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Monday, July 29, 2013

Putting Things in a Safe Place

Some rights reserved by michaelstyne
I had one of those mornings last week. You may know the kind. It was one of those mornings where I woke up kind of crabby, not feeling great, a little on edge, and proceeded to treat the people I love the most like crap. Of course the realization that this was occurring did not help because once I realized it was going on, not only did I feel crabby and edgy, but I also hated myself for being crabby, edgy, and a bit of a snit.

Later, when I tried to apologize, I was assured that it was okay and reminded that, after all, if I couldn't be crabby and edgy with the people whom I love and who, presumably love me, where would I be safe in doing it? It's a tricky balancing act, I think. And, I think that part of what was so difficult about the morning for me was that instead of realizing that home is a safe place where all of the not so pleasant parts of me can find a safe haven, I instead wanted to look at the crazy woman who was griping at her son and husband over really petty stuff, as someone other than me. The real me would have been in control of her emotions, the real me would be kind and loving even when feeling stressed out, the real me would have been better than that woman ... so clearly, this was some sort of an impostor standing in my kitchen.

I've thought a lot about the ensuing conversation over the past few days ... about how being at home and with the people we love should provide a haven for us not only when we're at our very best, but also when we are at our very worst. And, I'm thinking that what the love of home and family has actually done for me ... you know, after nearly 50 years of living, because sometimes I am that slow ... is to provide a safe place where I can acknowledge that the evil impostor who sometimes invades my skin ... she's just as much a part of the real me as the bubbly, encouraging, carefree me that I enjoy a whole lot more. I don't think any of us wants evil-me to hang around all the time ... but, I'm thinking that maybe, if my family can love her and provide a safe haven for her ... well, then I just might be able to as well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thumper ... Revisited

Some rights reserved by printGarden
Growing up, most of us were taught some version of Thumper's famous line from Bambi: "If you can't say somethin' nice ... don't say nothin' at all." Unfortunately, as we get older, all of us find ways to circumvent Thumper's advice. However, very few people want to be thought of as being "that person" who says unkind things, so we develop all kinds of prefaces in the hopes of somehow excusing what follows: "No offense, but..." "Don't take this the wrong way, but..." "I don't want to sound mean/judgmental/racist/rude, but..." The problem with all of those prefaces, however, is the fact that almost inevitably whatever comes next does the very thing that the speaker wanted to avoid. The words that follow are going to be offensive, will be taken harshly, or will sound mean/judgmental/racist/rude. And no amount of pleading that a disclaimer was given beforehand can change those reactions.

I am not proud of it, but I have used some of those very prefaces myself. I can't, of course, be sure as to why other people use them, but I do know that in my case it was always as a way to give myself some sort of permission to say whatever thing I wanted to say in the first place. The very fact that I included any sort of preface at all, warning the hearer not to be offended or that I didn't want to sound mean, was itself proof of the fact that I knew that what I was about to say violated the "if you can't say something nice" rule.

The fact of the matter is that nice words don't need a preface. People do not accidentally get offended when my words are truly kind and loving. No one is going to accuse me of being rude, judgmental, or racist if what comes out of my mouth is loving and not hateful. When my words have been used to build up, instead of tearing down, I've not ever had someone say that I was being mean.

It's really not that difficult. We've known since kindergarten how to share, how to play nice, and how to use our good words when we interact with others. And, we also learned pretty early on that there are times when we don't always want to share, play nice, or use our good words. It has taken a while, but I think I'm also beginning to learn that part of being a grown up is to share, play nice, and use good words even when I don't particularly want to ... or if I simply can't bring myself to play nice, to at least excuse myself and just keep quiet when I don't have anything nice to say.

So, I'm trying (though not always succeeding) to incorporate some additions to the Thumper rule into my everyday life and ask myself before I speak whether what I am about to say is necessary to the conversation. Am I attempting to offer needed information, build others up, lend encouragement? Could what I am going to say hurt someone else, be taken as a slight, give rise to gossip?

Like I said, I am not always successful, but in trying to remember to ask myself these kinds of questions, I have been humbled to discover all the times where I've been perfectly willing to abandon Thumper's sage words so that I could be "right" or seem to have control over a situation.

The older I get, the more I am struck by the fact that we learn almost all of life's essential lessons when we are very young. Them, it seems that it takes a lifetime to figure out how important those lessons are and to effectively put them into practice.

For now, I am working on taking the words of an animated rabbit to heart, and keeping quiet unless I have something nice to say.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What a difference Thirty-Something Years Makes

Once upon a time I attended Chaparral High School in Las Vegas. The four years that I spent there were some of the most emotionally intense years of my life, a fact which I attribute much more to the reality that 2000 adolescents were crammed into the same space for roughly 7 to 8 hours a day (counting extra-curriculars and whatnot), than to anything peculiar to the place itself. Even "back in the day" prior to cell phones, social networking, or cyber-bullying, there was no drama like high school drama ... nothing so consuming as who had said what about whom ... and nothing quite so exhilarating as being asked to homecoming or prom ... nor so devastating as being dumped by someone you thought was your whole world.

In the years since I was in high school, I've raised my own children and taught quite a few others and I've watched as those same intensities impacted them in various ways, realizing that no amount of my telling them that the roller-coasters of emotions that they were experiencing would be but a blip on their radar screens in the future could convince them that their world wasn't ending. It was something that was so apparent for me in hind-sight, but in their adolescent minds was clearly utter and complete lunacy.

So, what brought about all of this reflection about my own high school days? In part it is due, I'm sure, to the fact that my own 30-year reunion is coming up and former classmates are busy planning, making reservations, and re-connecting. But it was mostly brought about by the fact that my first steady high school boyfriend (we dated for a little over a year) recently contacted me on Facebook. And it was neat, but not in a way I could have ever imagined when we were dating or in the year after we broke up. It was neat because I could genuinely be happy for his successes and the life that he has without having any personally vested interest in it whatsoever. There was nothing about our re-connecting that had anything of "what's in this for me?" or "how does this affect me?" in it ... I could just delight in the fact that someone who had once cared a great deal for me and for whom I still have incredibly fond feelings is doing well and seems to be happy in life.

And, as I looked at pics of his family and saw some of his "life events," it just struck me what a difference thirty-some-odd years have made in how I think not only of him, but of those four years that at the time seemed to be my entire life ... but that now seem so long ago, so far away, and in many ways were just a drop in the bucket of all that I've experienced.

It has been a great "perspective-giver" this ability to look somewhat objectively at that part of my life ... because it has helped me to remember that at any given moment, no matter how happy, sad, angry, exuberant, or whatever I am, the seeming intensity of that instant will one day be but a thread in the much larger tapestry of my whole life.

I've said it before and I'll say it again ... this getting older business is mind-boggling.

Friday, July 5, 2013

We All Have Stories ... Full of Sound and Fury ... That Could Signify Important Things Indeed

 Some rights reserved by Bob AuBuchon
When I taught middle-school, friends and acquaintances would often offer their condolences. But I was one of the rare breed of people, apparently, who actually enjoyed working with middle-school-aged youngsters. One of the things that I longed to share with colleagues who seemed unhappy in their work was the fact that, for the most part, middle-schoolers do not act the way that they do in order to make their parents, teachers, or others mad ... they act the way that they do because it is developmentally appropriate for them to do so. That outlook made all the difference to me, because, in my best moments, even though I sometimes found their behavior unacceptable, I never had to take it personally. I could work to help them move on from behavior that wouldn't suit them in adulthood, without having a personal stake in any of it. The other thing that I quickly learned was that each of my students had a story. Every time that I ran up against a student who I thought was a problem, I quickly learned that the problematic behavior stemmed from some current situation or some past event of which I had up to that point been unaware. And, even though the story behind it didn't excuse the unacceptable behavior, understanding where that behavior was coming from made it much easier for me to respond with compassion and, in many instances, to more effectively help the student to find was of coping that resulted in behavior that was more socially acceptable.

My middle-school teaching days are well behind me now. But I have since learned that it is not just middle-schoolers who have stories behind their behaviors. Everyone has a story to tell. And in almost all cases, a person's behavior, whether we find it pleasant or not, can be tied, at least in part, to that story. When we know someone's story, we are much more willing to make accommodations for behavior that is less than stellar. When we know what another has been through, it makes us more compassionate in our responses. When we understand what someone else has experienced, we are less likely to take words or deeds as a personal affront, instead recognizing that they often arise from circumstances that have absolutely nothing to do with us.

If we recognize that fact when we know the story ... how much of a stretch would it be to simply assume that everyone has a story to tell, even when we do not actually know the particular details? Can we allow others the benefit of the doubt in our interactions with them ... simply because we know that they must have their own story ... even when their own narrative remains hidden from us? Must we exact the intimate details from others in order to respond with kindness, compassion, and understanding, or can it be enough to know that those details exist for them just as they do for us?

What kind of story might we create by recognizing that every person we meet is the protagonist of a tale of sound and fury signifying most everything that is important. What stories would we then be invited to be a part of or could we then create?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Maybe We Really Did Learn Most Everything We Need to Know in Kindergarten ... or Thereabout

The Sweetest Baboo and I just watched Matilda, the movie based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. It's not that we haven't seen it before ... we used to own the DVD when we still had young 'uns in the house. Nor were there any kids around to give us an excuse to watch it this time. It's just that sometimes you need reassurance that the Miss Honeys of the world prevail and the Trunchbulls in our midst don't end up succeeding. 

"I'm right, you're wrong ... I'm big, you're small ... and there's nothing you can do about it." It's the philosophy of Matilda's dad and of the Trunchbull. Throughout much of the movie it seems to be true too. What can a little kid or a sweet, mild mannered teacher do in the face of that kind of power or that kind of attitude? But by the end of the story, the narrator tells us that "Matilda found to her great surprise that life can be fun ... and she decided to have as much of it as possible. After all, she was a very smart girl."

It's one of those kinds of stories that, as a grown up, I need to be reminded about every so often. The fact of the matter is that I do believe that Miss Honey's way is better than the Trunchbull's and I do think it's better to be like Matilda than to be like her parents Harry or Zinnia. I know that it is better to be loving than hateful, better to be kind than to be mean, and that it is better to suffer at the hands of unjust power than to wield unjust powers over others. But it is one thing to know those notions in my head and quite another to remember them in my day to day dealings with other people when lashing out in anger seems so much handier or it seems like the bullies always get their way while the meek get put in the Trunchbull's chokey.

So, tonight, we watched Matilda. We watched it an laughed at how ridiculous the Trunchbull could be and we rolled our eyes at how horrible Harry and Zinnia were as parents, but most of all we delighted in the fact that a very smart girl who loved to read books and a very kind teacher who recognized the good in every child found out that heroes don't just appear in fairy tales and that real life can have happy endings.

And now, at least for a while, I'll be able to better remember that all of that is true in my grown up world as well.