Monday, April 06, 2009

A Friendly Word

Oh they are great and wide, these swaths of our minds and imaginations. We think, sometimes, that what we know and experience is the sum total of the world, that it is what we think it is---when we are deciding things. When we are figuring out things. When we are determining.

If you ever asked us, I think most of us, well, the ones I know anyway (just proving my point) would acknowledge a broader understanding of a Hamletesque world.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 1 scene 5

The other Hamletesque point I'd like to make might surprise you:

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
William Shakespeare, "Hamlet", Act 2 scene 2

Thinking, hmm, is that the real problem? Or is it the underlying assumptions we make about events and people that is the real problem?

"I hate her! She's a mean girl!" my daughter said, very angrily, the other day.

"Is she mean, really, all the way through her heart?" I asked, "Is this really about her, or is it about you? Mean is a pretty serious accusation. Let's talk about what happened to make you say this, and figure out what's what here."

As we delved into the event, I came to understand that what had happened was that a friend had hurt my daughter's feelings. In struggling to deal and understand, my daughter slunk home in anger and despair. By the time she arrived home, her mind had firmly fixated on the idea that she was the poor put-upon child harassed by a mean friend. The offending incident? My daughter, arriving later at the friend's because we'd run errands, was initially not included in the game that had already started. She'd lashed out, then was told that she could never play.

Her entire world suddenly centered on that one event, and it was the new outcome of her entire life.

"Shhhhh," I said, "Listen, do you hear the birds, look, see the cardinals at the feeder?" She sat on my lap, something she can still do at this age. I stroked her hair.

When her heart and mind slowed a bit, we talked about how in every angry situation and fight between people, everyone contributes something. We talked about feelings, and how feelings can seem like thoughts, but aren't really.

My feelings get hurt, too, when I feel left out, I told her. Sometimes when a friend leaves me out a lot, I think that friend is mean and doesn't like me anymore, and I feel sad. And when I act on that, I usually regret it, but then I don't know how to undo it, if I even can. That's because those were times when I let my feelings be my thoughts.

Ego. Pride. These are the things that always get in the way.

When we create expectations of others in our heads, then sit back and wait for them to fulfill our desire of them, we have created a path to failure.

"What did you picture in your head," I asked my daughter, "When you went to your friend's house?"

"That we would play and have fun!"

"That's reasonable, but then that didn't happen, so..."

"I got mad! She should have let me play!"

"Hmm," I said, thinking. I have become ambivalent lately, or maybe I mean confused, about this overarching expectation of all inclusivity all the time. I am weighing the issue. What is our obligation to one another? What about when our own needs conflict with a friend's? Is it a clear right and wrong?

I thought about a string of comments I'd heard recently from friends, expressing disappointment and displeasure in friends who had not met expectation. Friends who were, the upset person threatened, on the verge of being reclassified as "not friends." If they didn't shape up. By which, I assume they mean, become who that person needs and wants them to be, on some level, to some degree.

Each time I hear this I think, oh dear. Yes, just that articulately.

I think we are on guard, vigilant really, for a terrorist in our own lives. The Disappointing Friend. People make a living writing and speaking about Toxic People in our Lives. Are we unhappy? Who is it, exactly, that is poisoning us to be unhappy?

Maybe the real question is what is poisoning us. Maybe Shakespeare had it, back when he said hundreds of years ago through Hamlet---the ultimate poisoner in a way, the archetypical self-absorbed character who could be classified as Toxic Friend, and yet who, usually, we sympathize with and feel empathy for, largely because he speaks so truly---that thinking is the bane of our existence. Thinking, by which I assume he meant, really, assuming and expecting.

I say this because the full exchange between Hamlet and Rosencrantz includes Rosencrantz retorting to Hamlet's observation, "Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too narrow for your mind."

More specifically, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2:
HAMLET
243 Denmark's a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ
244 Then is the world one.

HAMLET
245 A goodly one, in which there are many confines,
246 wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the
247 worst.

ROSENCRANTZ
248 We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET
249 Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing
250 either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me
251 it is a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ
252 Why then, your ambition makes it one; 'tis too
253 narrow for your mind.

Do we, with our words and expectations, lay confines, wards, and dungeons for others? And, therefore, for ourselves? Simply by thinking it so?

"I think maybe that 'playing together' should be the hope rather than the plan..."

My daughter stared at me, confused.

"I mean, maybe next time she says you can't play, maybe you ask her why not, and ask her when you can, or you step back and watch a minute, and think of a way you can fit in to the game," I said.

My daughter's mind worked.

"They were playing pet shop," she said, "But only had three cages. That's why I couldn't play."

Therein lay the key to release from the dungeon, the opening of the confined mind.

"Have we got something here you can take to build a cage, so you can be a pet in the pet shop?"

Her brow furrowed.

"What are the others using?"

"Beach towels."

"Ahh," I said, "Well we have plenty of those."

Ask next time, I had said to her. Communicate. Step back. Think. Find a way. Release from the confines of a narrow ambition. Can we, the adults, do that?

9 comments:

Mary G said...

So well done. If she can take in only some of this, she will be a happier and better person for it. You're a good mom, as I think I have said before.
It's always so hard when you come late and can't play; one of the hardest things for adults as well as children. The older I get, the more I know that people are what they are, not likely to change, and that what I need to do is appreciate them for what they are, not want them to be what I need.
Easier to say than to do, of course. Is there room on your lap?

Robert said...

It is amazing, truly, how easily we can focus on only what happens in our lives, and only on how we see those events. That person cut me off so I'm mad - meanwhile that person was rushing to get a child out in the cold at school, thinking how kind it was that I let them in front of him. Right now, I am too much like a mule with blinders on. I am focused on what must happen before our move, and the career change looming large in the immediate future. Meanwhile others are dealing with the day to day life that will barely change for them when I am gone. Even here, I am noticing in your post how much it applies to me. Yet, that is how so many of us are, especially in adulthood. I-me-now-here is what matters most to so many of us.

Fascinating post.

Mayberry said...

I love the label for this post (Growing Up Is Hard to Do). You are doing an amazing job helping your girls grow up--and reminding us all to play nice too.

TigereyeSal said...

Very powerful post- I'm still saying hmmm.

anniegirl1138 said...

Just went through this a bit last evening when my six year old wanted to tag along behind the older boys as they rode bikes but she got left behind.

I wouldn't go back and live those years other again for all the money in the world.

Yolanda (the callipygian chronicle) said...

Oh, I feel this one deeply. I have spent much of my life being hurt and holding grudges over someone else's failure to be whom I needed or wanted them to be. I have spent years making plans in my head and been outraged when others have failed to help me execute them. It's been tough work, as an adult, to unlearn all of that. I wish I had had an intuitive momma who could pull me on her lap and help me get it at six.

Emily said...

Julie. Julie. Julie.

Did I ever need a sermon this morning! I have been in such a funk this week. Communicate. Step back. Think. Find a way. *sigh*

Yes, exactly.

Also, my twelve year old rolls her eyes and heaves big sighs and pops the ipod ear buds in her ears so quickly I think she'll burst her ear drums anytime I begin a conversation with: "Is this really about them or is this about you?" or "Let's look at the situation from their perspective," or "Was there another solution than to blow up at (insert name or group of people or friends' cell phones)"

How do you get her to sit on your lap and listen?

jeanie said...

It is so true - when we use the energy to vindicate in our minds, we are defining ourselves by that one problem. When we seek to move past, find reason and, if finding none, forgiveness allows us to be outside Denmark, so to speak!!

wheelsonthebus said...

i think my response requires an entire post