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Anna Törner: The minute between life and death

“I have never told anyone about this day that happened more than 20 years ago. But I sometimes reflect on what happened, on what might have happened. When I try to understand why I haven’t told anyone, I find the answer: a feeling of shame. There is no forgiveness for something like this, even though it is very human to be distracted for a moment,” Anna Törner writes in a column.

The paddling pool was only a about 20 centimetres deep, and my daughter and son were jumping around in the water together, up and down. He couldn’t yet balance himself, but she was holding his hands. I was sitting on a bench a few metres from the pond, and there were people everywhere on this hot summer day.

I looked towards the big pool and the diving tower, where a little boy was gathering the courage to dive from the 3-metre diving board, which caught my attention for what, maybe 30 seconds or a minute?

Turning my attention back to the paddling pool, I saw my daughter playing with another little girl, and my son was nowhere to be seen. I took a few quick steps towards the pond and saw him lying under the water on his back. I pulled him up, the seconds felt like minutes. He laughed with delight, and I cried with relief. No one realised what had almost happened, the play and noise around us continued as before.

Shame is one of the primary emotions that are fast-tracked in the amygdala, one of the emotional reactions hard-wired in our limbic system. Reactions that would ensure our survival on the savannah, where the risk of becoming someone’s dinner is very real.

Most of our primary emotions, such as fear and disgust, are directed towards immediate dangers. The feeling of shame has a more indirect function: to ensure that we don’t do anything to jeopardise our membership of the pack. Ensuring that we were not rejected was essential for survival. Today, we are facing other types of danger, but in terms of evolution, our limbic system is the same.

We are reluctant to stand out because our limbic system tells us that we would jeopardise our position in the pack.

We work in the most difficult of industries, requiring collaboration between different disciplines, and success requires more than the boss just saying, ‘this is how we do it’, as they hardly ever have the answers. We all have to be brave and make our voices heard, dare to speak our minds, and dare to dissent. To kindly point out that someone higher up in the hierarchy is likely to be wrong. Yet I often clearly feel that our instinctive reflex is to keep quiet.

We are reluctant to stand out because our limbic system tells us that we would jeopardise our position in the pack. To dare to be brave, we need to feel safe. To feel an openness to the fact that it is okay to make mistakes and that it is actually better to make mistakes and fail than always to duck. The story in the introduction is about my son, but above all, about the enormous power of our subconscious and how it affects our interactions with others.

Now it’s almost summer, and some children will drown in Sweden. I feel that if my story can remind us of how quietly and quickly a situation can unfold, then it is worth telling. I also feel that my story can be my catharsis and my way of forgiving myself. We all want to be brave and strong, but I believe we are strongest and bravest when we dare to show our weakness.

Artikeln är en del av vårt tema om News in English.

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