A COUNSELING ROBOT

Rashmi, Sophia,  Ursula, Topio, Nao, Enon and Atlas are proud to belong to the same fraternity. They are miles apart from each other and have never got the opportunity to interact. But, all of them are quite skilful in their jobs and have earned much name and fame. They are, however, highly achievement-oriented and strive hard to improve their skills with each passing day. Though they are unaware of each other’s existence, someday they are sure to share the stage – maybe hold hands and proudly wave at the world flashing beaming smiles with glistening teeth to the thunderous applause of us all.

Well, if you haven’t been able to figure out the identities of those mentioned above, they are Humanoid Robots. They have human looks with a head, a torso, two hands and two legs and are programmed for higher order functioning like problem solving, decision making, identifying emotions, etc. – just as human beings do. Their programmers are thrilled at the success of these robots programmed with Artificial Intelligence.

In fact, the humanoid NAO robot has given its first interactive motivational interview few months back, thus making psychologists think if robots could be Counselors! Participants who attended the session in the University of Plymouth were very satisfied with the experience as NAO was very patient, didn’t interrupt in between and was non-judgmental. Well, aren’t these skills supposed to be some of the defining characteristics of Counselors! Tough competition awaits ahead, Counselors!!

As of today, there still are people (mostly in traditional cultures) who are not open to seeking Counseling for the problems they face. They prefer to whine away to death than to be helped to revive and blossom. In a country like India, we encounter lots of denials and hesitation to seek professional help for fear of social taboo, elders-know-best attitude and the deep-rooted understanding that dirty linen should never be taken outdoors. Though people in metro cities are becoming marginally aware and open to Counseling and Counselors are having their presence felt, people in other parts of the country are still not open to the whole idea.

In such a mixed world order, enter Humanoid Robots promising to be good and effective Counselors! One never knows – it may actually help. After all, for some it is easier ventilating before a machine than before a human. No risk of judgmental statements, no risk of leakage of information shared, patient uninterrupted hearing and encouraging suggestions in return. There may soon even be a hug, a pat and a wiping off of tears! All in place. Excellent!

Everything said and done, it is for humans to ponder if it is worth trading life and blood for lifeless ease. We are increasingly progressing into a world of clicks and commands, start-ups and profits, lure of comforts and the attraction of products – all from one’s own living room. Not identifying with technology is perhaps something that is limited to very few geographic pockets of the world today. With such seemingly all-pervasive technological tentacles, the fear of fading human warmth looms large. As such, people need to be encouraged to be sensitive to the emotions of others, to be understanding, etc. etc. And now with the advent of Humanoid Counselors, humans are soon expected to be aliens to their own emotions.

 If you’ve watched Home Alone 4, you wouldn’t have missed observing how Natalie’s luxurious mansion functioned! Remote-controlled doors that open and close with the commands Door Open and Door Close respectively,  a rotating library that turns 180 degrees to expose a bar at the command Open Sesame, cleaning done with the commands Vacuum On and Vacuum Off are the operational features of the mansion. And how happy Kevin, the kiddo is, to have a room full of large screen games of different types! Soon however, he misses the presence of his mom, dad and siblings.

Technology sure does ease man’s labour! Lifeless technology though promises to make life comfortable and liveable, would be a poor replacement to life and blood. We may have Humanoid Counselors, Humanoid parents to supervise children, Humanoid teachers in classrooms and so on, but it sure is a dangerous trade.

There is no escape to the advent of robots and Robotics. The present generation of school-goers find all things manual to be dull, drab and monotonous. Technology allures. Mechanics entice. With pre-teens and teens engrossed in robotics today, the future is bright for a world largely operated by robots.

However as of today, I find it unimaginable for me to have to share my heartaches with a Humanoid Counselor and expect human solutions from an object who has never been human. I would freak out if I were led to a Counseling room to find a robot on the chair as my helper. But, then this leap is on the cards for sure. A few decades before, people commuting to different countries in ships didn’t imagine that airplanes would be the order of the day decades later. And we humans are quick to adopt ease and adapt to it. The younger generation of tomorrow would gladly welcome robot friends and would not wince a bit to discard human aid.

There is no escaping to Robotics. However, till we can, lets strive to keep our humanness intact and encourage others to live up to be the humans they were created in the very first place. Because, when man fiddles with humanity itself, God steps out in His own way to show who truly is the one in control!

HOPE – THE ANCHOR OF LIFE

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Plenty of emotions

flooding the thoughts

hard to let go the feelings

As I cannot see the weakness

the pain that is unexplainable

the suffering that is unavoidable.

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Pain is an integral part of any disease. Pain can be suffered but the pain given to the heart is always unbearable.

Nowadays there is a growing number of cases of cancer around the world. Yet people are strong enough to survive in some cases. Medicines are just a booster to your confidence, the main cure is only through love and care.

Nothing can beat the love and care given to the patient in curing an illness. The caregiver who is the closest to the patient must always ensure to give the best comfort they can at any point of time. Trusting and gaining confidence in life lets even the worst conditions become better.

I remember a boy from my school days, with whom I had not acquainted much. Years later even when I moved from one school to another, I had being in touch with many of my old friends. Unanticipated I remembered this kid in a conversation with my friend. She conveyed that he was suffering from cancer. It was a shock to me, as for me he was the brightest kid I had ever met. I was quite disturbed, yet a prayer evokes from my heart for him. Years passed, whenever I hear about someone suffering from cancer, this kid from my school comes into my mind. A very pale young kid who was very studious. Later I came to know he did not survive, but yes he did his exams excellently and passed with a good percentage. For a moment I felt so proud of him, as he did work hard even when he was in pain.

The struggles he had gone through, I could picture it, but never knew the pain. It was his mere confidence that took him ahead in life until is dreams were achieved.

One has to be hopeful in life to overcome all the obstacles in it. Hope is the only elixir of life. To bring in hope to a traumatized person is rather a difficult objective, yet not impossible.

“He is suffering because he did it”

“He is suffering because he is punished for his wrongdoing”

“Oh poor, she has cancer, she should have been careful”

All the illnesses are uninvited guests, we do not bring into us just because we enjoy suffering. It is something I wish to tell anyone who would love to quote the above sentences. Life is quite unpredictable. Hence who gets what is not in our hands. It is our duty as mere people to be with the patient, help them fight it.

The sufferer needs a healthy surrounding with healthy minds around. Only a healthy and sound mind can cure any worst illness. During the chemotherapy, they lose their confidence, their health, and their mental strengths too. Pain clouds their thought process, it is then we need to be around to hold them together. Let them not break down and show that life is not a cake walk.

Encourage them…

Show that there are many who need them…

Give them healthy food to eat…

Keep their mind busy…

Let them know that “Hope is the anchor of life”…

So never lose it…

BE AN EMPATHIZER, NOT AN ADVISER

Advises!

Suggestions!

Taunts!

They irked me so much during my sickness last month. I even warned few of my family members, shouted at them and reprimanded few of my friends lovingly.

People usually showed their sympathy and started giving examples according to their thinking and understanding of the matter or issue. There were very few who could really understand what I was going through at that particular moment of my suffering. ‘Empathy’, what I was needed, not sympathy from the people around me.

In sympathy, emotions are predominant. The sympathizer relates emotionally with the person concerned. But in empathy the intellect and discerning are predominant. The empathizer focuses on understanding the person’s frame of mind, his/her context, how he/she feels and why. Then it becomes easier for him/her to talk, counsel, console and comfort the victim in a better and successful way.

A classic differentiation between sympathy and empathy was displayed by Liza  in her poem: Sympathy and Empathy a Poem have a look at it.

A week ago I elucidated few encouraging messages that I received while I was in the hospital. And I was elated and strengthened by each of one of those messages because each of those messages reflected the sender’s empathetic heart.

An empathizer always puts his/her feet into the victim’s shoe and try to understand how it feels to be in that shoe.

Just imagine about the person who has lost his/her spouse or children. Consoling that person or a bereaved is all the more difficult as the grief level of a bereaved is the highest in comparison to any other sadness or grief. How can we be empathetic in that case if we do not have any such experiences in our own life?

Let me give an example I just remembered. When my cousin died of an accident and I was weeping for him before flying for his funeral my aunt here in Kolkata was trying to comfort me as she was also in pain. She was saying, “I can imagine how it will feel if my son would have died today. The pain of that mother is so great who had lost her son.” That’s a cry of an empathetic heart. And I have seen her comforting me, my wife and few others at different times. She is the best in doing so.

We had a week for a topic called, “Managing Grief” last year in 2016. I wrote an article where I had mentioned about few things that we should remember while consoling or comforting a bereaved. They were: Listening to them patiently, Giving them a hug, Allow them to weep or wail, Cry with them, Talk less with them, Don’t force them for anything and so on.

I quite liked this statement that I stumbled upon in WordPress:

What is the true essence of therapy? What is a key aspect in loving? What is understanding? The answer to these questions is an ability within self that requires learning and growing, this ability is empathy

Recently, I came across the term, “Validation through Empathy“. Psychology Today says, “Validation is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s thoughts, feelings,  sensations, and behaviors as understandable.  We may approve it or not that’s a different matter but we accept and understand the person and his/her feelings.

I have a video which can really make sense and help us all to understand the concept of Validation through Empathy. Let’s watch it.

Whoa! Excellent! Isn’t it?

I have been trying desperately to be a person like that… A person who will not judge other’s frailty but understand and accept his/her actions, emotions and mind. I sensed people feel comfortable with me, sharing their hearts because to some extent I could provide the warmth of that empathy which they desperately need when they are vulnerable. And I will strive more and more to be validating their emotions through empathy.

Dear Friends! Our level of empathy actually determines how good we can be in consoling or comforting those who are going through difficult situations.

Keep reading, keep learning and keep leaving your feedback.

Stay Blessed!

A STAIRCASE THAT LEAD DOWN TO A DEAD END

Akshit shrugged as he was sitting in his balcony, looking at the sky blankly – his eyes getting wet as he remembered Anamika.

It was the vacation time and he was busy with his friends playing cricket, cards, roaming around and celebrating with them. He could not even imagine how quickly those 10-12 days passed away. She was a neighbor and was part of the group. Her family and his family were in good terms. All the neighbourhood friends were together almost the whole day except during the night. She was with all of them too. But when they both were alone, many times, she would suddenly become quiet in the middle of their conversation. He was so naive to be aware of the pain that she was going through. He was in 12th class and not mature enough to understand what she may be going through. He was busy making fun with her and all the friends. She even showed him a letter that a guy had given her sometime back. She read few lines for him also. She was talking about that guy. He did not even remember what she was talking about that guy. What was her problem? He was so inattentive that time. 

Akshit’s vacation time came to an end and he was ready to return to his place of study. He said good bye to her but she was looking terribly pale. She held his hands and said, “So you’re going finally?” Her voice was feeble. Akshit thought this feeling to be just an emotional expression caused by his departure. But he never thought that it would be her last expression of his best friend. 

Akshit came back to his place of study and after 4-5 months of his return, he was busy preparing for his 12th Board exams. That time he received a letter from his mom in which she had mentioned about an accident that she witnessed which had left her traumatized. But she never disclosed anything to him as he was busy preparing for his class 12th Board Exam.

His exam finished. Summer vacation started. His parents visited him for a few days and one day at the breakfast, Akshit’s mom started crying and telling him about the incident she mentioned in the letter few days before his exams. And her statement literally stopped his heart beat for a few seconds when she said: “Anamika is no more, she committed suicide, and nobody knows why she did that.”

It was difficult for Akshit to even accept what he heard. Her smiling face started dancing in front of him. He stood there for sometime looking at his mom sobbing and telling him about her. That day he went to the bathroom and wept quietly but bitterly. All the memories of his last visit flashed back. The only thought that was torturing him was that he could not help her; he could not save her life. He could not stop her from  going down a staircase that lead to the dead end. She was opening up before him, but he could not understand her heartache. He literally started blaming himself for the loss of her life.

That night he prayed to God and asked forgiveness for not availing the opportunity given to him that day. He asked Him the strength and the power to observe people closely, to be a good listener, to be attentive to people’s needs and to understand their heartaches. This memory made him sensitive to the slightest pain of any person who interacts with him. It alerts him every time he talks to a young boy or girl about their problems. Despite the guilt and pain, he was grateful to God for teaching him this hard learnt lesson. 

HOW TO CONSOLE A BEREAVED?

Couple of years back I had to face one of the most difficult situations of my life twice. It was, talking to the wives of their deceased husbands. My voice was shaking and I was stammering. I was unable to choose my words while speaking to them. Somehow I managed to talk to them in two different days.

Afterwards, I was pondering on this matter deeply.  I recalled  the time when my brother died in an road accident in January 2011; I was in the same condition as they were now. I just tried to recall the messages and the calls and the consoling words of people for me at that time of bereavement. Some were irritating, overdone and some were quite comforting.

Finally, I came out with a list of Dos’ and Don’ts’, which will give us an idea about this matter. 

Listening Patiently: When we face a bereaved family, the first thing we have to do is just listen to them/him/her patiently. She/he will cry, sob, speak deliriously and we will have to be just quiet and listen carefully. That was one thing really helped us when people came and listened to us at that particular time of grief.

Give a hug: “Jaddu ki Jhappi” (Hindi), ‘a hug’, really comforts. If it’s possible on our part to give a hug then we should not hesitate to give it as soon as we face them. But be careful of the situation and when we are comforting a person of opposite sex. We need to be sensitive and responsible enough of our each actions. 

Don’t stop them from weeping: Some people try to stop the bereaved persons from crying by saying, “Please don’t cry… the person won’t come back… .” I will slap a person if I face that kind of comfort from him/her. We should never stop the bereaved from weeping in fact we should allow and encourage them to weep and wail more. That will help them to unburden themselves. They will feel lighter if they do so.

Cry with them: If possible when they cry or weep, we should cry with them. It will give them a sense that we are also sorrowful as them. It doesn’t mean that if we don’t feel like crying we will pretend to cry. It should be natural. We may not weep if we don’t feel like.

Don’t describe about the deceased: We should not describe about the deceased in front of the family members again and again with others. That doesn’t give them opportunity to divert themselves from the situation. Even sometimes that irritates them.

Don’t force them to eat more, if they don’t feel like: We should never force them to eat more or do something which they don’t want to do. We should give them enough space to gather their own strength and come back to their old state of mind. But we should always be careful about their food and physical health. Grief is highly draining. It sucks all the juices and energy of person’s body. 

It is really difficult to specify which are the correct ways of consoling a particular family or person. But the above points really gave me comfort and I think those will be helpful for all of us when we face this kind of situations in our lives.

Be blessed!