One of the things that has become increasingly obvious in our society – and it seems to have been underwritten by the ubiquity of social media – is an almost total absence of civility among the human race.
We have, it seems, cast off all restraints that might have led us to be gentle, kind, compassionate, empathetic, sympathetic, polite, respectful, and courteous, and we’ve become brutishly uncivil in our words, our behavior, and our actions toward each other.
Kate Swaffer, who is living with early-onset dementia and who is sharing her struggles not only in her writing, but in active participation in dementia groups in her country, recently pointed out her own experience in dealing with pervasive incivility.
And it is this group of people – our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease – who can often bear the brunt of our collective slide toward being completely uncivil in every aspect of our lives.
Our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease are not intentionally doing and being any of the things that are behaviors and symptoms associated with neurological damage and decline. In fact, most of them, with all their mental faculties intact, would be absolutely appalled at what they say and do in the throes of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.
Therefore, it should be even more incumbent upon us as caregivers to consciously be civil toward our loved ones with these neurological diseases. They deserve – and need – our gentleness, kindness, respect, empathy, compassion, and politeness in all that we say to them and all that we do with and for them.
Any less than that is unacceptable. Our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease didn’t ask to be where they are, just as many of us, as caregivers, didn’t ask to be where we find ourselves with them.
However, the reality for both us and them is that we are here. And it’s our responsibility as caregivers to always strive to do and say the right and most civil thing (and sometimes not saying anything is the right and most civil thing we can do). It’s not easy. But it’s necessary.
Often we’re children caring for a parent or parents with neurological diseases and/or other age-related illnesses. No matter what the state of our relationship with our parent(s) has been or become, we have to go back to the beginning of that relationship when we were in the position – as babies – they are now.
For the most part, they didn’t walk away when things got hard: up and down all through the night; constant crying and fussiness; changing dirty diapers and washing up; feeding; holding; and nurturing day and night with no break.
They hung in there with us. I’m not pretending it was easy or it was always pretty for them. They got frustrated. They did and said things they didn’t mean from time to time. They got tired. Sometimes they probably didn’t even like us.
But overwhelmingly, they loved us. And that love, for the most part, was the actions and words of civility. They were gentle, kind, compassionate, empathetic, and they soothed our cries, our fears, our hunger, and our other physical needs in a way that we should be mirroring back to them as we find ourselves doing many of those same things for them in their old age with ravaged minds that were not of their making.
And we should be the examples of civility with the rest of the human race as well. Anybody can be a brute. Anybody can say nasty things, mean things, hurtful things, and untrue things.
That’s the easy way, and that tends to be how our human nature runs.
But we should be different. We’ve already taken on the hard way by choosing to be loving caregivers for our loved ones.
We should also embrace the hard way of being civil to everyone. It doesn’t cost us anything except consciousness and mindful self-control to put a guard on our words and actions to not hurt, injure, damage, or destroy other human beings in any way.
I urge each of us to consider this and make it an actionable part of our lives, starting right now. Let’s stop and think about what we’re about ready to say and do and make sure that it is civil before we say or do it.
We can do it if we choose to. Let’s make the right choice from here forward.