Monday, February 11, 2008

If You're Happy and You Know It

Remember that old elementary school rhyme? Some school teacher or camp counselor gathered everyone in a circle having each kid make up their own version of the chorus. It would begin with “if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands, if you’re happy and you know it and you’re not afraid to show it, if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” By the time every kid chimed in their rendition, pulled ears, patted heads, stomped feet and the like were all ways they displayed a state of well being.

Now imagine having a bunch of animal welfare advocates standing in a circle trying to mimic the joys of childhood revelry. With the overwhelmed and overstressed lives many of us lead what if a supervisor implemented that exercise at the next staff meeting? I have thoughts it might go something like: “If you’re happy and you know it deny an adoption, if you’re happy and you know it arrive to work late, if you’re happy and you know it and you’re not afraid to show it, if you’re happy and you know it yell at your staff.” It’s interesting that people become so frustrated and express it in unhealthy and inappropriate ways, without even realizing they are doing so.

There is no denying that professionalism is a requirement when dealing with fellow workers, employers, staff and the public. Why then does a bad morning or earlier frustrations affect the way one deals with the person in front of us?

I once heard a speaker mention the term ‘transfer of aggression’… the reference was in a story about two sibling dogs being walked by their pet parent on a coupler leash. When the pooches spotted another dog across the street they went crazy, barking incessantly and trying with all their bodily force to lunge across the road for a confrontation with their adversary. They worked themselves into a type of chaotic frenzy, focused only on getting at that other dog. But once the dog passed and the focus was no longer available, they turned their frustrations on each other. They snarled at and bit one another and continued their argument until the person holding the leash separated them. These two dogs regularly slept together and shared a food bowl yet were so out of control at the lack of having their needs met they became aggressive to one another.

Often time that same behavior comes into a person’s every day life, especially when working with animals. There might be an dispute with a co-worker regarding the over or under feeding of cats, or a volunteer isn't abiding to the proper dog walking safety rules or maybe a supervisor requests some overwhelming task requiring a days end completion.
It’s no wonder that when a single mom and her 3 year old walk into the shelter to adopt a 6 week old kitten the adoption counselors head practically explodes. With that one uneducated statement, their mind is already made up, there is no getting a kitten from this shelter.
To begin with 6 week old kittens are too young to be adopted. And a three year old toddler would certainly be too rough on the tiny little kitty. In a feeble attempt to educate this unenlightened mom, she is shown a nice calm 5 year old torti cat; explained the benefits of adult cat adoptions, only to offer a deaf ear to the worker.
There is no budging; this woman and her sniffling little child are not qualified candidates for a kitten, end of story. The mom gets angry, only to leave the shelter and adopt elsewhere. If that doesn’t contribute to an already toxic morning, then the next boob, a guy looking for a guard dog, does.

Now let’s admit it, the day isn’t going very well and it’s only getting worse from here. Maybe it’s high time for some self evaluation and possibly even self care.
Is asking a supervisor for an early lunch, a break from the front desk or a trip to the store for a cup of coffee such a bad request? Is there a confidant or co-worker who can be a trusted ear and not commiserate with the already miserable mood? What about deep breathing exercises, sitting still for a few minutes or if things are really out of control, taking the rest of the day off as a mental health day?

Remember, if you’re happy then you probably already know it. But if you’re not, you should know that too.


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