Dr Who actor Peter Capaldi’s heartwarming video message to a child with autism who had lost his grandmother has been all over the internet this week, and rightly so. If you’ve not heard about it, here’s a report from The Guardian which is representative of the many that appeared in the English-speaking press.
Thomas, who is an avid Doctor Who fan and particularly liked the 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, wrote to Capaldi in early October wishing him luck in his new role.
Capaldi responded by letter soon after, thanking him and wrote a separate note to his father with advice on how to arrange a tour of the set and promising to send a video message to Thomas.
That message arrived by email three weeks after the family’s subsequent bereavement. “I am assuming Peter Capaldi knew Thomas had lost his nan but the timing was just pot-luck,” (his father) Ross Goodall said.
“It was the first time he had smiled since his nan passed away. The only communication we had got until then was when he got upset and got angry.”
Here’s the video, which Capaldi recorded in character as The Doctor. If you’re any sort of Who fan, it’s essential viewing – if you have tears, prepare to shed them now:
This is great, of course. Thomas’ dad credits the message with helping his son recover from the bereavement:
“Thomas only sees black and white – there is no grey area – and he has taken it to mean that you can be happy, even though sad things happen.
“That was when he decided that he wanted to go to the funeral. Up until then, he didn’t want anything to do with it but he was even comforting his sister. He was a different child. Normally, anything out of his comfort zone comes with consequences,” he told the Guardian.
I believe that one reason it works so well is because the words Capaldi uses are perfectly chosen to get the boy to feel more resourceful about what’s happened. With my NLP hat on, I’ve had a go at analysing the language patterns in the video:
|The Doctor's Words||Analysis|
|“Thank you very much for your letter. I really enjoyed getting it.||What you do can make a difference to how other people feel.|
|“Because you see, when Clara and I are travelling around in time and space, sometimes bad things happen to us.||We have something in common with you, we also sometimes experience bad things. "Things' plural implies that what has happened is a normal event, not an exceptional life-wrecking tragedy.|
|“And you know what, Thomas? Sometimes sad things happen to us too.||Use of his name says ‘this message is especially just for you’ - it’s not like a TV broadcast that goes out to lots of other people as well.
“When he said ‘sometimes sad things happen’, it was as though he was mentioning it (the bereavement) without mentioning it,” said his father Ross Goodall.
Saying ‘sad things happen to us too’ references the bereavement (which is part of the class of sad events) but in an unspecified way, without addressing it directly, giving Thomas some choice about how much he wants to think about it right now. Saying “I’m sorry you lost your nan” would force him to think about it, which might be too painful so close to the event.
Also, saying that they happen to us is what’s called in NLP ‘switching referential index’ - because the events that we are talking about happen to us rather than you, it gives Thomas some distance.
|"So, it’s nice to know that there’s somebody like you out there who’s on our side.||This, I think, is really inspired. It puts Thomas in a position of agency. The Doctor is glad that you’re on his side! Again, what you do, what you intend, what you feel, makes a difference to other people.|
|"And you should know that we’re on your side too.||You should indeed. You’ve already realised it from the previous sentence - if you’re on the Doctor’s side, it means he’s on yours. For me it evoked a mental image of the Doctor and Clara standing next to the boy, facing the situation with him. As a Who fan, Thomas would know that the Doctor has stood this way with humankind (and individual humans) times without number.|
|“So you look after yourself, and take care, and be happy.”||This sentence is empowering in itself if you read between the lines. “Look after yourself” presupposes that he has the ability to look after himself, and “take care” works the same way.|
So not only is Peter Capaldi turning out to be a great twelfth Doctor, he also knows exactly the right thing to say in a delicate situation. Hats off to him.
Have I missed anything? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
If you want to discover more about NLP language patterns, download my Kindle e-book Practical NLP 2: Language, which tells you all about chunking, presuppositions, the Meta Model for effective questioning, and the Milton Model for conversational hypnotic suggestion, and something about metaphor too.
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