When you have sat and talked to people about their lives – over telephones, down microphones, through post, email and text – you begin to think you can do it.
And then, summarily, you fail.
You can’t make the connection.
I have an image for the way I work. It came from a long ago meeting of assertiveness trainers, to whom I was invited to make a presentation about my work as an “agony aunt”.
I talked about women’s magazines, radio and personal exchanges and after some particular story, a woman remarked “You are a bridge – people walk over you to get to the next bit.”
I liked the image then and I like the image now. Since I was quite clear that being walked over in the popular interpretation of the phrase didn’t happen much to me, I was very happy with the idea – indeed, I spun it for myself – a pontoon bridge, a plank across a chasm, a small bridge under which things hide ie you can get across but you will have to come back and re-examine it: a bridge to and a bridge from.
And I liked the idea that you could make the bridge in the air, out of words, sometimes aided by gestures but often even the gestures were inferred by the words.
Most of the time, my relationship with the general; public has been a charmed one. I am not so well-known that I get hassle, many of my connections are one to one.
And most of them are favourable. So, one day, I was on a winner: I was recognised and talked to by a woman in the tube – general pleasantness, not problems: somebody else joined in on the platform
and then I rode up into the lift with a third.
So I was pretty cock-a-hoop when I surfaced and began to walk down the street – where I met the eyes of a man in his forties – and smiled.
“I can’t stand you” he said evenly.
“I hope you feel better for having said that” I countered, and walked away to catch my breath, hoping the shock didn’t show.
Because, although I deeply believe that Abraham Lincoln was right and you can’t please all of the people all of the time
– and you shouldn’t try to – failing isn’t fun.
Being told you are not appealing doesn’t appeal.
You fail, we say, to get your point across. Sometimes, let’s face it, you get it across all right. It just isn’t liked.
I remember a hateful letter from a rabid listener calling me worse than muck for my beliefs which he frowned on and found offensive on several different levels –
and thinking “and where are you from ? what is this about ?” and thanking heaven that he had enclosed an address so that I could write my dignified rebuttal
“thank you for your communication. I am afraid we must agree to disagree.” I couldn’t resist adding “if these values that you so despise are now part and parcel
of British life – why do you live here ?” And back came the reply – a council house, free this, free that.
But I regret missed communication and recently I had my comeuppance.
About two years ago I met in the street a talented and pretty woman (heartfelt assessment) whom I knew a little a long time ago and she fell on me with delight.
She was rushing, we exchanged addresses. I wrote a note. Nothing.
Some six months later, I met her again – different street, same routine.
And six months after that, again.
Exchange of phone numbers (she doesn’t like the telephone), email addresses (she prefers email) and how we must meet up.
This time, I went to her house, put the card through the door and waited.
We went to a delightful lunch in which I avoided leading questions and I learned about the worms in her Eden.
We also stayed wonderfully sober and laughed a lot – I say this so you should know we were not charmed by the cork.
She bought lunch.
That afternoon, I emailed my thanks (brand new fancy lunch place, it was generous of her), told her where to get the face powder she was interested in and offered
a tentative suggestions about how she might deal with one of her most virulent pests.
I read the email twice before I sent it.
Not a word.