Fragile: Handle with Care
These are some of the things, off the top of my head, that I can think of that most people treat carefully. They are afraid of breaking them. This has me thinking tonight.
Before I go further, I should remind readers that I am not a social person. I like to lead. I like to teach. I don’t know how to socialize, and generally have to be coaxed into actually appearing at a lunch that has no other purpose than socializing. Though I am an inherent actress, truth be told, I’m generally uncomfortable and not at all confident with my ability to decipher the actions of most women. That being said… I recently went to lunch with a group of women I don’t know very well. As far as I can tell, the only thing we have in common is that we work for the same company.
This lunch bothered me on deep levels. No one blatantly attacked any of us there. No one seemed out to get anyone. And yet…. it felt as though they all were. No one complimented any one else. And when someone told a personal life story, others barely let her finish before jumping in with their own personal life story. It felt as though it were a contest. Who wears the cutest clothes, who has the funniest story. When it came time to order, I ordered just a sandwich and fries, even though I really wanted to order the country fried steak, and I did so because I found myself thinking about what the other women would think if I ate a heavier lunch than a sandwich. The phrase “country fried steak = dinner, not lunch” ran through my head. I don’t know these women personally, yet I chose the lighter lunch. It wasn’t my imagination, either. After the waitress left, the women asked each other what had been ordered, and commented on it. They never came out and criticized the choices made — but they compared them to their own. By the time I got back from the lunch that everyone else seemed to find energizing, I was emotionally drained.
Images of the synagogue with whom I have a tender relationship flashed through my mind. Part of the reason I have always been so enamored with them is the way they treat one another. It’s like they’ve tattooed signs on everyone’s forehead that say, “FRAGILE!” They treat everyone as if everyone is in need of time, attention, hugs and confidence. It’s not what they say, it’s how they behave. They actively listen, rather than just wait for an opportunity to start talking again. They create environments designed to slow the pace. They value community as much as they value anything: at the conclusion of their services, they have oneg, which is just where they gather in a different room to eat food and mingle. In other words, services are arranged so that it’s not just about going to service, then going home. It’s about connecting with people, and making sure that those in your community are okay. It’s a beautiful thing.
I can’t help but ask myself: why isn’t it that way in everyday life, in everyday environments? Why do women in particular seem to feel this innate need to compete with one another? Who cares that so and so always dresses cute–personally, I bet there’s a not-so-happy reason behind that. Who cares that so and so is so smart–can intelligence smile at you or hug you? What difference does it really make if someone is thirty and not married or nineteen with a ring? Why is humor associated with inherent happiness–I don’t know that woman who is always so hysterical is happy: in fact, it’s statistically sound to assume that at least some of that is a mask. Furthermore, even if it’s not, what is wrong with a fellow woman being genuinely happy? Why is it so hard not to take another woman’s happiness as some sort of proof that something about us is lacking? Why does our self-esteem and our confidence take a hit when we see another woman who appears to be sincerely happy?
Why can we not just handle one another as though we were precious, fragile gems?
No piece of glass is as fragile as the human heart. Nothing precious is as precious as the self-esteem of our fellow human beings. I am writing a book. It is making me extremely sad. It is also nailing home the fact that we are shaped and influenced by the actions of everyone we meet—-influenced even by the actions those around us choose NOT to take. NOT smiling at someone is an action. NOT encouraging them is an action. NOT listening is an action. Making every conversation a competition to see who has the best story, the worst story, the funniest story, the sweetest story–those are actions. And every action has a consequence, even if we can’t see it.
I’m not saying we have to tell each other pretty lies. All I’m saying is that maybe it wouldn’t hurt to try viewing one another as members of the same team, rather than as some sort of growth chart by which we judge ourselves. A happy woman is a good woman. A sad woman is a good woman too. The one in the classy, chic beautiful clothes and the one in the jeans, t-shirt and chipped fingernails are equal, they’re the same. They both need hugs. They both need smiles. They both need someone to really listen to them. Sometimes they need to be the leader. Sometimes they need to be a team player. Sometimes they need to vent. Sometimes they need space. The stay at home mom works just as hard as the 40 hour week one–and they both love their children the same. Neither is the better parent simply because they work or not. A parent who homeschools her child does not usually do so as a way of saying, “I’m better than you.” We all cry. We all laugh. We all cover parts of ourselves in masks we hate. We’re different, we’re not all clones. But don’t we all try to teach our children that being different does not make one the “winner” or the “loser.”
I want to be the perfect, all-American woman: a housewife who has a flawless appearance, perfect parenting and teaching abilities, whose home and car are impeccable, and who makes a great friend. The truth, though, is that I’m never going to be all those things. There is no such thing as the perfect, all-American woman. What really matters is the legacy we leave behind–only for our children, but for those whose lives we visit each day. Did we raise another up, or did we even notice she was really there at all?
I almost never paint my nails, or toe nails because I don’t feel I have the time to do so. And, even when I do, I don’t usually like it because it makes me feel “like a woman,” which implies that when I’m not in picture perfect form, I’m somehow less of a woman. Isn’t that absurd?
If repeated enough, we accept the subliminal messages we receive from ourselves and from our peers. Once broken, the human spirit is a mighty thing to repair. Healing a broken heart takes years. Recovering from the subtle effects of war waged on the self-esteem can be a life long process. In the end, someone suffering from pain only hurts herself and those around her. How much more confident would we all be if, whenever we saw one another, we encouraged and genuinely supported, listened and made time for each other? If we genuinely celebrated one another’s successes and triumphs-wouldn’t we all end up triumphing? Jealousy blinds us to our own potential–it’s really a cover-up for someone who doesn’t believe she’s as worthy as the next person. What would it harm us to complement one another–not fake giveaways, but true observations. Why is it so hard to say, “you’re a sweet person” or “You’re really quite talented”? Why do we choose silence when someone we see deserves recognition, when someone we see’s heart and soul could be revived by one sincere compliment?
I think we should make human beings our top priority and remember that, at every interaction, we have a choice to lift someone up or to tear them down invisibly. Me, I’d rather compliment the woman on her great sense of humor, or her clothes, then walk away uncertain of how I may have influenced her on an emotional level. Life is too short to be a race. It’s too short to be a contest. Emotions are too powerful to go ignored. Being five minutes late isn’t going to kill us, if someone we’re with needs an attentive ear. Just because we’re grown-ups doesn’t mean we’re capable of maintaining a healthy dose of confidence. Being a grown-up does not automatically endow us with self-esteem, or make us immune to kindness: we need each other.