Ouch! is a video supplied to me by the Alzheimer’s Association. In a quick 12 minutes, viewers observe scenarios and listen to conversations that include language that can be hurtful, indiscreet, and just plain wrong. While none of these snippets directly speak to Alzheimer’s, they cover a wide range of inappropriate comments that people may make, things like, “You don’t have an accent!” (when the speaker appears to be non-white) or “Sally can work overtime – she doesn’t have any kids.” The film provides optional responses when someone’s comment is hurtful, out-of-place, or just outright rude.
First, and I often struggle with this, is assume there is only good intent. Sometimes phrases are so common place that the speaker does not even realize the implications. This is your chance to respond with, “Using the word dementia that way makes it sound contagious and frightening. Dementia has so many more aspects.” This is a perfect guidepost into a chat about what cognitive difficulty may or may not indicate.
The second option is ask a question, “Have you ever thought about that saying ‘go back to your country’ cause mean trauma, fear, and heartache? Many humans who you have grouped together are refugees who have fled brutality and possible execution.” Again, you have addressed the words that cause offense, but in a gentle fashion that leads to conversation and understanding – or at least there is a hope for understanding. Some people really mean what they just stated and that is a world lesson in itself.
Third choice, interrupt and redirect, “Talking about Joe without him here to intervene is demeaning. Let’s wait until the three of us can sit down and talk this out together.” You have stopped the conversation before it can advance in a kind way that also lets the speaker know that it is only fair the Joe be a part of this conversation. It also sends the message that you are open and honest – willing to listen but not willing to pass judgment without adequate information and input.
Make the statement individual, “When you say all employees are bigoted and uneducated, do you include me in that category?” Often the cruel remarks are also a part of who you are or what you do or your family history. Generalities may serve the purpose of covering a wide range of people, but it also discounts the idea the each of us is an individual.
And finally, when words of explanation escape the brain, there is the option of just replying, “Ouch!” That short word says so much and exemplifies the pain, the humiliation, the trepidation that negative remarks involve.