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Scarvey column: You’re stupid and you talk too much

By Katie Scarvey
Salisbury Post
Last Friday, a guy I was interviewing over the phone told me I was the stupidest person he’d ever talked to.
“You’re right,” I said. “I am stupid. In fact, I am probably the stupidest person in the whole world.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my co-workers scrutinizing me. I could read their thoughts: Katie’s run off the rails ó and we have front-row seats!
Actually, I was role-playing. Izzy Kalman, a nationally certified school psychologist, was showing me how he counsels bullying victims. He teaches them to refuse to get angry, to simply agree to hurtful words. To turn the other cheek. Since that response is no fun for the victimizer, he says, the abuse will soon stop.
Then later that afternoon, I was thrust into yet another faux drama. What are the odds I’d get to role play (and be insulted) twice in one day?
This time I was accused not of being stupid but of talking too darn much.
I was covering a fantastic presentation by dementia expert Teepa Snow.
Teepa was pretending to be a person with Alzheimer’s. She wandered around the room of professional caregivers (and me), saying things a person with dementia might say, and doing things a person with dementia might do ó like taking somone’s purse and insisting it was hers.
I don’t have much experience dealing with folks who have Alzheimer’s, so I wasn’t prepared when she shuffled up to me, stared searchingly in my eyes and announced, “I need a pert.”
“A whu?”
“A PERT.”
“I don’t understand. What is a pert?” I asked.
The real Teepa returned from the land of dementia to inform me I should take the “tell me about it ” approach. Aha!
“So, tell me about your pert.”
“You know, you wear it, it’s got buttons,” Teepa with dementia said.
“Oh, so you need a shirt,” I said “Do we need to do some laundry?”I may have said a few other things, since I have a tendency to babble when I’m nervous and unsure of myself.
Teepa cut me off.
“You have verbal diarrhea!” she said.
She was making the point that caregivers should listen more, talk less. When I realized what the patient wanted, I should have shut up and simply helped the poor woman meet her needs. Helped her find a pert. Shirt, I mean.
After I got home that evening, I was thinking about how in both cases, the role-playing had a similar goal, even though bullying and Alzheimer’s are entirely different things.Izzy and Teepa were both making the point that we should focus on our own behavior instead of trying to change someone else’s. We probably can’t turn the bully into an empathetic person. And it’s even less likely we can change the thought processes of someone with Alzheimer’s.
A more effective path to achieving a goal ó whether it’s a bully-free life or less frustration with Alzheimer’s patients ó is to control our own actions and reactions.
So maybe it boils down to this: we can complain about the wind all we want, but it might be smarter to put our energy into adjusting our sails. Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

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