“My True Awakening, Iraq!”

               I grew up in a very judgmental society. As children, we were taught to judge people by a whole lot of things, none of which included their character. Now before you go pointing fingers at my parents, they too were raised this way as were their parents before them and their parents before them. Still, it doesn’t make it right. Rather, right and wrong are defined by the social environments we create. Go outside those social expectations and you became a target. So, most people just blindly accepted what society expected and life went on. Sadly, those who did not fit in due to the prejudicated and extremely uneducated views of most outspoken society members back then, bore the brunt of some very cruel and mean things.

HSPs are Prone to Fast Mental Exhaustion

               As I grew up, I felt, not learned, that there was something inside me saying this is not right! But being an HSP, I was busy trying to hide my own internal ‘outsider’ for F.E.A.R. of repercussions. This was much easier, albeit not easy, due to the color of my skin. I had already experienced the wrath of society by letting some of my HSP trait slip out. Madagascar changed a lot of that for me. I was exposed to the emotional conflict between the white and black South Africans while I was there, due to years of segregation and apartheid. Shameful on both sides in my view!

Landing in Dubai for the first time was another complete culture shock that I was definitely not prepared for. I knew little about this emirate, its people or its cultures. Only what North American society falsely believed. I was to join an engineering team in the city and spend a few weeks preparing for my trip to Iraq. My job was to take over a project just South of Baghdad where the previous contractor had been kicked off site. Many HSPs have a very unique skill when it comes to dealing with hostile situations. Their kind and empathetic demeanor helps others become more kind and empathetic. The drawback is after all is said and done and the situation is resolved, HSPs are often exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

Figure 1. Dubai… A City that Needs no Introduction

               Many hide this fact from their employers and attempt to endure far more than they are capable of. The sad part is, employers do not recognize this either and believe they have a machine gun that they can rapid fire to handle all their difficult situations. They believe “people are people” and we should all be the same. This, I can assure you is not true, nor is it healthy. No one can honestly deal with extremely difficult people all the time and doing so will result in eventual burnout. Many employers simply don’t care; we are treated as commodities that are easily replaced. Little did I know, the Canadian Company that hired me was one of those companies. Of course, back then I had no idea I was an HSP or even what the heck was going on inside of me. I worked harder at hiding it than I did at learning about it.

A Difficult Job in Iraq

               Landing in Iraq a few weeks later took me from a cultural shock to culture over-load! Not just that, but suddenly the truth was being exposed in an extremely grand way. The world that I once knew was crashing down all around me. The news segments here in North America are a cross between a failed comedy hour and a massive propaganda machine. As I was being transported through the war-torn country, even though the war had ended years ago, the devastation it left behind was nothing less than emotionally crushing to me. I had no time to assimilate or even begin to process what I was seeing. Seeing such destruction and the effects it had on the people of this country, no cultural adjustment or recognition would have a bigger impact on me emotionally.

That is the expectation, especially of men. Deal with it! Grow thicker Skin! Don’t be a baby! These were the words I learned as a child. I arrived at site and was introduced to the people I would be working with. Many of them were from Iraq, my team, however, were all from Pakistan. Our task was to complete all the documentation and test reports required in order for the client to sign off on the project which in turn allowed the prime contractor to get paid. I was told in Dubai that there were about 6,000 of these documents that needed to be completed and I had 8 weeks to do it. Yet when I got there, I was led over to a forty-foot sea can, full of boxes. The gentlemen who took me there simply said, “there you go, good luck”. There were over 14,000! Many HSPs are extremely good at organization, and it has nothing to do with wanting to be organized, although many of us need to be. It’s our feeling of not wanting to disappoint people that drives our organizational skills. I quickly assessed the new situation and held a quick meeting with my team of 14. I might be mistaken, and probably am, but the Pakistani people I had working for me were probably all HSPs. For they were some of the kindest, most empathetic people I had ever met. Their commitment to tasks assigned and their efforts to please were refreshing to me. I truly enjoyed working with them. And, if I can be so bold, I believe they enjoyed working with me as many still stay in touch to this very day.

Figure 2. Loads and Loads of Documents – Memories of my Time in Iraq

An HSP’s Organizational Skills in Action; A Difficult Task Managed Beautifully

               There were a few other expats like me on this project, hired by the same company. They were from western countries like Wales, England, Ireland, and of course Canada. They too had their own teams but with different responsibilities. I was placed as the lead, although I usually let people do their jobs and don’t play the “I’m the Boss” card as I have learned many do. The initial process was easy; an estimated 14,000 documents over an 8-week period worked on by 15 people, myself included, working 10 hours a day. Take away meal breaks and what I call chit-chat time and you end up with a goal. Our goal, as I explained to the team, on a whiteboard showing them the math was 2 documents an hour each. An easy target when identified that way. Plus, it set an obtainable goal for my team which they appreciated.

One thing I also learned in my years is, if you treat people with respect, give them obtainable goals, and help them sincerely, they will move mountains for you. I have also seen the “boss” type people yell and scream at their people, including me, which removes any motivation. Within a week, our team was kicking out 4 documents per person per hour. Not only were they professional looking, but dead on accurate. My employer was seeing this progress and so too was the client. After five weeks, we were so far ahead of our schedule and I decided my team needed a break. Now in places like Iraq, you are not paid by the hour, you’re paid by the day. Trust me, the Pakistanis are paid very little in comparison to expats. I brought my team together one morning and told them how well they had been doing, but I did that regularly and in a sincere way. Then I told them we no longer needed to work 10 hours a day, some of which would work longer just to beat their goal and prove themselves. We only had to work 8 hours allowing them to either arrive later or leave earlier. The smiles on their faces could have lit up the northern winter sky.

Hostility at Work and Finding an Even Better Job

               Our progress continued even though we had reduced the hours needed. But not all were happy! I was sitting in the lunch room one day and two of the expats sat down in front of me. They expressed their displeasure in me only working my team 8 hours, while they had a hard time getting their teams to fulfill the expected outcomes in 10. This is what happens when you treat people poorly, although I didn’t say that to them. I stood my ground and told them I was proud of my team and that their efforts earned the reward. I instantly went from being a nice guy in their eyes to something one would find in the middle of a buttocks.

I recall being invited one night into the dorm rooms of the local Iraqis who I got to know and who, just-so-happened, were working for the displeased expats. Funny thing about camps like we were in, word spreads fast. I got to sit with them as they played their instruments, sang their songs, and shared lime tea with me. I was a sponge, soaking up all the culture these amazing people were offering me. Their deep cultural heritage was clear, their belief strong and their compassion for one another truly amazing. I am not a religious man, although I am very spiritual, believing in something that lies outside what typical religions want us to believe. Mine is far more real, due to what I experienced as a child, (Chapter 3 in my book, Facing Fear through adventure), I have also learned that people should be allowed to believe whatever they wish, provided it doesn’t hurt others, and that’s where extremism comes in. The night was full of songs and happiness as I witnessed the true lives of the Iraqi people. I felt like I belonged there, in fact, I felt like I belonged somewhere for the very first time.

That belonging would not last, however, for the expats I had stood my ground with had deployed what western culture typically uses when they don’t like someone or something else. Social un-acceptance! A skill often learned in the schoolyard playgrounds and carried with those of less intelligence into adulthood. HSPs are use to this, as we have always been targeted by these types. It takes great courage and strength to deal with it, especially if it’s relentless. Part of that tactic is wearing the target down over as little time as possible, in other words, keep picking on them until they break, even if it means lying about them. I held my ground as long as I could, but eventually it got to me and I had to leave. Part of that departure included racking up over $25,000 USD on my credit card buying parts and materials for the project and having the employer tell me I needed to wait 90 days to get reimbursed and that they were not going to cover any interest fees. It doesn’t take an HSP to recognize when you’re being used, but, being an HSP, getting used really hurts.

Once again, I was offered a better job with an Abu Dhabi owned company. This came from the previous client recommending me. I recall sitting down in their main office in Abu Dhabi when they asked “How much are you looking for?” As an HSP, I have a hard time asking for things, especially when it comes to money. Again, this is because how we feel when we are asked. I told them what I was earning on my last contract and to my surprise, they instantly came back with “Oh we can do way better than that!” and they did, one and a half times of what I was making previously. I was embedded in an engineering office with over 100 engineers of various cultural backgrounds. Most were extremely kind, a few, mostly westerners, were of a less savory nature. My role was to review the electrical, instrumentation and telecom’s construction work packages being generated, if I approved, I signed off on them.

“Just Killing Time”

               On my first day, I sat at my new desk and a young lady pushed a cart with over 40 binders loaded on it. She introduced herself and said she would be back later to retrieve them. I grabbed the first one and started to review it. It held over six hundred pages! As I went through it, I quickly found most of it was just useless pieces of paper shoved into a binder to make it look big. I had reviewed three in an hour when the young lady came back requesting to take all of them back. I told her I wasn’t finished yet, she just smiled and said, “doesn’t matter” and carted them away. I suddenly realized this was a fill-in job, pretending in giving me something to do until the site was ready. Most would lavish over such a position.

Figure 3. Time is Precious.

               As an HSP, being given a task without real purpose or value is extremely painful. Time is the most valuable gift we have and many of us cannot understand why people waste it. They not only waste it, they kill it, “I’m just killing time”. Why kill something when you can use it, and use it to do something amazing! People think there is no end of it, but I can assure everyone there is. Giving me pointless work just to kill time is ill-rational and unacceptable in many HSP’s eyes. However, it is something we must endure in order to fit in to normal society. You want something done, give it to an HSP and give them a quiet place to do it!

Back to Iraq

               The new site was located back in Iraq, in the far corner of Kurdistan actually, but Iraq will not recognize their request for sovereignty.  Kurdistan is an amazing region where multiple cultures seem to be able to exist in harmony. Our project was in a remote region, near the Turkish and Syrian border. Not far from us was the city of Mosul, which was currently occupied by Isis. I had to give safety talks to the newcomers, and unlike the talks we gave back home, these talks had to explain such things as snipers and land mines.

Figure 4. Yours truly training his team about the possible dangers of Snipers and Landmines in Iraq

               I recall walking through the site when I saw an older Iraqi worker grinding metal without the use of a hard hat or safety glasses of any kind. Feeling for his safety I approached him and asked him politely if he could please put them on. The Older Iraqi man stopped what he was doing, stood up and asked me in very broken English, “You want me to wear a hard hat and safety glasses?”. I replied, “Yes sir, if you would please”. He responded back at me in a very confrontational tone “You bombed my family! You killed my children, my wife, my parents, and now you want me to wear a hard hat and safety glasses!”  he turned and walked away.

I never understood the devastation created by governments nor does it occur to governments the results that their devastation has on others. In North America, we bubble wrap workers, not to keep them safe, but more to protect the companies from fines levied by governmental bureaucrats seeking to keep their cushy jobs. But when one comes face to face with it, especially as an HSP, it’s nothing less than emotionally destructive. I recall, another young Kurdish man, no more than 20 telling me how one day the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussain came to his house and took away his three brothers, they were never seen or heard of again, the young man was a young boy at the time. The cruelty of this world we now live in is apparent, HSPs feel it, breathe it, and swim in it every day. We hide more now than we ever have, because yes, it is overwhelming. My trip through Central and South America is a search, not just for HSPs but also for kind and empathetic people that want to see the world a better place. Not people lining their pockets with as much money as they possibly can, hurting whomever in the process with no regard to how it will impact those they target, but honest sincere people with stories to tell.

After all, would not this world be a better place if there were more people like that being recognized for their kindness, instead of giving all those resources to the mean and nasty people. We have militaries for one reason, to protect us from the mean and nasty people, doesn’t matter how many good people, innocent people we kill, they’re to protect us from the nasty ones. Jails, courts, and police all exist to nab the nasty people! Yeah, I know, I’m living in a dream world! But hey at least I’m trying to make my dream come true, are you?

HSPs are not nasty people, and yet all too often we are treated as weak, easily overwhelmed, and anxious. People like us with an extreme level of caring are affected by the harshness of the world, it’s embedded in our DNA from birth.  If we do not act, and it is an act,  like normal people, we are simply seen as broken and thus targeted. I would like to change that, please help me by learning more about us!

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