When my mother's world became smaller...

— Open hearts and wedding bells

Open hearts and wedding bells (at 95 years old)

by Rob Husband

My mum has just got married. Nothing unusual, there you may think – but if I tell you something else about my mum it may pique your interest a little more. She is 95 years old and her husband is 93. My mum has been a widow for 30 years and has been very loyal to my dad, but she decided to undertake an adventure which is having a positive impact beyond her and her groom’s emotional happiness.

When my mother’s world became smaller, she became tense and her physicality became worse. In contrast, I’ve noticed that when she opened her heart to new possibilities her health improved. But the impact of opening her heart has reached even further; it has changed her relationships with other people too. I guess that when a heart opens to one person, it opens to others as well. In the run up to the wedding my mum spoke more openly and it has made some of her relationships easier. It has made me wonder what it is like to open your heart in the workplace. What impact does it have?

I have been doing some work with an organisation and one of the people there had some concerns about how things were going, so he raised it with me. I know that sometimes I can get defensive and try to avoid any less than positive feedback landing on me, but I chose to approach this meeting in a more open-hearted way. I chose to trust that the other person had the best of intentions, and I opened myself to the possibility that I could have done some things differently. We had a very fruitful conversation, acknowledged that our discussion would affect the future positively and, at the conclusion of our time together, we thanked one another for each cooperating.

There is a risk to being open-hearted because it allows others to see you and experience you at a deeper level, and it means that they may be more honest with you, which can leave you emotionally dented and bruised. I guess that, as well as opening my heart, I have to develop a level of resilience, so that I am comfortable to work with feedback without getting defensive. At the very least, I can hold that feedback, evaluate it and ask myself questions. And I have to be willing to accept that I have blindspots, which others can see. Ultimately, I guess I must accept that I am who I am, and I’m not perfect. I do some things well and some things not so well, and I need to be comfortable in seeing my true self – the good and the bad – without being harshly judgemental.

Parker J. Palmer says that “the human soul is a shy animal”, and so it needs teasing out into the open, but in doing so I must consider how I can increase my ability to manage emotional risk. What level of risk am I comfortable with? Where are my boundaries? How do I avoid being trampled on? How do I look after myself? Wisdom is needed to answer these questions, and one thing is sure: my 95 year old mum seems to have it!