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'Why did the chicken cross the road? To escape the cannibal'


Have you heard about Flossie the cannibal chicken? If not, you have come to the right place.

Flossie was one of a group of four chickens in a chicken coop. One morning, when the keepers went to feed the chickens, only Flossie was left.

I’m guessing that they quickly reasoned that one of three things had happened.

  1. Three of the chickens had tunnelled to freedom.
  2. Evolution had kicked in overnight and three of the chickens had flown the coop.
  3. Flossie had killed and eaten the other chickens.

A search for clues found no tunnels or discarded chicken-sized mining tools nor any swooping chickens overhead. Flossie, however, lay against a shed wall burping over a pointless toothpick with a bloodstained beak and a drumstick on her lap.

Something went wrong for Flossie and she turned on her own. There is no way back from eating a chicken, unless of course you aren’t a chicken yourself - if you were a fox or a person, it wouldn’t make the news.

Just goes to show that chickens are like every other species - OK I’m guessing about a lot of species - some of them are not very nice. This seems particularly clear when reflecting on our own species.

We can, if we are feeling miserable or touched by self-loathing, notice that in the words of the inimitable and splendid musician Nick Cave: “People they ain’t no good.” The case for the prosecution calls hundreds of witnesses ranging from war, genocide and man-made famine to street violence, the stoning of ambulances and fraud.

I know that for every act of terror or unkindness, there is a rationale or excuse, from “we are carpet bombing people to free them from oppression” to “he was drunk/upset/not himself because he was drunk/unloved/lacking in self awareness” - but the truth is some people are not very nice.

Indeed, some people are difficult. They can be aggressive, confrontational, self-serving and manipulative. They can believe ridiculous things about other people’s rights, religions or haircuts and maraud through life being hateful. If we are lucky, they don’t touch us too much or too often.

But all people are potential patients. Even the nasty ones. While we know

that all patients need to be treated the same - with unconditional positive regard

and empathy, and non-judgementally - constructing that regard and that equanimity takes energy, skill and sometimes our full attention.

Nurses face managing difficult people in difficult situations every day. Some patients can be wearing, spiteful, vicious, unhelpful and even vile. And it is a given that they require the same considered management as “easier” patients. The emotional energy, skill, consistency and awareness required to attend to difficult patients is wholly and unquestioningly assumed.

I wonder if, as nursing continues to come under scrutiny from so many quarters, the consequences of emotional labour should not come under the scrutiny of nursing itself? Do we even acknowledge the need to re-nourish? To articulate the continuing professional development needs of nurses in this area?

The emotional labour of nursing remains all but overlooked, perhaps because it does not fit into the construction of the idea of nursing as a quasi-medical profession. If so, what a strange oversight. A progressive idea of nursing requires more than a focus on knowledge and skills. It requires a professional and educational focus on protecting and rearming nursing values and qualities as well. It requires a collective willingness to re-nourish nurses.


Readers' comments (36)

  • Very well said, I think that the emotional labour of Nursing isn't as much overlooked as ignored completely.

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  • "....that all patients need to be treated the same - with unconditional positive regard"

    I would rephrase that

    "...that all patients need to be treated" with the same "unconditional positive regard"

    my patients and everyone else i encounter individuals with differences and i treat them accordingly but with the same positive regard

    please excuse my nit picking but I find this important as I do the topic of your article.

    I am still desperately but unsuccessfully seeking the title and further information on the book you wrote which I saw referred to in the comments here and which sounds like a must have, must read!

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  • Hello both; We are a long way from prioritising the less tangible but core issues like emotional labour because of the political climate in my view. All the more reason to bang on about it perhaps.
    Anon; yes your phrasing is more accurate than mine.
    The book is fiction and is called 'Gabriel's Angel'. Thanks for asking.

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  • Adrian Bolt

    "I know that for every act of terror or unkindness, there is a rationale or excuse, from “we are carpet bombing people to free them from oppression” to........"

    I can't help noticing that you are equating "carpet bombing people" with "acts of terror". Very lazy thinking Mark. The countries who engaged in carpet bombing (i.e. the allies during the war and the US air force in Vietnam) were all representatives of liberal democracies which for all their faults were fighting unelected regimes or in the case of the Second World War an elected fascist regime.

    Carpet bombing was the only form of bombing available at the time and while it might sound nit picking it was the factories and housing that were being bombed not the people themselves. Or in the case of Vietnam large swathes on largely uninhabited jungle.

    Comparing the indiscriminate injury caused by the terrorist bomb with the sort of military action currently being carried out in Libya and Afghanistan, involving precision bombing where every possible care is taken to avoid civilian loss of life, is frankly absurd.

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  • @Lard Wheel Inn | 13-Jul-2011 1:00 pm

    we should of course be talking of nursing and this is a little off thread but are you absolutely convinced that the half million or so casualties of dresden and hiroshima were collateral damage of legitimate industrial/military targets? or, just maybe, terrorising the civilian population to pressure their governments to capitulate?

    and the "oops, we did it again!" precision targeting of al jazeera is not an attack on free speech?

    wake up and smell the napalm!

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  • Lard Wheel Inn: Well loathe as I am to ever defend anything I write (it feels like bad form) whilst you may dispute that carpet bombing people may not induce terror can we agree - as my sentence says - that it is unkind?
    Nice pic :-)

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  • I agree Mark, emotional input is entirely in keeping with the principle of service. I a business and product orientated economy unseen essentials such as emotional labour or kindness are at best hard to fathom and less easy to measure and make a profit from. How do measure the worth or a kind but economically unnecessary kind word to someone in distress? How do you challenge this in a manager who is 'time is money and waiting time targets' orientated?

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  • Adrian Bolt

    Neatly dodging the issue there anon @ 3:07pm. You are right to a point of course the carpet bombing of Dresden was a terrible thing as “Bomber Harris” freely acknowledged at the time, when you are fighting a total war you can bomb the factories or the people who work in them (or more accurately the homes where they live) which is why of all the war generals, admirals and air chief marshals he was the only one not to be recognized with a peerage or title after the war. But don’t forget the axis powers employed their own terror weapons V1, V2 rockets and in the case of Japan nerve and chemical weapons.

    But all of this misses the point that was then this is now. Now we are fighting an enemy who is implacably dedicated to the destruction of the West and every thing it stands for, an enemy that would make the wearing of beards compulsory and who would stone to death any woman thought to be having an affair, an enemy who sends suicide bombers into crowded market places, puts remotely detonated bombs beside roads and flies fully laden passenger aircraft into tower blocks or had you forgotten what we are dealing with here. Compared with that what is the killing of a few innocent civilians when the odd smart bomb goes astray although regrettable is pretty insignificant. We spend more on NOT bombing innocent civilians in one raid than the Taliban spends on health care in an entire year.

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  • Edwin...there you are - I was beginning to think you weren't bothering to drop in!

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  • michael stone

    Mark, are you actually saying, to put this very simply, that awkward and challenging patients can sometimes provoke inappropriately 'well sod you, then' 'influenced' behaviour from their nurses ?
    And that you feel nurses, and their employers, do not adequately examine and address this problem ?

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