The Importance of Being
Written: December 14, 2011 at 2:20am
It occurs to me that I frequently misrepresent myself... not for the better... rarely on purpose. I always find myself a round peg, being pushed into a square hole. I may fit, somewhat- but I can never fully fulfill the role I'm being asked to play.
People love labels. We love to generalize. When we can define someone- by socioeconomic status, by religion, by culture or heritage- we can start to apply rules we've learned about how to treat that type of person... Before we can get to know him/her, if we bother to get to know him/her. I know I do it- But I am TRYing move beyond that initial stage with my friends.
I worked with children and adults with mental retardation and autism spectrum disorders for many years. (These are not politically incorrect labels, they are medical diagnoses.) It was my job to help them "fit in". This was always a balancing act between making the people around them feel comfortable and teaching them how to advocate for themselves. I had to learn how to interpret their intentions in order to facilitate their achieving goals... goals can be simple (like having a bowl of cereal) or complex (like asking a woman on a date). In order to begin approaching any goal, we must break the process down into a sequence of steps.
Simple: fixing a bowl of cereal
1. Check if we have all the materials required: bowl, spoon, milk, cereal
2. Gather materials
3. Open and pour cereal into bowl
4. Open and pour milk over cereal
5. Eat cereal
6. Close and put away milk and cereal containers
7. Put bowl and spoon into sink
Complex: asking a woman on a date
One young man made this his personal goal- We discussed and roleplayed appropriate scripts that people typically use in these situations. We described and observed behaviors that demonstrate positive and negative affect between a man and woman. And given repetitious practice of these skills, he became confident enough to face rejection again and again... But no matter how I tried, I could not teach an individual, born without the ability to acquire social skills, to perceive how his communication partner might feel. How to accomodate... I began to wonder if I knew how to do this myself.
I have a set of male friends whom I consider un-datable (for me). I call them "Charlie Brown". They are sweet. There's nothing wrong with them. They are too good to me, despite my blatant honesty. But they don't challenge me. I would only hurt them when I found someone who would.
They call me "Sally"/"Lucy", an unflattering female take on Jekyll/Hyde. Every man who has ever liked me has been hoping to find a way to sustain my Sally status... Naive, clumsy, easily amused... Simple. But at the end of the day, I will pull that football out of reach and go lounge by Schroeder's piano- every time. Nevertheless, they persist in returning to me for my 5-cent opinions.
Wouldn't I switch- like a light switch- if I could? I'm constantly changing. I analyze my behavior... I used to agonize over sequences of events that have led me astray... But the past is in the past, and that series of mistakes and lessons have taught me to have an abundance of patience, tolerance, and the restraint to let go when I have no control over an outcome. Slowly, I see my Lucy becoming someone better... the someone I want to be- and she is not Sally either.
I'm Ev. I don't fit into a box. Boxes can be comforting. They provide stability and structure for life. Many labels I have been called could tell me how to act, dress, speak... live. However, since I usually do whatever I feel like doing, rather than what I am expected to do, I frequently say the wrong thing or have the wrong expression on my face at the wrong time- and someone takes it personally... assumes I am communicating some intention, when I'm really somewhere else altogether, in my head.
I recall purporting to know myself... Now every day I wake up and meet myself again- with a vague set of goals and standards in mind. But I don't judge others based upon these, and I no longer become disappointed in myself when I fail to meet them. Sometimes the process takes longer than expected. Sometimes standards have to be adjusted. Sometimes goals have to change... Because people change. It's when we refuse to continue being part of the process of life, of striving to become archetypes, that we stagnate into one dimensional stereotypes, repeating the same silly patterns week to week, month to month, year to year...
Every day is an opportunity. Life continues to happen, until it doesn't. It is up to us whether to be active participants or to simply go through the motions. I choose to keep learning.