That is so gay

This is the #1 result of a google image search using the title of this post. Image source: http://beinglatino.wordpress.com

Have you ever gone to therapy? I have. On three different occasions.  I don’t remember every tool I learned there off the top of my head, but I do remember my counselor saying this: you cannot make anyone feel anything. I was feeling guilt, assuming I made people feel badly even though they probably weren’t feeling anything bad at all, and my counselor was trying to help me realize I shouldn’t hypothesize constantly the impact my words have on others. He said,  “We all choose how we feel when people say things, whether we feel good or bad. We are responsible for our own emotions, not for everyone else’s. If we hurt someone’s feelings, they have a responsibility to tell us so.” But that got me thinking (probably way off of where the counselor was going with his point, but whatever! It’s still an interesting thing to consider…). Is that always the case? Am I never to blame for how others feel as a result of something I said or did?  If I cheated on my husband and he felt hurt, angry, dejected, and insulted, does this mean I can release some of the blame for the way he would be feeling? I don’t think it works quite this way, and while I know I would never take advantage of this perspective, I am sure there are thousands of people out there who would.

Like this guy I knew once upon a time, who regularly said unnecessarily cruel and critical things to unsuspecting people, all-the-while using the disclaimer, “Hey, don’t get mad at me. I’m just being honest.Yeah right. My theory is this guy got sadistic pleasure out of making people feel insecure or miserable. Messing with people’s heads was this dude’s personal enjoyment. I imagine he was doing it because he  wanted others to be as miserable as he was; or maybe that was just his personality; or maybe he really did think that was how psychology students were supposed to behave, as he said on many occasions. But the truth is, what he said made people miserable and it gave him pleasure. Whether or not what he said was true was not nearly as important as what were his motives. And those were selfish and unkind in nature. Lucky for us, there aren’t too many of people like this guy wandering around. No,… I would say, mostly all of us do our fair share offending and being the offended.

People say and do things that hurt people’s feelings all the time. Often people hurt others without the self-awareness to realize why they behave as they do (like girls in junior high who rip on other girls because deep down they are insecure about themselves).  They don’t fully understand why they are doing it, and don’t necessarily care to find it out. It’s just easier to keep doing what feels good.

And more commonly there are people who hurt others’ feelings without ever intending to do so, and without realizing what they said could be hurtful. Many times they are ignorant of what they are saying. Take the people who say, “That’s retarded,” or, “I jewed him down,” or, “I got gypped,” or, “That’s so gay.” Now, I’m not trying to be the language police. Matter of fact: I am a major user of swear words–it’s a vice I try to avoid but cannot eliminate, and often it’s one that I indulge pleasurably. In issues of language there are people on both sides of the fence (homosexuals who say, “That’s so gay,” and so on), but depending on your audience, those phrases can offend people. And this is something we should try to be aware of. My swearing offends people, and presents me in a less-than-flattering light, so I need to choose my audience carefully. And what the offended folks must remember is: some people don’t realize what they are saying is offensive. It might be a cultural thing, it might be badly phrased, it might be slang.  So before reacting, try informing them first. We’re all guilty of this offense in some form at one time or another.

And finally, there are the people who say 100% innocent things that are only offensive to a particular person with a particular point of view or private history. Everyone has had experiences we cannot know ahead of time that shape their attitudes and perceptions, and often something we say innocently can offend others.

So how can we manage this fact in a world where people are (endlessly!) offended by any number of things?

First, have compassion if you have been offended. You’re no perfect plum yourself.

Second, I say operate on this principle of forgiveness: unknowing offenders should be forgiven immediately–and when worthwhile–the offender should be informed of your feelings (nicely!) to help them avoid repeat occurences. Try not to judge their character, when it could be a simple issue of misinformation or ignorance. But do take note of those who are continually offensive, mean, or corrosive to others’ self-esteems and identities. Those people are toxic and should probably be called out on their behavior, or avoided. In those cases, chalk it up to their personality, and don’t waste time or energy being hurt by their musings. State your position, be open for a good dialogue, and if all else fails, deny that bummer-of-a-being your totally awesome friendship! There are tons of people out there just waiting to offend you unintentionally! Better you spend your energy on them!

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A little about parents on Mother’s Day

Aside

 

 

When I was little…

My mom is going to read this probably tomorrow night. So first: Happy Mother’s day Mom! I love you and you are a wonderful woman who I am so lucky to have in my life. You were amazing the day you gave birth to my squirmy 9 pound 13 ounce body, and you are even more amazing today. Thank you for… everything.

Today I want to write about parents. I’ve had this one on the list for a while, and it seems perfect to write it on a day like today.

Parents are perfect.

And parents are completely, ridiculously imperfect too.

I love my parents. I like them too. That, I think, is pretty impressive. Not many people can truly say they like their folks. But I really do. And I have four of them.  My parents divorced around 17 years ago and it was the best thing they could have done (aside from having me and my siblings I suppose!). Then they found these wonderful significant others that are so completely better for them than they were for each other.  And, somewhat atypical of most step-parent/step-kid relationships, I like my step-folks too!

But that’s not to say we haven’t had our rough times. Fights, mean words, grudges, irritation, frustration, hurt feelings. It wasn’t always easy. A lot of the good feelings we have now took a lot of hard work over the years from both sides.  And we’ll have to keep working at it in the future. After all the… stuff… over the years, if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that parents always do their best. It might not have been the best that I wanted or thought I wanted, but it was the best that could be done at the time. When I realized this in my early twenties, everything got a whole lot simpler. All of a sudden, the anger I had carried for years regarding things I had no control over from the past began to work its way out of me. Do I think there will always be a little hurt, unease, or sadness in me about some of it? Yes. But knowing they had done their best was enough for me to let it go and accept it. To move on.

People always say, “We can’t pick our parents.” And all I can say to that is, “I am so glad!” I wouldn’t want to pick my parents–it would be like picking your kids! No thanks! Where would I begin? How would I know what was the best choice? What I think might be the best for me might not be any good at all! Like it or not, my parents’ weaknesses and strengths shaped me, made me who I am today. And I wouldn’t want to change that, and I couldn’t have planned for that either. I like me. I like who I am today. And all the crap and good stuff we experienced in our pasts congealed and made me what I am. There’s no sense to it, but it works.

Everyone on the planet has some idea of what everyone else should be doing to be “better,” but these notions are based significantly on our own desires. We love each other, we want one another to be better, to be our best. Because we care, because it will relieve us, because it will make our lives easier…. But what we have to learn to accept–in order to love them fully–is that all we can really expect out of our loved ones is that they do their best. Even if it isn’t as “good” as we’d like it to be. If they are doing all they are capable of at the time, how can we demean that with our expectations and desires? They are surviving, coping, managing, moving forward. They are succeeding! They are being nothing short of astounding–not everyone can give their best. (Are we giving our best when we pile our expectations on others?) Once we recognize that their best may never be what we expected, we might just realize that their best was better than we could have imagined. That their best achieves more, is more genuine and long-lasting; it inspired in them more than we had ever dreamed possible.  And in that regard, aren’t we lucky that we didn’t get our way?!

 

We’re all hypocrites…technically

Every once in a while, every person has to be willing to look at him/herself  and acknowledge how s/he is not such a good person. Not easy to do, but important. I spend a lot of time writing about how a person can be civil, good, considerate, kind, and so on… and I do not generate these thoughts from a solely outwardly critical gaze. I come to them, mostly, through self-critique (which usually follows a verbal tirade about something I think is not cool, thus signalling the guilty self-analysis of “who am I to talk?”). How does that popular saying go…? Something like: Whatever criticism you throw at others [typically–in one way or another–] can be equally applied to you. So today, at work, I’m discussing one of my biggest peeves with my neighbor: people not washing their hands after going into the restroom, and sick people who don’t cover their sneezes and coughs with their elbows. And I realized something. I am such a hypocrite.

See, I have a chronically sniffly nose. Summer, fall, warm, cold; it doesn’t matter. My nose will be sniffly. So I am a chronic tissue user. To be  ecologically friendly, I have switched to recycled tissue products, but to also be kinder to the microbes on my skin I limit the use of hand sanitizer to mainly communal hand-oriented situations (dinner table, socializing events, etc). And washing my hands every time is also hard to achieve when strapped to a desk or away from a sink. It’s a tricky territory–a minefield of all the “right things” to do not adding up to one ideal solution for my nose-issue.  So here I am at work, tending to my sniffles and finally realizing that this may be someone else’s peeve (or a version of my own). Yup, I’m a hypocrite.

But here’s the thing with calling myself a hypocrite, and maybe I’m just comforting my ego here, but I think it’s pretty progressive to acknowledge one’s own hypocrisies, contradictions, and inconsistencies. It is a strength quite frankly. People who can turn their critical gaze inward (and create productive solutions for their assessments) are often better parents, colleagues, and friends. They don’t rely on the notion that they’re perfect or untouchable by criticism. They have enough confidence to face criticism head on from the one voice they cannot ignore: their own. They know they have areas needing improvement and are willing to identify them. Every one–at one time or another–is a hypocrite, wouldn’t you agree? So if we can acknowledge it, learn from our “faults” and try to do better next time, we’re doing pretty great! And if you’re reading this blog, you can bet you’re one of those super awesome people! It’s easy to judge our worth by our short-comings, but it’s much better to judge our value by how we deal with our flaws. We are all in need of regular mental/spiritual upkeep. So why not throw some extra gold stars on our slate for how we handle the whole rigmarole?

“You’re not so great” — in print

Fake Headline

As you may know, or figured out, I am a visual artist. This blog is a component of one of my works of the same name. Recently I had a two-person exhibition of the postcards and pamphlet original works (and other work) at a local gallery, about which a local blogger wrote a review.  Here’s the gist of the review on a structural level: it was negatively critical of my work, but highly praising of the other artist’s work.  Bummer.

Now, any artist that is in it for the long, professional haul knows s/he will receive criticism (hopefully) at many points in his/her career (and if the artist can’t handle criticism that can be very personal, s/he is in the wrong business!). But we aren’t immune to emotions or ego-bruising. Having received my first-ever negative review, I was confronted with a  multitude of potential reactions. I could:

  1. Write a nasty comment on the blog, detailing the missed points of consideration that should have been given to the show (the dialogue of the work in it).
  2. Send him a copy of my artist statement and the link to the blog, questioning whether or not he took the time to read them.
  3. Be irritable and pissed at the other artist who received praise (she is a friend and colleague).
  4. Walk around mopey for a week.
  5. Not tell anyone about the review and hope to God they didn’t see it–criticism can be embarrassing.
  6. Change my work to suit his tastes; cater to his desires.
  7. Retaliate by writing a negative review of his work, if and when I ever see it exhibited.

OR I could:

  1. Acknowledge that he is just one viewer and entitled to his opinion, even if I think he missed the point of the work.
  2. Acknowledge that even if I don’t like what he wrote, he might have a point. How can I try to clarify my message?
  3. Rewrite my artist statement, adding just a sentence or two that could reinforce the point of the work.
  4. Be grateful: bad press is always better than no press.
  5. Be joyful for the other artist: she deserved the praise and it was right on target.
  6. Share the review with all my friends and colleagues on Facebook. Hey, no one is perfect, no art (or person for that matter) is universally disliked, and anything bringing a dialogue to my work is awesome.
  7. Think about the points, take it to the work, and use it if necessary. But avoid reacting or pandering to someone’s sensibilities. Basically, stay on track with the work, but with a new point of criticism in mind.
  8. Make a plan to, should I ever meet him, thank him for taking the time to view and review the show.

Now, I know many of you are not artists, but there are plenty of times in our lives when we will receive criticism that just cannot/should not be ignored. So, my suggestion is: take a moment (or a lot of moments), feel how you feel about the comment (but don’t act on it–not yet), and consider your possible reactions. How will the optional reactions serve you in the future? How will it make you look/how will it change others’ perceptions of you? What is the reaction that will serve you the best and move you forward on your goals? What can you learn from the criticism? Is there anything you can take from it and apply to your life?   Then and only then should you respond to the criticism. And I promise, you will definitely be better for it!

Too much

I am constantly reminded that not everyone is as outgoing and friendly and upbeat as me.  I get picked on for it (sometimes jokingly, sometimes seriously). I try to remind myself that it’s okay to be different when people make those comments. Every person is some sort of “too much”: too quiet or too talkative, too temperamental, too high-strung, too judgmental, too religious, too angry, too bawdy, too laid back, and so on. I believe these “too” statements have to do with the person on the receiving end feeling out of control or overwhelmed. On occasion, it never hurts to temper my personality for others–especially when I’m at work. But I have to guard against being someone I’m not. Eventually that sort of behavior will make a person miserable. So be yourself, and just remember that being who you are might not jive with other people all the time. And that isn’t your fault (unless you’re hurting them in some way). It’s the nature of being an individual, and it’s what keeps life interesting!

 

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice.(somethingsonice.wordpress.com), 2008-2009.