I’ve been thinking lately (always a dangerous thing…..!) about things we get used to and accept without thinking or because we don’t want to appear too sensitive.
First of all, I am often told that I am very sensitive….to which I reply…..thank you so much. Although it may not have been intended as a compliment, to me it very much is. I am grateful for my sensitivity. It helps me to listen better, to understand better, to try and tread more lightly in the territory of others’ feelings and experiences. My sensitive nature is a gift, I believe. It made me a better social worker when I was still working, it makes me a better friend, partner, human being. If I am not sensitive to things that may hurt (at times, unintentional, but not always), then I will not hear another’s pain and experience. I will not, indeed, be able to hear my own inner voice and experiences. That, for me, would be a huge loss. So, I say to others in response……thank you if you think I am sensitive. Truly. It is my intention. I want to be sensitive to hear who you are and what is going on with you. And I would love the same from you.
So, as I continue to think about this….(there I go again!!), I think about comments that I have sometimes had some kind of inner reaction to, but not paid attention to. Until now. Comments such as “You look good for your age.” So…..I look pretty awful for another age? I only look good to you because you expect me to look differently due to my age? Please understand….I really don’t judge others when they say this, as I think it is with good intentions and a wish to express a positive thing to me. I appreciate that, I really do. But…..but…..it is a conditional compliment. Why not the comment…”You look good.” Or even, “You look particularly nice today.” I had a dear friend once say to me….(and he meant it with love) “You are an aging Italian beauty.” Hmmmm… I have no illusions about my age and that it shows and that I certainly look different than I did in my youth, of course. But, I wonder, what is the purpose of needing to remind me of my process of aging? Why the condition before or attached to the compliment? Do you think that I am unaware of my age and need to be reminded? I find it so very interesting. We even to it to ourselves. I participated in a group not too long ago (aimed at improving intergenerational communication) and one older participant referred to herself as “older that dirt”. I laughed and followed along, calling myself the same when it came my turn. It was not until another participant objected to this that I became aware of how easily I slipped into this pattern myself.
I also have a reaction to someone saying something that could be seen as hostile…..and negating my experience of it by saying “I am just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?” And of course it is often seen as a fault if you cannot take a joke. I disagree with this. No, I would like to say (and intend to more and more), I cannot and do not wish to “take a joke” at my expense. My father, wise man that he was, said “There are no jokes….pay attention to what people say and what their intention may be…” Indeed. What is the need to tease, with hostility (there is a difference between loving teasing that is between those that are close and who do not tease with comments that are below the belt, versus those who tease in areas that they may even be aware are touchy areas for us.) What would be the purpose of that kind of “teasing”? What does that do to our relationship? For me, it can reduce the trust and willingness to open up more sensitive areas of myself, for fear that they may then become the subject of jokes. No, thank you.
As I continue on this aging journey, I become more aware of sensitivities (and am so grateful for that), both in myself and others. Isn’t that what helps us grow closer to each other, to be able to share these with a trusted friend and have the trust held sacred? I am not suggesting that there is not much to laugh about with aging, as there really is. But, there is a way and time to use humor and to talk about it – to encourage the openness and honesty about it and be able to share some of the struggles and yes, at times. to laugh about it. A sense of humor is essential. Essential. But, I think we need to be careful when it crosses a line – when it comes at our own expense. That is where I draw the line more these days. Aging seems to be one of those areas where we can learn more sensitivity. Have we not learned that we don’t say “You are pretty strong…. for a girl…..”, “You dance well…. for a guy….”, “You are good at math… for a girl”, and other things that we had to learn to become aware about. So, maybe it’s time to look at this attitude toward aging. Can you see me without that label or putting me in that box? Can we learn to really see each other, really hear each other, understand each other more deeply and individually? I hope so. We can learn, share, and love so very much more if we are allowed to be free from all the boxes and labels. No kidding.