Blanket or Sword?

Imagine that you are traveling through a dark forest. You’re tired, you’re hungry, there are thieves and rogues chasing you, and all you want is a break. Suddenly, you see a flickering light ahead of you, and as you walk toward it, you are drawn by the tantalizing aroma of fresh-baked bread. The forest opens into a clearing and there is a cheery looking inn welcoming you with an open door and the promise of rest and safety.

You make your way to the reception desk and a friendly innkeeper says, “Welcome Traveler. Do you require a blanket or a sword?”

It’s not the question you were expecting, and your face betrays your confusion. Fortunately, the innkeeper is extremely perceptive and broadens their question. “Which do you need most right now, Friend?  Do you need a blanket – the comfort of a soft chair, a hot meal, and a listening ear, so that you can vent your troubles, or do you require a sword – the solution to a problem?”

On the surface, it’s a simple question, and yet, these two choices – blanket or sword – embody the most important ways we communicate as caregivers.

Some of us are blanket people. Our first instinct is to comfort and soothe. We will listen for hours as the people in our care express fear, anger, and insecurity, and we simply take it all in, and give back endless back rubs, mugs of hot tea, and hands to hold.

Others of us are type-A, sword-carrying, problem solvers. We react to every question or statement with the offer of a solution. Sometimes, we jump to resolve an issue that the people in our care are capable – and may even prefer – to handle themselves, because we’re wired to “fix it.”

Neither one of these personality types is better or worse than the other, but sometimes, instead of reacting from instinct, what we really should do is ask the question: “What do you need right now, a blanket or a sword?”

Sometimes a person with the problem to solve already has a solution, and just needs to be heard and comforted before they act on their own behalf. Sometimes a person who is going through a lot needs to be guided toward a real solution, because they cannot act on their own behalf. Of course, there are times when a person needs both the blanket and the sword, and that’s okay. What’s important is that we, as caregivers, let the people we take care of tell us their needs as much as they can, and that we give them a safe space to do so.

As caregivers, especially in times when we are facing burnout or emotional overwhelm, it’s also important for us to be able to answer this question. Knowing if you need comfort or a solution is helpful whether you’re speaking to a friend or a therapist, because it gives you the right kind of support. How often has a well-meaning friend thrown solutions at you when what you really needed was to vent? How many times have you had to listen to well-intended platitudes because you didn’t make it clear that what you really need is help solving a problem?

Communication is a frequent topic on our pages because good communication is the key to every other success in caregiving, and in the rest of our lives. Why not, then, add this simple question to your communication toolbox: Which do you need right now, a blanket or a sword?

1 thought on “Blanket or Sword?”

  1. Gail Braverman

    I so appreciate your clarity with encouraging us to speak up and be clear about what we need as caregivers. People will not know what we want unless we tell them.

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