Posted August 02, 2011 in MH Edmonton AB:
Tips from a Hair Stylist

by Gérard Lesage.

Before I joined Madonna House, I was a hair stylist, and as such, I once attended a talk by a psychologist.

He started by telling a story about a client he once had. At one session, the two of them had decided that she would do something before the next appointment; something hard for her to do but that would be significant for her growth.

When she came back for the next appointment, he asked her how it went. She said she hadn’t done it. When he asked why, she answered that she had talked it over with her hairdresser, and he didn’t think it was a good idea. This started him on an investigation of the influence of hairdressers on their customers.

His take on the subject was that in this technological world, people have less and less contact with others. Often they are either dealing with machines or with people who are so programmed to be efficient that they have no time for a chat or even a handshake.

We hair dressers do both those things, he said, because when people come to get their hair done, they have our undivided attention. Not only are they getting a hand shake, but they are being touched in a very intimate way: we have our hands on their heads.

This makes it very easy for customers to confide in us, so we become counselors of sorts. It was then that this psychologist came to the conclusion that hair dressers need to learn something about psychology.

A number of years later, when I was a staff worker of Madonna House, I was assigned to Marian Centre, a house that serves the poor directly. I decided to put what I had learned from this psychologist into practice.

Not many people will touch most of the people who come to our soup kitchen. So, I decided that whenever I greeted anyone, I would smile and extend my hand for a shake. I did that and discovered that I was making friends with people quickly.

Let me tell you one story, a story about John (not his real name). One day when John came in, I put my hand on his shoulder and commented that he must be working out at the gym. Yes, he said, he went to the YMCA regularly. That was about the extent of our exchange, but after this, I would sometimes meet him on the street, and we would say hi to one another.

At some point, when he came to our dining room, we had another exchange and I explained that we, the staff at Marian Centre, lived like he did, relying on God for all that we have, even our meals. He was very impressed with this, and we somehow became closer.

A few days later, I ran into him again, and I shook his hand to say hello. He told me he wasn’t doing too well. His girlfriend was pregnant, and they had just "broke up."

John was living next door to us at a detoxification center where he had managed to stay off crack for three months. The night before, he had been gravely tempted by one of his buddies to take some crack, but he did not succumb.

His head was kind of spinning. He also told me that he had had "some problems with the law" because he had a few counts of theft against him.

I asked him to pray with me for the person who had stolen money from me just a couple of weeks before. I thought he would be the best person to pray for the other thief.

The next day, he came to lunch all smiles. He told me that he had gone to get a few things at the grocery store the night before and had actually paid for what he got for the first time in his life.

Before that, he had always stolen what he wanted. He said that he felt strange paying for the stuff, but he also felt that he had just won another victory in his life.

Using people’s names also connects people. Another day, just as we had finished washing and putting away everything from the noon meal, a very intoxicated man showed up wanting lunch. He had snuck in as someone else was leaving.

By the time I arrived on the scene, he was verbally abusing another of the men staff who had told him he had come too late.

There was no way this man was leaving. He kept saying that he was cold and all he wanted was a "!%&*#%" bowl of hot soup. He was the type of man who could easily have become physically violent.

I tried offering him a cup of coffee but that didn’t satisfy him. At some point in our conversation, we were able to get his name: Joe. When we addressed him by his name, he began to soften, and we eventually were able to get him out.

A few days later, I was giving out sandwiches at the back door, and when I opened the door for the fiftieth time, I put out my hand to give my usual handshake to the person there. We smiled, and I thought he looked familiar. No sooner had I asked him if we’d met before, than I recognized him.

"Oh yes," I said, "you’re Joe." He looked a little sheepish and said "I’m sorry about the other day. You can trust me, but you just can’t trust the booze."

Joe and I are good friends now, and he is always asking me for prayers so that he can stay away from the booze—not an easy thing for him.

Yes, I have discovered for myself that things as simple as appropriate touch and using a person’s name are wonderful tools in the art of loving our brothers and sisters.


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