This is one of my favorite sayings. I credit it to Manfred Smith, an amazing teacher and leader of the International Learning Community. When homeschooling alongside some fairly rigid and structured family members and friends, I was often torn between becoming “Attila the Hun” or “Janis Joplin”. Two extremes, neither guaranteeing success. Manfred lived this in an unforgettable way when staying for dinner after a home visit. I suspected he was a vegetarian and apologized that our meal was not accommodating. Please forgive me organic vegan readers. Our choice to homeschool limited our income and even car usage, so there was no running to the store to supplement the meal. I do not remember his words, but his message consisted of simply and graciously stating that he eats what is offered. His vegetarian commitment was not as important as his commitment to relationship. An example of choosing your battles. I felt “enough” by his statement where before I had felt “not enough”. His response mitigated the childhood flashback when the bachelor pastor of the church showed up at the curb and mom ripped out her pincurls and agonized that bean soup was the main course . . .
As a caregiver of a father-in-law with Alzheimer’s, sometimes I had to abandon the shower mission in favor of leaving the bathroom with a modicum of peace and having a happier afternoon. The showers were often reduced to “critical areas” with washcloth. I chose the skirmish over the battle. Over time I developed strategies that allowed the shower to be successful, but never 100% of the time. I became adapt at dropping back and re-assessing. There is no shame in this: Great military leaders have done the same.
As an activities director for nursing homes I was successful because I knew how to choose my battles. Paperwork was critical. I had an assistant who loved large groups. I learned to offer small engaging groups in short sessions that met special needs and allowed me to be on top of my documentation.
Another example was Gloria. She was the one individual out of 120 individuals that was a high wanderer in a home that had no wander guard system. She walked all day, wandering into rooms regardless of infectious control signs etc. The care team decided to put up a velcro STOP sign to keep her from these rooms. It did not stop Gloria. What did was a busy box at every nursing station that was just for Gloria. She resonated with babies, so the busy box was replete with appropriate baby things. What also worked was providing her with frequent snacks to sit and enjoy. Now Gloria continues to be a driving force in my passion for quality care. She resides as a sad note on the limitations of commingling individuals with dementia with those who do not have dementia. Nonetheless– I knew at that home, at that time–a small skirmish could be won, a large battle could not.
Choosing your battles may well be easier to grasp depending on the individual’s personality. Rigid perfectionism is a disability in this arena.
But my work with people in general and individuals with dementia in particular has proven the golden value of this saying.
Is it better to be right or to be gentle?
How important is it really?
Will it injure anyone?
Sometimes our personal agenda is more harmful than being flexible. The higher calling is the one that leaves none harmed.