No Really, Context Changes Everything

Last week my social media feed lit up with nurses sharing pictures of bloody operating rooms, the middle finger being raised, Sam Elliott smirking about someone being a special kind of stupid and talk about nurses playing cards. Nurses across the country were getting more outraged by the day.

I started piecing together the reason for all the kerfuffle. Some woman in Washington State had said something about nurses playing cards all day. Wait, this woman was actually a legislator. “Well, clearly she’s ignorant” I thought. I spent two days in the hospital in 2017 and the nurses were the main reason my experience was so positive. It wasn’t because we were playing gin rummy.

Eventually I figured out this woman was named Maureen Walsh.  There were posts suggesting that people send her decks of cards. Thanks to getting swept up in the frenzy, I started thinking of some more…shall we say, interesting things to send her. I’m not a nurse and I started taking her words personally. How dare she?!!?

Here is what I was definitely NOT doing. I was not assuming positive intent.

Then my curiosity kicked in. What exactly did she say? I wondered. So I googled her and found this article, where she expressed her regret. “Damn straight,” I thought. “You are going to regret getting all those playing cards.”

In the middle of the article is a short video where you can hear her words come out of her own mouth.

Context Changes Everything

In the segment, Maureen Walsh is making an impassioned plea to save a rural hospital. The hospital she was referring to is likely not economically viable in today’s strict regulatory environment; in her example, the whole hospital might have 6 patients at one time. She was trying to make the point that the law they were making could be the straw that broke the camel’s back on the ability of that hospital to continue to serve her district. Oh, and by the way, her mom was a nurse. Through new eyes, I saw her comments completely differently.

Context changes everything. A few years ago, I wrote about a bad water ski fall I took because I allowed the context of a situation keep me from seeing some critical details.

There is always more to the story than meets the eye.

In the Maureen Walsh case, I see at least three threads.

First, when I heard her speak in that video, I heard something very different than a woman accusing nurses of being lazy, card playing drags on the system. She is trying to save nurses jobs and sustain patient care in her district. Nowhere did I get that she doesn’t value nurses.

Second, rural hospitals are closing in record numbers. The complex regulatory environment is contributing to that. Anyway you look at it, hospitals closing in areas that desperately need them is a bad thing.

The third thread is also worth exploring. Nurses took the tiny spark of her words so personally because there is so much dry tinder to ignite the explosion. I’m in these conversations regularly with clients and friends. Nurses ARE often undervalued. They shoulder unbelievable burdens in the hospital environment. Once again, I’m reminded that we only take things personally that hit a point of vulnerability within us.

In my own case, the nurses were responsible for at least 90% of my experience. That is consistent with what I’ve seen and heard from other friends and family who have experienced hospital stays. The work that nurses do is beyond valuable.

What I can’t help but wonder is this: what if the nurses that took offense started with assuming positive intent? What if the few that started this meme simply chose to take her comments as support instead of criticism? What could have happened to heal our currently broken healing system?

In reflecting on my reactions to Maureen Walsh’s comments, I’m reminded again how important context really is. I’m also reminded to pay attention to my own beliefs and the way I take things personally. In this case, my mind was so willing to jump to conclusions – and with context and curiosity, I saw things completely differently.

In this busy world, it’s tempting to love the shortcut and draw quick conclusions. Who has time to dig deeper? But how much damage am I doing to myself when I fail to see the bigger picture? Where is my desire for the quick fix setting me up for the long recovery?

Where are you taking things personally that are not personal? How do your own vulnerabilities shape the way you see things? Where are you operating on beliefs formed with only a tiny piece of the full story? Where would context change everything for you?

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