People Need People, Especially During Stressful Events

April 20, 2010
Barbra Streisand’s 1964 hit single, “People” begins with the lyric, “People, who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”

Barbra Streisand’s 1964 hit single, “People” begins with the lyric, “People, who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” There is much truth in this lyric because the social fabric which connects us to our family, community and nation requires that we learn to accept help from others. Empathy is the psychological software that allows us to come to the aid of a friend because everyone has the capacity to feel the emotions of others. The presence of another caring person can make us “feel lucky,” as the song lyric goes.

Being alone during an adverse event makes the situation appear worse mostly because there is an absence of another caring person. When one person rescues another, a real closeness can ensue, and this is the glue that binds one person to another.

Many years ago when I was an avid runner, my Saturday mornings began with a five mile run. I enjoyed a particular course because about halfway through there was a pond that I encircled. About 20 Canadian geese resided there and I usually ran among them. One Saturday morning, while running this five-mile course, I noticed a new house being built beside the pond. The frame had been erected on a new concrete foundation.

I believe the geese were annoyed their turf had been intruded because they seemed tense. But in my path were a few goslings, and this began an event that I will never forget. Surmising that I was a threat to the goslings because I was running toward them, the adult geese began their attack. One of the geese led the charge and terror began to set in because he was moving faster than I was. Then the whole flock attacked. The lead goose flew up, hit me in the head and knocked me down. Then the remaining geese pounced on me. Needless-to-say, my fight or flight instincts were instigated, and I made a hasty departure from the pond area. On that dreadful morning, I would have felt lucky to have another person present.

In contrast to my goose attack was a workplace situation involving an irate customer, occurring in the early stages of my customer service career. Yet, the outcome is strikingly similar. One Monday morning I came into work fresh and rested. I poured my first cup of coffee, you know, the one that brings that warm satisfaction. On the way back to my desk I heard my phone ring. I crash landed in my chair, put down my coffee cup and picked up the phone. On the other end was an irate customer. He had bought one of our products on Friday night, had a problem with it on Saturday morning and hadn’t been able to use it all weekend. This customer had two days and nights to think about what he would say and do when he got me on the phone Monday morning.

At the onset of that phone call, the customer was much more prepared than I was, and being caught off guard diminished my capability. My physical metabolism went from calm to hyper-stressed in seconds. The fight or flight stress mechanism was activated without any threat of physical harm.

The biggest difference between these two events was that after the irate customer call, I was able to vent to my boss for two minutes. He listened intently to my frustration about why customers felt they had a license to misbehave. After my rant, my boss thanked me for resolving the matter and then advised me to write a memo about the particulars for future reference. I felt so much better after speaking to my boss about that irate customer. The therapeutic manner in which he allowed me to vent is what enabled me to keep going that day. In addition, writing the memo resulted in rational thinking about the details, and this facilitated a more pragmatic view of what had occurred. I learned that writing can also be a form of purging my emotions - more good therapy.

Yes, Barbra Streisand is correct - people who need people are lucky.