Friday, 26 May 2006


Can you guess what I'm going to be?

Part of what I love about knitting, when you aren't counting stitches and rows and doing complicated bits, is the rhythmic meditative thing. In summer I like swimming laps for the same reason. It gives me a chance to feel like I'm doing something constructive, but still makes time for my mind to wonder over things that I haven't fully processed.

I don't know how to express some of the stuff I've been thinking about - when I try and write it I come off all facile or preachy, neither of which reflects what's going through my mind. It's far more profound, for sure! But it frustrates me that there is a whole undercurrent of interesting stuff that goes on in life that I don't blog about because it's not pictures or stuff I did or unequivocally affirming.

In fact the relationship is almost inverse - the deeper in thought I get about complex stuff the more I feel unable to write about things and the more I resort to simple posts about the stuff I've made or seen or done. The stuff I can take pictures of. The stuff I feel is not going to upset anyone or be misinterpreted. So forgive me if I press on regardless.

I mean I have no trouble having an opinion, if you want to hear my views on the situation of Australia's indigenous people, the fall-outs of capitalism and neo-conservatism, or the hideously conflicted set of public policies our current government has on women and families I would be only too happy to oblige. I don't much mind if you don't agree, in politics we won't all see things the same way.

But I don't really see the point of oppositionalism. I can get fired up for sure, but in the main I try to be more interested in seeing problems solved than deciding whose fault they are, mostly because as soon as you start pointing fingers solutions tend to slip away. Especially if you take to assuming that people who think or feel differently to you are stupid or thoughtless or ignorant or selfish or just plain wrong.

It's tempting to do this especially with people whose views are radically different to your own and for many of us it becomes a way of life. The idiot who cuts us off in traffic deserves to be yelled at, the thoughtless person who makes an insensitive remark should have known better, the evil politician we can't support should be derided, the betrayal of a friend who didn't support our point of view should not be forgotten. We react to the things that happen around us as though our own point of view should be everyone's reference or base line. As though what is obvious to us should be obvious to everyone.

But of course it isn't, and neither should we expect it to be. No one has had our lives, our experiences, our thoughts. And let's be honest, our own views can change, sometimes swiftly and for reasons to do with something completely else! Especially at times of heightened emotion, reading someone else can be a tricky business indeed. Look at the trials of adolescence - despite the frustrations we might have with a particular teenager, doesn't the fact that pretty much most teenagers exhibit the same behaviours tell us that there's more at work than what we can see? Human diversity and pluralism are not neat or easy, but are valuable and important and inevitable.

There's a lot of much richer pop psychologists out there than me, but more than one of them has harped on about the benefits of trying to understand someone or something before we react against them. Because stewing over something or blowing up about it do nothing to benefit anyone. Anger is not the only response open to us in the face of the inexplicable, the confusing, the sad or the challenging and most likely its the one least likely to resolve the situation.

I think most of us know this, and most of us probably think we practice it - so why do I see so many people who are so angry, so hurt, so upset by other people? Why do we so often assume the worst of others and their motives, intentions or levels of care for each other? Why do I hear people say things like, "they said it just to upset me" or "how could they have been so rude as to say that" when so often it could just be a misunderstanding.

It seems to me there's a quantum leap to go from recognising that something someone said upset you, to assuming it was their fault that it had that effect on you and nothing to do with you that you reacted that way. Or even worse, that they said it with the intention of upsetting you.

The first is the bump and rub of human relationships, a confrontation between my values or manners or beliefs or behaviours and those of others, and far from being someone's fault it should be entirely expected.

But to blame someone for my reaction to their difference, or worse to assume their malicious intent, seems like something of a dangerous leap. And what could be expected to come from that? Do we think that our sense of righteous indignation will somehow persuade them to apologise for being who they are, for thinking what they thought, for an honest mistake now cast as a malicious act?

Do we think that once offended we are entitled to criticise, to yell, to hurt, to stew and boil, to behave badly? Because it seems this is how things escalate all too often. No time to find out how that person might react on hearing we're offended, no time to pause and ask ourselves if we want to be that angry person or we just want to let it pass. No bigger picture.

Why do we do it? Why do we get sucked into that vortex of anger and criticism and second guessing and assuming the worst of each other? And if you think I'm overstating things just keep an eye out for it. Look at the person who has to wait in a queue at the bank, or who loses a spot in a car park they thought they had or who reacts badly to a discussion of mothering choices. Look at how quickly a petty frustration or difference of opinion brings out their worst.

So my challenge this week is not to bite. To try each and every time I am feeling bent out of shape to put myself in the other person's shoes and try and understand what's going on. To consciously choose to assume there's a good reason for whatever is going on and no bad intent, to accept any genuine misfortune as just that and move on. I'm going to try.

And if you stuck with me through this whole post I'm really impressed and I hope it wasn't too...too...too much.


telfair said...

On the contrary, I thought it was a great, thoughtful post...I've noticed the same tendency in myself, to avoid writing about things that seem "deep" or emotional. If we all did it a bit more often, we'd probably all find a lot more common ground!

Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) said...

Oh this was a very thoughtful post...I was thinking yesterday about how I often let myself get 'sucked in' and this morning I woke up with an outlook towards not allowing anyone (including myself) to do this to me anymore.

African Kelli said...

Awesome. I really enjoyed this post. I agree with you whole-heartedly about turing inward when the world's problems become so difficult to understand. I spend a good bit of time thinking things over, writing posts, deleting them and going off to knit to have something to show for my time. Silly, eh? I'm proud of your bravado to post something outside of your comfort limits.

moki said...

ok 1st, a sock or stocking or something leg related??
And bravo for your bravery to post about this topic. It is hard for me to even hint to my political beliefs because they are so custom fit to me and there are so many people out there (in blog land) that have definate one sided opinions and I worry that I wll turn them off with my liberal conservatism (lol).

I'm pretty good about not losing it on people, and seem to only be bad when there seems to be selfishness involved. I'll try to remember this week that my perceptions are not always accurate. :)

melissa said...

This is so well-expressed, and exactly what I have been thinking about lately- thank you for putting into words! I think too often I misread things that people say and do to me, and feel offended/irritated, when it's not meant in that way. Sometimes I think I even WANT to take it in a certain way, so I have reason to feel upset and wronged! It's a peculiar and unfortunate aspect to my character, and definitely something to be working on in my everyday interactions with others. I love the idea of just being able to 'let go' things so they leave my mind free for more important thoughts!

Kristy said...

It's such a fine line between a passionate response and anger.I try to instill in my girls (and myself)a real passion for people and life but to show how much a waste of emotional energy anger can be.It's not easy though as our natural instincts are that of self protection which often means an immediate reaction rather than time and space for contemplation.Letting go does give a greater feeling of control I think.Just being able to rise above the situation is very liberating.
I hope this all makes sense I almost hit the delete button:)
BTW the knitted project looks very whale or penguin like to me!