Here’s another story that didn’t make it into the book (due out in paperback in less than a month!):
Joan noted that the self-respect her parents taught her affects how she is treated. I observed this dynamic myself once when I went to the hospital with my seventy-year-old mother, who was having a diagnostic procedure. She was terrified because the last time she’d had this test she had gotten violently ill from the anesthesia. I assured her there were different kinds of anesthesia available and that if the doctors knew she had gotten sick the last time they would be better able to help her, but she feared that voicing her concerns would be pushy. Finally I convinced her to let me speak to the doctor before the procedure. As we sat in the waiting room, her physician strode briskly past, saying, “See you in the operating room, Mrs. Flanagan.” He clearly had no intention of stopping—until I stood up and with good posture, firm eye contact, and a smile said, “Excuse me, doctor. I’m Helen Flanagan’s daughter, and I’d like to have a word with you.” As he stopped, I could see him recalibrate his agenda. He respectfully listened and promised to have the anesthesiologist look up what had made my mother sick before. The result was a much better experience for my mother, though it was also a memorable experience for me. I saw clearly how the doctor listened to me simply because I expected it.
Everyone should be treated with respect, whether they expect it or not. I want to be clear that I don’t blame my mother, who was simply socialized—because of her gender and generation—to defer to male authority figures, despite her otherwise feisty personality. My point is not to blame the victim, but to point out this often over looked aspect of the wisdom to know the difference. While we cannot control or change anyone else, simply changing our attitude can make a huge impact on how others treat us.