A Lesson in Judging and Gratitude

Can I be totally honest with you? I’ve always struggled with the divide between professionals and blue collar workers.

This week I’ve had a reminder that such pre-judging is not helpful and can be downright dumb.

Picture the scene: my parents have lived at Greenpoint on the beautiful New South Wales Central Coast for a decade. Behind their property is a vacant piece of land owned by the Salvation Army who have a facility on the other side of the hill. This piece of land has always been covered with a large stand of blue gum trees, replete with all forms of Australian wildlife: there is a Australian crane, or brolga, that elegantly wanders around on its long legs; there are the tawny frogmouth owls that sleep alongside the other nocturnal creatures and come out at night to feed, there wide eyes scanning the forest for frogs, lizards and other insects they can gracefully swoop down on from their perch in the trees. It sounds idyllic doesn’t it?

But we knew this peace and quiet couldn’t last forever. The signs are everywhere on the Central Coast: traffic has increased exponentially, there is development going on all over. And there has been gossip over the last few years regarding the Salvation Army wanting to sell off this land for development, but these remained relatively distant rumblings.

Wham! Those rumblings became real when bulldozers moved in. Within weeks the lush bushland was turned into a wasteland of wood chips and the constant growl and beeping of various forms of earthwork equipment. Change was in the air.

And then double wham! The noise level rose even higher when a team started digging alongside the cul de sac that runs out front of my parents house so that they could lay further piping to the new development.

And the clinching triple smack to the head! Change was also in the air in my parents home; my father beat off prostate cancer six years ago, but was diagnosed ten months ago with stage IV lung cancer; he was never a smoker; he was super fit all his life, running ultra marathons when he was younger and until he retired he had been active on his feet in his profession as a veterinary surgeon. Whatever the reason for his primary tumour, by the time he realised the pain in his back was not simply muscle pain, the cancer had spread into numerous other places across his body including into his bones.

Can this really all be happening to one family? Sadly this is not an uncommon story and the more I look the more I uncover similar situations. Cancer is so pervasive in our society.

At the time of writing my father is in the final stages of his battle. He is currently in hospital; he’s heavily drugged on a mix of morphine and other pain medication; he has the occasional good day, but many tough ones.

And guess what? Yep, there is more. Sadly the situation is compounded: my mother has early-stage Alzheimer’s and often gets a little confused, which is exacerbated by what is happening both outside the house and with my father. She has been increasingly concerned that he will struggle when he comes home to deal with all the noise going on around the house. I haven’t had the heart to tell her that there’s a very strong likelihood that he will not be coming home again.

Unsurprisingly the noise outside has bothered her but not overly so, she is more concerned with how it may impact my father. Twice she has ventured up the road to talk to the work crew about the level of noise and how much longer they will take. Of course I’ve tried to dissuade her from doing so but she has persisted. I was relieved that the work crew were most polite with her on both occasions and apologised profusely for the noise they were making.

Thankfully she didn’t get angry with them, but the truth is that as her Alzheimer’s progresses she may become more aggressive in her behaviour. My concern is that one day she will venture out and be met with more resistance. Personally, I imagine a disgruntled blue-collar worker sick of dealing with work issues and my mother being on the receiving end of his frustration.

And then yesterday there was an unexpected knock on the door; my mother answered; standing there was one of the workers and he towered over her; in his hands he held a gift bag which he gave to my mother; it was filled with cards that his own mother had made and he was offering them as a gesture to say sorry for all the noise that his team was causing.

Astonishing isn’t it?

My mother came rushing up to my study. The look of pure joy on her face was priceless as she excitedly showed me what had just been delivered.

And boom? My preconceptions were smashed. This gently giant had set me straight. Who was I to pre-judge the workers outside? That negative thought of one of them berating my mother was quashed. I was filled with gratitude and an overwhelming sense of relief.

Yes the noise continues, yes my father is still very ill and yes, my mother’s Alzheimers progresses. Change is constant, but that one small, unexpected gesture of kindness has spread a warmth over my parents that is extremely powerful. My father had one of his best days in weeks and my mother is filled with newfound energy and focus.

There is no magic answer to dealing with change, to dealing with ageing parents and to overcoming life’s big and small testing moments. However, there is are some things we can do to make transitions easier and that is looking for the positive, delighting in the unexpected, not judging others and not letting negative thoughts swirl around our heads. In my book, Fierce Reinvention: A Guide to Harnessing Your Superpowers for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Success I delve into how you can overcome the tendency to pre-judge and avoid the negativity trap.

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