Authored by David Falk
Early in my career as a mediator I was taught the rule of the 4F’s – Feelings First, Facts Follow. This rule is intended to guide listeners to first listen to the heart, to how someone is feeling, to the impact of events, before appealing to their head and negotiating the facts, rationale or logic of a situation. I recently had the opportunity to be on the receiving end of the wisdom of the rule of the 4 F’s.
Over the past eight months my wife Kalyn and I have being going through the process to become substitute decisions makers from our youngest son, Noah, who has profound autism. The process of Noah turning eighteen has been huge with multiple forms, interviews and assessments to determine his level of need (Noah qualified for the highest level of support with flying colours!). To help him navigate life, and to have the ongoing right to speak on his behalf in the case of an emergency or to make other medical or financial decisions, we needed to become his substitute decisions makers. This meant more paper work, references, as well as criminal records, child and adult abuse and vulnerable persons registry checks. Doing this was annoying and costly. But it was also just part of the process leading up to the final step (attending a hearing where a panel of 3 would ask more questions to determine if we should be allowed to make decisions for our son). So you tell yourself that they are just hoops to go through, not to take it personally and get on with the process.
All of our record checks came back clean until I received an “inconclusive” result on my vulnerable person’s check. I was informed that this typically happens when someone, somewhere in the country who shares my birthday does not have a clean record. This meant that to proceed with our application I would need to pay $80, have my fingerprints checked and mug shot taken to prove that I am who I am and not this other person. This hoop was harder to simply jump through. This felt personal; I felt deeply offended to have my data entered into the system to prove that I was “safe” and “competent” to be able to parent my son. I was also worried about the implications (the last time we entered the US the border guard asked if any of us for any reason had ever had our fingerprints taken).
I bristled at the request and when I inquired with the officer behind the desk if this was really necessary to do, I was given a “fact” response. I was informed that this was common and that I would most likely have to have my fingerprints and mug shot taken on an annual basis… but not to worry as most workplaces will cover the cost. I was dumb struck and outraged. To continue to parent my son I would have pay money and go through the humiliation of this process on an annual basis. I tried as politely as possible to inform the officer that this was not for employment and asked if there was not another way to proceed. The officer informed me that he could do nothing, and that the person that I could talk to about the process was not in that day. So I choose to leave and come back another day when there would be someone I could talk to before proceeding with the process.
Round 2: find the time to go downtown, find parking, wait in line and finally get directed to someone who has the authority to talk to about this offensive process. The woman that I spoke to gave me what I needed… she simply listened to my description of the situation and request for options and before seeking to answer my questions or defend or justify the system she simply acknowledged my situation by saying something like “I get it that this sucks and feels pretty offensive. I am sorry that you have to go through this”. This small and simple acknowledgment was powerful and helpful, especially compared with the minimization and justifications that I had previously experienced.
She had applied the rule of the 4F’s beautifully.
Being heard and receiving an apology for the negative impact of a process and structure that she had no control over was helpful in being able to shift the conversation to the facts of the matter: that to proceed with my application this was my only option, that many people have to go through this process and that it was not personal. My head was able to understand and engage the facts once my heart was heard.