|"Words matter. They not only describe a thing, but define it." |
|"I read of some research indicating that most clients prefer their counsellor to be of similar age to themselves, or a little older. If so, maybe I need to amend my directory entry and specify that middle-age anxieties are now a speciality." |
|"‘So what qualities do you think make for a good counsellor?’ The radio presenter’s microphone stared hard and expectantly into my face, eagerly awaiting the required sound bite." |
|"The two elderly aunts lived together, spinster and widow, my closest relatives other than my wife and small children. I would call by every fortnight or so, and the visits prior to Christmas, Easter, or the children’s birthdays took on a familiar pattern" |
|"Throughout the three decades I’ve plied my trade in the counsellor’s chair, I’ve been required to submit to regular one-to-one supervision. I am now on my eighth supervisor, all bar one of them, women." |
|"You find me in playful mood. Might be the fact that the ‘Dun Listening’ sign is in the window and I’m looking forward to a long weekend off."|
Three hours between clients. The sun is shining and it’s a shame to be indoors. The tall front hedge needs trimming and even with my new extendable battery-powered hedge-trimmer it’s a job I don’t relish, fearing one day I’ll over-reach and topple off the ladder
In practice - A pile of dead leaves
Three hours between clients. The sun is shining and it’s a shame to be indoors. The tall front hedge needs trimming and even with my new extendable battery-powered hedge-trimmer it’s a job I don’t relish, fearing one day I’ll over-reach and topple off the ladder. Besides, I hate the clearing up afterwards. I toy with putting it off, settling down to write another column, or just lazing in the back garden. In the end the protestant work ethic wins and I strap on the trimmer and climb the stepladder. Meanwhile, unbeknown to me, 150 miles away in Cumbria, a man of similar age has just made the same decision and it will cost him his life, innocent victim of a taxi-driver on the rampage. On such minor decisions and accidents of geography do our fates hinge.
Of course, most of us like to think we have more control over our destinies. Our parents urge us to do the right thing; our teachers tell us to think before we act – as if a little care and consideration will keep cancer, murderers and mayhem at bay.
The teams of counsellors have been sent in, journalists and film crews flood the area and everyone seems to be asking the same question: ‘Why?’ Would knowing why somehow make the awfulness easier to accept or do we think that understanding one crime (or 30) will give us the knowledge or tools to prevent another? I find myself asking a different question: ‘Why not?’
Anger, rage, hatred, destructiveness, even murderous feelings are part of our human make-up. They’re necessary, and can work to our benefit, empowering us to escape danger or repel enemies bent on our destruction. The skilled surgeon knifes the bastard cancer cells or zaps them one by one with his laser gun. The trouble is sometimes the wiring goes wrong, our sense of value and perspective goes awol and a neighbour loses his life over the height of a conifer hedge, or a stranger is stabbed over a stolen parking space. Hardly worth it, most of us would argue. Sometimes there’s not even a peg to hang it on, as a lifetime’s helplessness, frustration and impotence are expunged at the squeeze of a finger, as pop-pop-pop goes the serial killer. Result: Taxi-Driver 12, The World Nil, until his own-goal suicide brings the final whistle.
What stops me losing my temper when the person ahead of me at the checkout can’t find their credit card, or someone nicks my parking space, is that I know I’ll look stupid and my outburst won’t remedy the situation. But I also know that on another occasion it could easily have been me inadvertently holding everyone up, or opportunistically pushing in. ‘Think how you would feel if someone did that to you,’ the primary teacher urges the bully, in an attempt to instil a modicum of empathy for another’s feelings.
Empathy works against our abusing others, but so too does our ability to anticipate the consequences for self of our own actions. And yet there are times, even for the best of us, when we really haven’t got it in us to consider the feelings of others, and our immediate emotional needs seem so urgent and compelling that we give no thought to the consequences of our behaviour, until it’s too late. Or perhaps we are simply so far down the road of hate, we no longer care.
A conclusion no regular watcher of the news media can avoid is that, in the main, it is men who go on the rampage, and men who murder their estranged children and/or spouses. ‘If I can’t have you/them, then no-one will!’ They thereby project all their own hurt and victimhood onto others.
A client turned up late and distressed, explaining his lateness and condition was due to a not uncharacteristic act of road rage, having chased, for several miles at breakneck speeds, a driver who had cut him up on a country road. I recall the old adage, ‘Don’t get mad, get even.’ This client had done both and with gusto. He also happened to be a medic. I guess the man, or rather the little boy inside, was trying to protect his fragile sense of self. Sadly, and worryingly, he did it in a way that undermined his sense of self, not only in the world’s eyes, but his own, for when he came to, parked by the side of the road, he hated himself. To his credit, instead of topping himself, or tracking down the other driver to wreak revenge, he found the courage to confess his shame, and look it in the eye. Too many women cry rather than get angry; too many men get angry when they really should cry. We men would do less harm that way. We’d also heal better.
Somehow, bagging up my pile of hedge-trimmings today doesn’t seem so onerous. After all, I could be in Cumbria.
Kevin Chandler is a therapist and supervisor in private practice, and author of Listening In: A Novel of Therapy and Real Life.