faced with a shapeless mass of time which we need to mould into a recognisable and manageable form.
And we are doing so well at it. Each day we are increasingly aware of the importance of caring for our own and others’ physical and mental health. We are embracing advice to structure the days with a variety of pursuits, and people are generously offering their skill and experience to help us to continue the activities which bring us pleasure and which nourish our well-being.
It’s not often that tools for improving productivity and effectiveness in the workplace can be happily transferred to our personal lives, but with a little bit of tweaking, the technique called the Five Whys may provide a way of helping us deal with personal pressure and demands.
This method, which originated in the Toyota company in Japan in the 1930s and is in widespread use today, presents the potential for solving a problem by asking a series of questions, typically five, which lead you to identify the problem’s root cause. This is a route to preventing the problem from occurring again. It’s a technique which seems to work well in certain circumstances.