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Common Ground

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  • Common Ground

    It’s been a quiet week in Cuyahoga Falls…

    “Man, you wouldn’t believe how many web sites there are for oplatka.”

    The speaker is my brother Kevin and we’re in my car headed for breakfast. It occurs to me that perhaps no one else has ever said this before, or heard it. I feel fortunate, and I had to laugh.

    I’ve spent many years thinking about how to get my ideas about manual care across to a wildly diverse group of therapists. Long ago I decided to gather the group before me together by referring to the culture we all live in; a culture described endlessly by the media din that we cannot escape. I point out that though we may not like or believe what it says we ignore it at our peril. “It controls you if you take your eye off it,” I say.

    My brother was referring to wafers similar to unleavened bread that are part of many Slavic Christmas traditions. In the Slovak household of my father’s youth oplatka (“oplatki” in Polish) was shared each year at this time and my siblings all remember our Aunt Ann bringing it to our home on Christmas Eve. These rectangular wafers were embossed with sacred images and blessed at the Catholic Church she faithfully attended. Ann had gotten them from the nuns she knew personally and we handled them with a great deal of respect. I remember trying to sense the “blessing” somehow though I don’t remember ever accomplishing this.

    My references to TV and the movies, advertising and the Internet are sometimes met with resistance by the students. Having expended a great deal of energy trying to ignore their presence, some therapists would prefer to deny that they affect their life or practice. Eventually, I convince them otherwise. I think that finding the humor in this makes it more palatable.

    Kevin was searching for oplatka so that he might send some to my daughter Jennie, a sixth grade teacher. She’d casually mentioned at Thanksgiving something about sharing this with her class and he wanted to make that happen. It happened.

    We can’t effectively communicate without metaphor and without finding common ground. It’s been my experience that many therapists share very little in common though we’re all seeing the same sort of problems. “Remember that one Seinfeld episode…” I say, or “What would Dr. Phil say about that?” and several in the room totally bored with the neuroscience light up. I know I’ve got them and now all I have to do is connect what I’ve said to my method and clinical presentations we all see in the common ground of the clinic. This usually works; sometimes not.

    Driving home from Kevin’s place I thought about what he’d done and what it meant to his niece. I thought about the door of his apartment decorated with the cards he’s received recently. Our elder brother, Drew, an Army veteran, sent his former Navy reservist brother yet another five dollars in a card that simply said “Navy 38, Army 3” This is their common ground, and it will be the only card Drew will send this year, but he included some money for his brothers’ breakfasts as well.

    In case you didn’t know it, oplatka doesn’t have any flavor whatsoever, unless you consider "styrofoam” a flavor. We’d always spread honey over the small piece we were allotted, and when I think of it I remember that the mysterious nature of the ritual was always combined with sweetness.

    For my classes I try to add some of this as well. I spread a little humor.

    This usually works; sometimes not.
    Barrett L. Dorko