Personality And Context

She was not that bad. She was actually quite entertaining. I was, to be honest, totally flummoxed by the fact that there was a side of her I found quite engaging.

I must admit I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed her talk on that day. When I first saw her as one of the relatives of my patient many, many years ago, she was, quite frankly, a long, sharp thorn on my backside.

But on that day, she was in her element. She knew her stuff. She took questions from the audience and answered them well, full with comprehensive explanation. Pretty impressive, I must admit. Far from the image of an overbearing, fussy and difficult-to-please relative that I have always associated with her in the past.

When I told one of my colleagues about her the day after, she was full of disbelief. “Split personality?” She joked.

I shook my head, after reflecting for awhile. “Different context yields different persona. In different settings, you put on different masks. After all, that is exactly what persona means.”

Persona means mask. And just as the actor may change his mask and costume, so does the individual ‘seems’ to change. Deep inside, she/he may be NOTHING like the mask she/he puts on.

It is a scary thought, isn’t it? Because how do we know, which one of the many different masks truly reflects the person underneath? 

***

During housemanship, I was with a bunch of HOs eating a late lunch when my friend had jokingly said, “I wonder macam mana husband specialist S ni boleh tahan dengan dia. Mesti husband and anak-anak dia depressed.”

Even when I was not yet a PSY MO, I knew that sentence was illogical. “Mana kau tahu dengan husband and anak-anak dia, dia akan jerit-jerit juga macam dia jerit dengan kita? Entah-entah solehah, mithali habis! Who knows dengan diorang, mungkin dia macam perempuan melayu terakhir.”

They thought I was being sarcastic, and they all laughed.

***

“My father behaved differently lately. He talked over the phone for hours at night and not sleeping. He started singing randomly. And lately he started buying that coffee for ‘kuat batin’. He is also divorcing my mother and plans to marry another person. You should have read his messages to his new girlfriend. It sickens me. I think he is manic.” Said one relative of a patient.

“Hmm…. but his so-called manic mood is not pervasive. He functions well. All his behaviour can be attributed to someone who is falling in love with another person.” Said the doctor who treated the patient but couldn’t see anything that can be attributed to any particular disorder. 

“But this is not the father that I have known all my life.”

Look, do we know our parents in all the different contexts that exist in their lives?

Come on! You probably started having memory of your parents starting from the age of 4-5 years old. Before that, you were babies and you couldn’t really remember anything much. If you are a second child, and your elder sister is 4 years older than you at 8 years old, it means by the time you were 4 years old, your parents had been married for 8 years already (and that is if they had conceived your elder sister immediately upon marriage. Otherwise, they might have been married much longer before you finally have any memory of who they are as a person).

You have missed how your parents were when they were kids, themselves. How naughty they might be, for example. You might have missed how your parents were as a teenager. Maybe your father really was the ‘gedik’, over-familiar, licentious type of a person when he was drugged by love. So his whatsapp messages that sicken you now might simply be part of his premorbid personality. You don’t know how your father is among his friends and colleagues. (For example, an elderly mak cik was surprised that her elderly husband had belonged to a whatsapp group consisting of all his male ex-classmates. And the contents of the whatsapp group, said the makcik, was shameless and overtly sexual. She could not believe her husband and his friends could talk like that and when she confronted her husband, the husband just laughed it off by saying “orang lelaki memang cakap macam tu!” What the hell?? Won’t the mak cik’s childen be shocked if they knew? See? The kids do not know their parents in other contexts!)

Even a wife does not know how her husband behaves at his workplace! Her husband might be the flirtatious type who talks to all his colleagues and staffs inappropriately and when the wife finds out that her husband has an affair, the first thing the wife would usually say is “I never saw this coming!”

You see, she only saw her husband when he puts on the ‘husband’ mask at home. He has many other masks; one of them might happen to be  ‘the one that saja suka test market’ mask, for example. (A lot of guys like putting on this particular mask. An intelligent woman will never fall for it. It never fails to amuse me when I saw such mask being put on!)

I was a HO when I saw a married person in a superior position speaking inappropriately to his subordinates (in case, you are wondering, that subordinate was not me! I don’t think anyone would dare. I have that malignant vibe that scares everyone. I always make sure my boundaries are clear! I simply put on my ‘bitchy’ mask and people know to stay appropriate. This is actually my favourite mask, LOL.) And I remember thinking, “My God, aku ingat doktor-doktor ni busy, dan tak mungkin akan ada affair. Shit happens even in the hospital. Poor his wife.”

I learned to ignore such occurrences and thought to myself “this is none of my business. As long as you guys don’t do anything more than a verbal banter in front of me, I will ignore it and pretend I don’t know.”

But believe me, behind your back, people do talk. 

bitch
My bitchy vibe!

***

I was impressed with my mother when  I saw the sort of respect she got as a senior midwife when I was in my 4th year and had followed her to her workplace in order to observe how Malaysian labour room worked. I went with her when she was doing her night shift at the hospital and I saw how hardworking she was and how knowledgeable. Before that night, I never knew that she was one of the trainers for midwifery and also an exam invigilator for midwifery exams. I saw how the junior midwives all consulted her, asking her to verify their VEs.

I saw my mother in a new light that night.

I was so used to thinking of her in the context of her being my mother. I loved her. I knew she loved me. She cooked delicious meals for me. She made sure I had everything I needed to be a good student. She worried for me when I fell ill. She pushed me to toe the line of etiquette when we had guests at home. Sometimes, she nagged at me when I didn’t do my house chores properly. She could be real fussy but still adorable. That was how I thought of her.

I never thought about her intelligence and competence as an experienced midwife. I knew my father is an intelligent person because he was the one who taught us our academic stuff when we were growing up; he was in charge of our academic discipline. My mother was not in-charge of our academic. She was in charge of cooking and cleanliness and shopping and stuff like that. Somehow, my mom’s intelligence was not something I consciously thought of, before that night. Whether or not she was an intelligent person, was neither here nor there because it wouldn’t change anything, in my short-sighted opinion at that time. She was just… my mom!

But that night, I saw her in a different context. I saw her in the midst of enjoying her conversation with her friends. She didn’t talk with them the way she talked with me and my sisters at home. At her workplace, she was the most senior midwife, someone with a level of authority (that didn’t show much when she was at home because my father was more dominant) and she was also someone’s friend. She was more light and carefree. Their conversation could turn silly too… and at times, my mom was downright hilarious. I never saw her as someone hilarious, before.

I was like, “Damn… I don’t know my own mother. All these times….” It was like I had been blindfolded before and now, someone had released my eyes from its oppressive covers.

I was glad I saw this side of her that night. I felt proud of my mother in the context of her as more than just my mom. I saw her as a person in her own right regardless of whose mom or whose wife she was. And that night, I truly saw her as an intelligent, competent and incredible woman.

Since then, I believe that a woman must contribute to the society to remind herself that she is more than just a wife and a mother. It might not even be a paying job… she might just be volunteering at the local surau or at any soup kitchen. But she must do something for the society in her own capacity. Even if she has a rich husband, she must do something to feel worthy in her own right as a person. Otherwise, people around her may underestimate her and do not truly SEE her… even as they love her.

No one can ever make me give up my work. I might not always be a doctor later… I might take an early pension or do something else.  But I will always work in one way or another. It is what God created us for… “memakmurkan bumi, isn’t it?”

In a way, this is how you fulfil your purpose of life. By working!

***

When I was just a junior MO, I was upset by a talk given by someone in MMA regarding ‘housemen these days’. The talk was mainly about how the flexi hours would make HOs incompetent as an MO and they would be a burden to specialists later and so on and so forth. *rolled eyes*

When I was a HO, flexi hours were not yet implemented in full. I worked in on-calls for most of my Housemanship training. So, I didn’t feel personally attacked by the talk.

But in principle,  I just hated “senior budget bagus”. Hahha. I have issues with seniors like that.

So I wrote a blog post entitled “Practicing Medicine In The Age of Doom and Gloom” and it went viral (unintentionally, of course). Some specialists had written on their facebook comments about my arrogance. I read that comment and I laughed out loud.

Such silliness!

Sometimes, I wonder whether or not people really understand what the word arrogant really means. Do they just use the word to describe anyone who disagrees with them or anyone who retaliates to their own arrogance?

You were the one who had said that the juniors would never be as competent as you were because of the flexi hours system (isn’t that arrogant too?), and yet we were the ones who were arrogant when we defended ourselves against YOUR arrogance? (In psychiatry, this is called projection, ok!)

You were the one who shouted at HOs, enacting histrionic drama in the ward, and bullying HOs unnecessarily, (one particular specialist actually commented on HO’s clothing and make-up, deliberately embarrassing her in the rounds. How does her make-up or clothing in ANY way related to her work, you tell me. And one MO had said to another houseman, “You tak payah mai kerja kalau macam ni. Kenapa? Husband you tak dapat tanggung you?” How does her husband’s ability to support her become a topic related to her work performance? Ridiculous!) And when one HO decided that such unacceptable conduct should not be tolerated and then wrote about how she felt on her own blog, suddenly you thought the HO was arrogant?

Give me a break!

Why don’t you connect with her in a different context and behave better yourself, then maybe you will find her humble and nice. Maybe, she just refused to be nice to bullies! As simple as that!

It was Plato who had said, “the measure of a man is what he does with power.”

measure of a man

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him. So, you can judge whether or not a person is arrogant based on how the person treats someone below himself/herself. Is she nice to staff nurses, other HOs, other PPKs? Does she say thank you to her subordinates who had assisted her on-call or does she simply complain about HOs non-stop and didn’t bother to thank people who had helped made her life easier?

Some people can be polite to their superiors. And that is not surprising! Of course, a self-serving kaki-bodek would do so. But the same person can find so many things to complain about HOs in whatsapp groups non-stop, blowing things out of proportion. 

If  you want to know who is arrogant, ask people of the lowest position in an organization. Don’t take the word of the highest echelon in the organization who might feel easily offended just because other people don’t meet his expectation of  how much he should be respected. Sometimes, people don’t respect you out of your own doings and your own faults. 

***

Who exactly are we?

If we take off the many masks that we put on in our daily life, who are we?

Depending on contexts, the person I am dealing with, how closely connected I am to that person, how annoying a person is (and many other factors), I too have masks.

Indeed, everyone does. It doesn’t mean we all have split personalities! It doesn’t mean that we have some sort of personality disorders or are manic or whatever.

When I was in my 5th housemanship posting, one specialist had said to me “You look so quiet! But in your blog, you seemed so outspoken.”

In my heart, I was like, “If you give me enough reason to attack, I can be that person in my blog, too. Give me enough reason… then watch me.”

Instead of saying that, I didn’t make any comment. I just laughed.

She asked “Did you write about me?”

“No…” I paused. “Not yet.” I added cheekily.

She laughed and said, “If you write about me, make sure you let me read it first. If I say ok, then you can put it in your blog.”

I never wrote about her. She wasn’t a bully.

I was just a houseman. Of course, I would pick my battle… and my main target in my daily houseman life was just to finish my job as soon as possible so that I could go home as soon as possible. I didn’t pick a fight for every single thing that annoyed me… I only picked up the ones that had crossed the boundaries into abuse of power and bullying.  I didn’t seek unnecessary interaction with MOs or specialists. I only talked to them regarding work-related issues. I had no desire to socialize with them beyond  that. If I seemed quiet, it was because I had no reason to be noisy. Not yet.

That was my persona (my mask) as a houseman when dealing with MOs/specialists. The mask of quiet, reserved, not-excellent-but-good-enough-not-to-be-extended HO.

But among fellow HOs and friends who I already knew and felt comfortable with, I could be loud and opinionated (just like in my blog) and I could be the life of the party too.

And among fellow HOs or people I wasn’t really comfortable with, I would be back to being quite reserved.

But try crossing my principles (unnecessary bullying, unfair treatment of subordinates, unjust accusation, unreasonable demand for me to do something that goes against what I think is the right thing to do) you will be surprised at how fast I can change my mask. This is what my siblings say, “my lioness mask”.

Don’t wake the sleeping lion (or was it the sleeping giant? Well, something like that… you get the drift.)

Now as an MO, I maintained the same masks and the same boundaries between me, my HOs, fellow MOs and my superiors. I am friendly but firm with my HOs…. I have never shouted or unnecessarily scolded them. My instruction towards them is straightforward and easily understood. There is nothing I hate more than being nagged when I was a HO, and likewise, I refrain from nagging them. Among the many phrases that I refrain to say to them (no matter how tempting) was “during my time… (insert your budget-bagus sentence)”. Haha.

Even if I were to do that, it was not done in a way to patronize them, but more in a way to reminisce about how ridiculous some of the rules were when I was a HO. I am not jealous of their shift system. In fact, I look forward to improving working conditions for everyone and this is a good first step towards that.

With my superiors, I can take reasonable scolding especially if it is my fault. But if it is not my fault, I will certainly speak up and defend myself. Depending on the types of superiors I have to deal with, I mirror their attitude towards me. I can be friendly, polite, indifferent or even hostile, depending on how they themselves treat me. I am not an ass-kisser and never will be. If I am nice to my superiors, it must be because I genuinely like them as a person. Otherwise, I will give them basic level of politeness; just enough in order to work with but nothing more.

When it comes to my patient, since I am the one who see the patient first and clerk the patient fully at the emergency department, I know best whether or not my specialist made the appropriate decision regarding my patient (whether to admit or not admit the patient, for example). If they disagree with my judgment, they can just ask me the appropriate questions to ascertain whether or not the patient should be discharged or admitted. And if my answers all point towards admission, yet they still don’t want to admit the patient, then I would be quite upset. In my opinion, if I distrust the clerking of my HOs, I will see the patient myself and re-clerk the patient myself (my control issues, hahah). So, I expect that if anyone were to disagree with my impression of my patient, then rather than nagging non-stop over the phone, asking the same question over and over again no matter how clear I have been about my judgment, they should see the patient themselves. In fact, I think that is what being on-call is all about regardless of whether you are a HO/MO/Specialist/Consultant.

If a HO distrusts a SN’s report, the HO must go and see the patient herself rather than just ordering the SN to do something over the phone. If an MO distrusts or disagrees with a HO’s assessment, it is the most responsible thing for the MO to see the patient herself (and I always do that. Otherwise, I will put my trust in my HO! Rather than nagging non-stop to assuage my own anxiety). Likewise, if a specialist feels unsettled and feels dissatisfied with an MO’s assessment, I believe it is the responsibility of the specialist to see the patient herself! Why not? Otherwise, just trust the assessment of  your MO, because she is the one who actually gets up from bed, drives to the ED, clerk the patient for a long time and facing the aggression of the patient and educates the family members for hours. If you are not willing to go to the ED yourself, then you really have no choice but to trust your MO’s report and manage the case according to her report.

No matter who you are (HO or MO or specialist or consultant), always remember that “No trust = go and do it yourself.”

This has been my mantra ever since I started working in 2011. That’s why we are on-call! (I will always remind myself that if I ever become a specialist, my MOs are not my sounding board to release my anxiety of my indecision. If I cannot decide, if some bits of the history are still not clear, I will do it myself!)

***

So my personality would seem different to anyone who knew me in a different context or in a different setting… and depending on how annoyed or benevolent I feel towards that person, I would of course behave differently. For a person to make an arbitrary inference of my whole character based on the limited context that the person had known me, would be inaccurate and sometimes, quite foolish.

So to my blog readers, do not expect me to behave the way you think I might behave in person just because you have formed an impression about me based on my writing. Just because you read my blog, it doesn’t mean you know me. You only know me in the context of me as a blogger. This is my blogger persona. In real life, I might not talk the way I write.  So, don’t be surprised (the way the specialist in my 5th posting were surprised. Haha. She is one cute lady.)

You do not know me as a daughter or a sister, or a doctor or a friend. I choose what I want to write and what I want to share. It would certainly skew your perception of me. I might not tell you all my weaknesses and my flaws. But at least, you know my life philosophy, my principles and my thoughts.

No one really knows anyone, really! When you say you can get along with someone, you are actually getting along with his/her mask! One aspect of his/her personality was harmonious with yours. And that’s all. Nothing more than that. One day you might be surprised when you saw the same person in a different setting and find yourself unable to accept how she/he has behaved in that particular context. (Trust me, this is why the rate of divorce is increasing everywhere in the world. Because you find out later that you had married a persona.)

At the end of the day, you are not a sum of your many personas. Deep inside, you know who you are.

The only One who knows you truly and deeply is Allah. 

He is the best of Judge. Other people’s judgments of your personas (your masks, really!) do not matter all that much. 

So, let’s pray that He favors us on the day of judgment.

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