My mom was an earth angel. Her warm spirit made others feel they were her most favorite people in the world. Everyone loved her. The only people who waffled were the women who wanted to marry my dad. Because he’s an earth angel, too.
I believe Mom’s earth angel-ness was mostly because she was an incredibly effective communicator simply by being herself. Her natural ability to connect with others was enormous, even when interacting with the biggest knuckleheads, snootiest socialites, and nosiest busybodies. It was in her gaze, her smile, her words. After talking with Mom, folks felt warm and fuzzy inside. She was like a cup of sweet cocoa that warmed you from the inside out.
My mom often advised, “If you know someone’s script, you’ll know what to do.”
She wasn’t referring to manipulation, being fake, or playing a role to get what you want in life.
Rather, Mom’s advice was a path to effectively understanding and communicating with others.
Her recommended approach went something like this:
Slow down and pay attention to others, what they say and do not say. Actively listen way more than you speak. Seek to understand them: What tone of voice makes them receptive? What do they seem to value most—being heard, feeling appreciated, knowing they matter? Do they need a listening ear, your perspective, or both? Tune into their words and their body language.
Doing all of this can help you determine their usual way of being, of operating in the world. Their modus operandi.
And once people show you who they are and you really get it, adjust your approach when interacting with them. Don’t wait for others to make an adjustment—let go of that expectation. Be proactive. Stretch yourself and take the first step. Doing so will benefit you both.
So, if the loudest person in the room obviously craves being the center of attention, let him talk. Recognize that he’ll only reveal his true thoughts and feelings to you one-on-one and if he trusts you completely.
If she complains every time you see her, hug it out. The actual root of her frustration may be something she’s been struggling with for a while. Understand that her whining is not about you.
If they put others (or even you) down all the time, speak kindly to them anyway. Your kind words may be the only ones they hear all day, or ever. Then move on and say a little prayer for them: Because folks who feel good about themselves usually don’t act that way.
These examples just skim the surface of Mom’s approach to learning others’ scripts.
She also taught me the importance of understanding our own scripts. To honestly assess, accept and even adjust our scripts for the greater good. Like when I initially really struggled to balance work time as a freelancer with caring for my aging dad.
Doing it all is in my script. So, I pressured myself to do everything for Dad myself, including a lot of daily one-on-one time for social interaction and cognitive stimulation. My rationale: Even with moderate dementia, Dad is still a social butterfly. He’s energized by talking with others—it’s always been a huge aspect of his script. And grateful that dementia hasn’t changed that part of him, I was feeling I had to do all I could personally to honor that part of him and not let it slip away.
Yet I, the classic introvert, also am energized by quiet solitude—a huge part of my script. And, in caring for all of Dad’s needs during the day, I was still up at 2 a.m. most nights on work deadlines I didn’t meet when the sun was up—and back up by 6 a.m. to get our household moving. (Did I mention I’m a wife and mom, too?)
The results? Still-never-enough interaction to Dad’s satisfaction, and sheer exhaustion for me.
I realized I had to tweak my script to more effectively honor Dad’s script and my own well-being.
So, I ditched the Superwoman, do-it-all mode and sought help—a huge step for me. And I found an amazing resource: a memory wellness day program. Yet Dad’s always balked at the idea of spending time at a senior center. So was it uncomfortable introducing a zero-appeal notion to him? You bet. Did I forge ahead and do it anyway? Yep. And, lo and behold, it’s a hit. Dad’s happily spreading his social butterfly wings with new friends there three days a week. And my late nights are becoming fewer in number.
Mom’s way with others was beautiful to watch, as she built bridges of mutual understanding. Her advice taught me a super-important life lesson: Take the necessary time to learn others as they are, not as we think they are or want them to be. And stay open to tweaking our own scripts when needed. Doing so can mean greater joy with others and for ourselves.
Thank you, Mom.
How well do you understand your own script?
How do you know when you understand someone else’s script?
Share your thoughts below.