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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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The Domino Effect

Have you ever stood dominoes up in a row about an inch apart and then tipped the first one over? It’s fun to watch as the first domino hits the second, the second the third, and in a matter of seconds, each domino is down, having been hit by the one behind it. It is only if someone starts the dominoes falling at the other end of the line, in the opposite direction, that the dominoes stop somewhere in the middle.

It is the same way with things we are led to believe, assumptions we make that we haven’t thought through. Somewhere we have heard something, and accepted it as truth. We pass it on with assurance and, like the dominos, it travels from one person to the next unquestioned.

Silence is assent. Our silence means we agree with what is being said. Whether it is a racist joke, gossip, or just someone’s point of view. If we are silent, the speaker will assume that we agree with him and is encouraged to continue both his belief in what he has said and his appropriateness to spout it as “truth”. Like the dominos, the opinion is passed on from one person to the next. It continues until someone disagrees, presents an opposite view, and makes the speaker reevaluate his assumptions.

This was brought home to me just recently as I heard one of my neighbors complain to another about the noisy celebration across the street that had kept her up all night. The second neighbor listened sympathetically, began agreeing with her, sympathizing with the inconsiderateness, and taking on some of her anger.

Then a third neighbor passed by, joined the conversation and said, “Was there a party? I didn’t hear anything.”

I suddenly realized that I hadn’t heard anything either, and began to wonder what had really happened. Had a very noisy party really taken place? Were the facts faithfully presented? And yet, here we were sympathetic and at least one of us in agreement without any idea of what was real. I was embarrassed, not because I had taken part in the discussion, but because of my silence.

This phenomenon also applies to ideas about how to treat a well spouse. People who have no experience with the situation will tell you how often you should visit your ill spouse, what you should say, how you should act, and pass this information on to other people without experience. This goes on in a domino effect. It is only when someone challenges what is being said that the falling dominos are halted.

Rochel was chatting with a group of women when the conversation turned to someone in their community who was chronically ill and in a nursing facility. All the women felt badly for this person’s situation and one woman stated how unfortunate it was that the well spouse only visited three times a week instead of every day.

The other women readily agreed and like dominoes, each internalized what was the “right” amount of times one should visit a chronically ill spouse in a nursing home.

It wasn’t until Rochel challenged them that the dominoes stopped falling. Rochel told them that her father had been in a nursing home, and how hard it had been for her to visit. She was younger at the time, and did not have pressing responsibilities, but visiting more than twice a week left her depressed to the point of being incapacitated. How much worse it must be, she felt, when it is your spouse in the nursing home and you have a family to care for as well.

Rochel thought that visiting twice or three times a week was wonderful. She didn’t think she would be able to do this in the same situation. Suddenly the dominoes began to fall the other way. The women had gained new insight – insight based on real experience.

They began to see the three visits a week as a positive act instead of a negative one. Now, whenever the topic came up, they supported the spouse, encouraged her to visit only when she felt capable of doing so, and passed that message on to anyone with an opinion on visitation. And so, the dominoes fell the other way, for the good.

We all take part in conversations. We all spout ideas that we feel are correct, though chances are we may never have even thought them through. Perhaps we should challenge these ideas so that the dominoes can stop falling, or perhaps proceed the other way, based on knowledge and information.

Most of all, remember that we don’t need to participate in a conversation to be part of what is going on. Our silence gives agreement and approval to whatever is being said, whether we actually agree or not.

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/the-domino-effect/2004/10/20/

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