As a parent, I have learned a very valuable skill which I familiarly refer to as a “redirect.” Of course, this only works on young children whose attention is easily shifted. I have not tried it on twenty-somethings, but I have watched the caregivers that take care of my dad use it successfully on him.
The way the redirect works is you use a ploy to distract the child from whatever is causing them a problem. Let’s say they are crying due to frustration with being unable to get another serving of ice cream. This can quickly turn into a tantrum if left unchecked. As they are pouting or fussing, you shift their attention away from the ice cream and redirect it towards a toy or a bunny that hops into the backyard. They forget what they are crying about, the tears instantly dry up and they are filled with excitement for this new distraction. Tantrum averted.
Since my dad’s dementia, I have witnessed the caregivers shift his attention away from finding an imaginary button he felt he dropped and will continue to look for with a deepening frustration using this same tactic. The caregiver will deftly pretend to put the button into her pocket, reassure him that they will get it later, and then present something new to him such as a magazine with pictures or a puzzle. He is satisfied and easily distracted.
This redirect is not solely for people with diminished capacity or for toddlers. It is also imperative, from time to time, for the rest of us. How often have you found yourself sad about something and a friend or loved one will do something silly to break you from your funk? I have done it and have had it done for me. I appreciate someone caring enough about me to redirect my attention from my sadness to something more positive.
As I write this, as a nation, we are on the verge of a national tantrum. It is tragic and emotions are running justifiably hot. I don’t have solutions and won’t venture into speculation in this area, but it seems like we may need a redirect of some kind; a glorious event around which we can all remember what it is to love one another. I thought the successful launch of SpaceX could be this type of thing, but it seems like it has failed to capture the nation in the way previous space launches have. The Olympics would have been a wonderful redirect as we could get lost in the world class competition of athletes representing the best of all of us. Of course, that can’t happen.
The return of professional sports may be just the ticket even if they are played without fans being present. The German soccer league known as the Bundesliga resumed play several weeks ago with new rules in place for the safety of the players. The only fans are those glued to their TV set and the piped in fan noise over the PA. Think of laugh tracks for a bad sitcom. It seems like it is possible for the return of some athletic competition here in the states. It also seems like this would be a great time to do it.
In no way am I suggesting that the problems we are facing can (or should) be brushed under the rug or ignored. I do not mean to diminish the outrage that is being expressed as merely emotional outbursts. But I do suggest that when we see ourselves as part of something bigger, our differences can disappear. Tiger Fans come from all walks of life. Members of the same church find themselves worshiping next to people who are quite different from themselves. On September 12, 2001 we were all Americans. I still see ourselves that way and feel alone in that thought.
I don’t remember a time when there was such a difference in emotions all at the same time: rage, fear, isolation, sadness, shock, to name a few. Maybe it’s not sports at all that we need to redirect our attention, maybe it’s kindness, care and love for others.