Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Helping Older Folks Reframe

Before I framed my intuitive understanding of framing, I tried to help people who felt stuck shift perspective, with varying success. With older people, it usually amounted to this: don't sweat the deficits; your situation doesn't compel you to be optimal! The saving grace of aging is that responsibilities decline along with capacities. The decline is only daunting if you ignore half of that equation. Which, alas, most of us do.

In "A Tale of Two Chowhounds", the foundational chowhound origin story, I recounted how my friend Howard Turkell struggled, after his stroke, when names and numbers didn't come easily. He'd sputter and rage at every impasse, while I kept pleading with him to remember that, since he no longer ran a business, he had all the time in the world to connect from point A to point B. He could relax!

But Howard's sense of self required sharp recall, even if his actual life didn't, and he had no fluidity in his sense of self. A classic case of frozen perspective. And, alas, I wasn't yet skilled at inducing reframings.

I've gotten better at it (see dialog below with an octogenarian friend). It's not so much a matter of what you say (mere words can't coax a reframing) as how you say it. And there's no one canned response that reliably gets the job done (you've got to bake fresh every time). And, above all, you must realize that the popular impulse to sympathetically buy into a person's drama by turning solemnly serious in a cinematic gesture of solidarity only stokes the problem. A frozen perspective hardly benefits from corroboration.

A frozen perspective can only be fixed via a light-hearted, casual, and preferably well-humored flip. Light as a daisy! No one has ever been liberated by affirmation of the horror of their perceived monsters. You needn’t laboriously slay the dragons. Simply shift your attention.

If you do induce a reframing, no sobs of grateful relief will be heard. Big drama is just more frozen perspective. Real shifts of perspective often yield only a subtle experience of dislodgment."Oh...right! Okay!". Mild sheepishness at most.

Read a previous example of inducing perceptual reframing. In that rather dramatic instance, not one drastically-transformed person recognized what had happened (let alone who'd coaxed it). Again, enormous shifts can feel tiny; a mundane experience of dislodgment. You simply move on to the next thing. Liberation is often so non-stupendous that it doesn't even register.

If you could magically animate a sculpture, like, say, Michelangelo's David, he wouldn’t shower you with thanks, or questions, or demand clothing. Sculpture David would scratch his ass and try to recall the task he’d been in the middle of. “Hmm...what was I just about to do, again?”

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