Today, while in the ladies room, I heard two co-workers talking. One was crying.
“I told her I got back together with him because I married him,” she sobbed. “I thought maybe he’d changed.”
Well, you can guess the rest of the story. He hasn’t changed.
“I know I’m a good person. I’m doing things I don’t want to do because of him.”
As I stepped up to the sink to wash my hands, I said to her, “you remember who you are and don’t let anyone change that.” She nodded, and opened up about what was happening. I listened.
Then I went on to say, “Sometimes we try so hard to make something work, and it just isn’t working. We try to change things, but there’s often something else going on with the other person, something we don’t know about. If someone else makes you feel bad, you need to walk away. Don’t try to figure it out and fix it. Walk away.”
I could see that had an impact. She heard me. Maybe, just maybe, something it took me a long time to learn can change things for her and make her life better now, while she’s still so young.
I’m not saying give up on marriage at the first struggle, but if there’s abuse, if someone is scared, it’s time to jump ship and swim for your life to safer shores.
We never know when what we’ve said changes someone’s life, or a part of it. Years ago I had lunch with a former colleague. He was struggling with a job he hated, and the weight of his despair was leaving him seriously depressed. I asked him the same thing someone else had asked me, and my answer had changed the course of my life.
“What you be doing if you were doing what you wanted to do?”
He didn’t answer me then, but I saw him a couple of years later. He bubbled over with enthusiasm.
“I thought about what you said, and I knew the answer. It changed the entire direction of my career. I have a job I love!” he told me. “Thank you!”
Really? Wow. Frankly, I didn’t even remember asking him that question, but I’m not surprised I did, knowing how it had affected me. What else have I said or done that has had a positive impact on someone else? (I ask forgiveness for things I’ve said or done that have hurt others.)
I hope my young co-worker makes the right decisions and moves on to greater things. I hope she holds out for a man who treats her right.
How many women have put on their sexiest voices to sing this campiest of all Christmas songs? Unless you’re Eartha Kitt, it’s an act. But she had the voice and the spirit to make this song more than a novelty.
Here’s the original, recorded in 1953 by a 26-year-old Ms. Kitt:
Eartha Kitt died on Christmas Day in 2008, after nearly 82 years of a fascinating and at times poignant life.
Born the child of a black mother and white father, possibly as a result of rape, her mother had a challenging time finding a home for her small family because one daughter (Eartha) was “yellow” — light-skinned — and illegitimate.
She grew up to enjoy great success as an entertainer, but it wasn’t without its challenges. And despite limited education when she was a child, as an adult she reportedly spoke four languages, including French, and sang in eleven. Her roles as an actress ranged from Helen of Troy to Catwoman in the Batman TV series (replacing Julie Newmar).
About a year before she died, she made this comment about “Santa Baby” in an interview on NPR:
“every time I sing “Santa Baby,” I laugh more at myself when I’m singing that song because I know what I’ve gone through and the song says Santa baby, slip a sable under the tree. Well, all the men who have done that with me had never stayed with me, so I realized everything that I want in life I have to pay for myself, and I really love that because then nobody owns me, but me, and my public of course. “
Merry Christmas to all who struggle, whatever your pain may be. Find strength in the victories of others, knowing the same can happen for you.
Perhaps some of you have been taught the communication technique of “echoing” or “mirroring.”
After listening to a colleague’s thoughts or explanation of a situation, you summarize what you heard and, in your own words, repeat it back to them, prefaced with something like, “what I hear you saying is…” I think it’s suggested for personal relationships, too, but that’s a different topic for another day.
I’d learned about this approach to understanding, but hadn’t truly had a chance to use it, when I began a new job at a major corporation in the southern U.S. I was learning, through one painful lesson after another, that the direct approach was rarely appreciated here. Instead, a passive-aggressive, read-between-the-lines method of communication was considered professional and respectful.
For example, if someone asked for my help with a project that afternoon, and I knew my own deadline would preclude me from being available, it was best not to say, “I’m sorry, the Acme project is going to keep me busy all day. I won’t be able to help you.” The preferred response was, “As soon as I’m done I’ll come over.”
To me, it was dishonest and disrespectful to imply there was a good chance I’d be able to pitch in when I knew full well it would never happen. What I didn’t realize was this was code for, “no way will I have time for anything but my own work” and those raised in this area of the South clearly understand this convoluted language.
The lesson slammed down on me one day when I was called into a meeting with other managers in my department. They wanted to discuss a program our superiors were enthusiastic about, but was difficult to make practical. It sounded good. For one week, a manager and an hourly worker would partner together and train each other in their respective responsibilities to help understand the highs and lows of the “other side.”
In practice, this idealistic program was fraught with problems. While my colleagues agreed on the surface it seemed like a good idea, the stories they told me illustrated how frustrating it really was for everyone involved. However, it didn’t matter what they thought, they were mandated to make it work, and they were hoping I might have some fresh ideas.
I mirrored back a summary of what I’d heard them tell me. “It sounds like you’re being asked to manage a program you believe has possibilities, but what you’ve been doing so far hasn’t been working.”
The meeting ended with that statement. Two of the women walked out in disgust at my “rudeness.” Another sat there staring at me, as if she didn’t know what to say. A fourth pulled me aside and lectured me on professional behavior and respecting the feelings of others.
As someone who always, always considered the sensitivities of my co-workers, to a point where one of my supervisors listed “too nice” as my greatest fault, this was a shock. I struggled to understand, tried to explain the method of communication, and asked what I “should” have said.
I never got a response to the latter, and they brushed off all my explanations. In retrospect I believe there was something else going on. There had to be. I said nothing insulting, my intent and manner were respectful, practically deferential.
Yet communication is different in various regions of the country, and for that matter, the world. Those women would have fallen flat on their rears if they brought their communication expectations to a company in New York, just as I would have been told to be more straightforward.
Minnesotans pride themselves on what they term, “Minnesota nice.” You drive a few hundred miles south, and people who hear that phrase will think you’re being facetious. “You know, he was (air quotes) ‘Minnesota nice.'” What’s considerate in the Upper Midwest is blunt and coarse in the South.
How did I handle the frustrations of this communication block? After two years of the underhanded words and behavior of others in my department, I quit. I didn’t have the strength or wisdom to fight it, or the savvy to appropriately adopt the same thinking. I didn’t even fully understand what was going on.
Experts will tell you that when indirect communication is used, a knowledge of the culture is essential for understanding the meaning. That’s a challenge when you’re unaware of the depth of the cultural differences, even in your own country.
What I saw as disrespectful in what I earlier called “underhanded words and behavior,” people whom I came to respect believed was considerate, putting the other person first. Of course you don’t tell them you can’t help them. That’s rejection. So they developed this method of (as they see it) kindly saying “sorry, I’m not available.”
Communication is more than words, although some try to limit it to such. It is knowing the people around you and the environment you are living in. It is understanding when the issue being discussed isn’t the issue you’re dealing with, when to fight for your rights and dignity and when to maintain that dignity by bowing out.
It is being human, and letting others be the same.
“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not; and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Our face is a mask, sometimes opaque, sometimes transparent.
Recently a friend of mine was taking an online test about reading emotions, and not doing too well. She was frustrated. I suspect the test was flawed in multiple ways, and even if she did read the emotions correctly, there’s never any way to be certain of the reason for the feelings. We can’t read minds, and we don’t know all that is happening in anyone’s life.
Someone may smile at something we said because it ties in with a conversation they had only a moment before. We’re unaware of what was said, however, and think they’re smiling inappropriately at our tale, and become frustrated. It happens everyday.
That’s a simple misunderstanding. Just as we don’t know what is spoken in the moments before we join a discussion, we most often have no way of fully knowing what’s happening in the lives of those around us. People are discreet enough generally to keep their private lives private, and sometimes they do so almost to a fault.
I have a friend who was dealing with her mother’s Alzheimer’s last year, and I never knew until shortly before her mom died. She and I had been working on a project together and I’d wondered why she’d lost her enthusiasm for it. Was it something I said?Had I been too controlling? I can get stuck in my ways. Now, that could have been the case, but more likely, she simply had other priorities.
She kept up a brave face around me, and maybe wondered why I never asked how her mom was doing. You see, others knew. I didn’t. Perhaps I should have known. We live in a communication age, but our own personal interactions frequently suffer from presumptions and assumptions all around. We rely too much on expectations and, as I alluded to above, expressions of emotion.
How we view our peers and others around us is more than just reading facial expressions, of course.
As well as how they view us. We’re born with a look that defines us, or helps others think they can define us. We grow and mature and that look changes and develops with us, but never truly reflects all that we are. It limits our definition of ourselves to other people.
When I was in high school, I peripherally was friends with a young woman, a year older than I, who to this day I’d have to say was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. Another woman in my group described her by saying, “she looks like a cover girl, only she hasn’t been airbrushed.” The only person to come close to matching her beauty (and it may be a tie) was her younger sister.
But beauty had its price. Let me add here these were two of the nicest, most sincere women you’d ever meet as well, and their parents were great people. Yet despite all the kindness they’d show to others, they were subject to vicious rumors and gossip simply because of petty jealousy. They faced other problems directly related to their looks, such as expectations from men when they were far too young to handle that sort of thing, and so on. It wasn’t fair.
The older girl, my friend, was often cautious around other people, knowing what they would be saying as soon as she left the room. That in turn led to talk she was “stuck-up” because she’d be reluctant to open up to someone new, or even those she knew well enough already.
We make judgments sometimes to feel in control of a situation. If we understand what’s going on, we can deal with it, so we seek an answer — and run the risk of being horribly wrong.
How do we discern a person’s heart?
Respecting another’s privacy is an important value to many of us, and in doing so, we also must respect we will likely give up some knowledge we may find useful, whether we have a right to it or not. That knowledge includes the ability, at times, to fully understand someone’s painful history and appreciate their distant behavior as a symptom of that aching within themselves.
I do believe we should, in general, live with an attitude every person is far more complex than we can recognize when we first meet them. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt, understanding we don’t know what secret sorrows they face, is the gracious thing to do.
Having that open mind and open heart, giving others a chance to reveal themselves, will help teach us the perception and insight we seek. It is immensely rewarding to be the one who discovers the cold and bitter outsider is a warm, kind person waiting to be loved.
Yes, we must always use discretion when reaching out to others to save ourselves from being taken advantage of by manipulative and greedy people. A slow and steady approach of grace with the counsel of others is always wise.
Grace, wisdom, warmth of spirit. Gifts of human kindness that can change the world.
A friend of mine has been battling obesity for a long time now.
It’s affecting her in a multitude of ways, physically and emotionally. Recently she made the difficult decision to address her problem surgically. That means a series of tests before the surgeon would consider her case, including a psychiatric examination.
The conclusion? She wasn’t a suitable candidate.
She was deeply disappointed, but still determined to fight her battle with her weight. However, she wanted to address the issue of her mental or emotional health one more time, so she went back to the psychiatrist who had made the diagnosis.
Turns out, it was a clerical error and didn’t reflect the psychiatrist’s opinion one bit. In fact, my friend is considered to be someone with a high level of probability for success, both short- and long-term.
What she came to realize through all of this was the bitter treatment people with mental illness face. After this mistake was made but before the error was discovered, she found herself being treated harshly by the staff who once were so kind to her. When her chart was corrected, they returned to their friendly behavior.
It reminded me of a close friend’s experience with bigotry after she had a liver transplant. Nurses and others on the hospital staff were abrupt and, on occasion, downright rude. Finally, she asked her doctor to please note her transplant was necessary due to an auto-immune disorder, not because of substance abuse. The doctor wrote AUTOIMMUNE DISEASE in big letters on her chart, and the staff turned around in their judgmental attitudes. Jean was disgusted.
Mental health and substance abuse remain stigmatized in our society,
even among medical professionals who should know better. They presumably have accurate information about the nature of these diseases, and after all, haven’t they committed themselves to a profession of compassion and empathy?
It brings me back to singing a familiar tune: you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s easy, and convenient, to judge another’s behavior. It gives us a feeling of control.
But it’s dangerous, and a crutch for the foolish.
I respect those who are gracious enough to give those with mental illness the room they need to deal with their disease. One of my closest friends has two sisters diagnosed with bipolar disorder, at different levels of severity. The oldest sister has a difficult time functioning in society. With the help of family, she’s chosen to live in a halfway house in a remote area.
The other sister, after years of destructive living, was able to get a handle on her disease and maintain both a job for herself and a home for her son. About every seven years, however, she had a severe relapse. Her son would live his with father during that time, and her employer would give her a leave of absence for as long as she needed it.
The time came when that company was sold, and she decided to apply for disability, knowing that odds were another employer wouldn’t be as kind about her mental health. The courts agreed, and at the age of 56, she was granted disability. She still makes a valuable contribution to society through volunteer work, and her son is healthy, happy and completely supportive of his mother.
Her volunteer work is with mental health awareness, and people listen to her. How they apply what she has to say in their own lives is, of course, an unknown, but we can only hope they open their hearts and listen to what is unsaid.
Because we are often best understood by what is unsaid.
Recently I was tempted to very loudly tell a salesperson to shut up and leave me alone.
I’ve worked retail long enough to know management puts a lot of pressure on sales associates to push the company credit card. They provide all sorts of helpful tools to overcome objections, and expect their workers to talk a certain percentage of customers into applying right then and there.
Most of the time, a bored sales associate rattles off a line something like, “Would you like to save ten percent today with a (company name) credit card and receive notices about special sales exclusively for our card-holding customers?” I smile and say thank you, no, and we proceed with the purchase.
Recently, however, my mom and I were shopping, and it didn’t go so smoothly. After the initial question, I replied, “We’re not interested.”
“You’d get special discounts throughout the year, and can easily take advantage of our already low prices.”
“We’re not interested.”
“It would only take a minute to apply. I’m sure you’d be approved.” Seriously? You’re sure?
“We’re not interested.”
“We have so much wonderful merchandise, I’d hate for you to lose out…”
This was the point where I wanted to shout, “WE ARE NOT INTERESTED. JUST RING UP OUR PURCHASE AND STOP HARASSING US ABOUT YOUR DAMN CARD.”
It was my mom’s birthday, and we were shopping for her, so I stopped myself. Okay, I may not have done it anyway. But I really wanted to let this whiny-voiced woman know how offensive she was being.
Moderation in everything. I can’t say it’s outside the realm of possibilities that either my mom or I would apply for that company’s credit card in the future. If we do, I can guarantee it won’t be because of pushy sales tactics.
Persuasion is a game for diplomats. To truly bring someone around to your side, you need to find some common ground, build a rapport. I don’t know how you’d do that in the above situation, except to say I do know most of us expect the question and know whether or not we want to save ten percent today. Your best bet at winning me over is a friendly attitude and understanding smile.
But what if what you’re trying to sell is something far more personal, something that people feel passionately about? Never discuss religion or politics, the saying goes, and we all know why. You’re likely to end up in a fruitless argument.
Today I (somewhat foolishly) responded to a friend who is a true believer in an Unnamed Politician. Okay, Donald Trump. I’m not. Wisest to stay away from any confrontation, because I won’t change my friend’s mind. But he had written something on Facebook I strongly disagreed with, so I felt compelled to respond.
I knew what not to say. I laid out the reasons for my feelings in a straightforward manner, and sought the narrow path of common ground with my friend. “I don’t expect any president to be perfect,” I wrote in part, “and I respect that it is a challenging job. I want all of our presidents to succeed, just as I want our country to succeed. I just don’t trust President Trump.”
My friend, who has different ideas than I do about what will make our country successful, replied in a gracious and kind manner, saying (among other things) that while he didn’t vote for President Obama, he was willing to give him a chance, but disagreed about the direction he was taking.
We will never agree about politics, but we will listen to the other, and maybe learn something valuable.
And we’ll remain friends, and that is more important than any argument about politics.
Ever been convinced something is true, only to discover there is, indeed, another logical explanation? I admit, it’s easier for me to point out this oh-so-human flaw in others, and I know a few people who routinely will stubbornly insist they are right, regardless of the possibility there is another way of looking at the situation.
Moments ago I was proven wrong about something that seemed so clear to me…okay, I knew my suggestions were off-the-wall, but there honestly was a logic to them. And who knows, in the future someone might say, “hey, she was right…I’ll be darned!” I’m not counting on it, but it has happened in the past.
I try not to judge others, and one of the biggest reasons why is this: we simply don’t have all the information. No matter how wise, sophisticated or informed you may believe yourself to be, you are not omniscient. You are limited in your view of the world by your experience.
One friend of mine practically spits if you mention Melania Trump.
Now, I’m not a fan of our president, never have thought he was anything but a buffoon. I can’t imagine being married to him (the thought of that makes me spit), and neither can my friend. Yet just because we see nothing desirable in the man doesn’t mean some other woman won’t find him attractive.
I hear the laughter — let me finish —
Seriously, while my friend thinks Melania married Donald strictly for his money, I say this: I don’t know the woman. I don’t know why she married him. I don’t know what he was like when he was courting her. You get my point. Maybe the money was the strongest draw, maybe not. I would guess she never genuinely anticipated being First Lady, and that’s a role with a high cost, so I have some sympathy for her. My friend does not; she thinks she got what she deserved.
That’s the kind of judgment I pray you never hear me make about another.
I was the victim of some harsh judgment several years ago,
and I lull myself to sleep many nights thinking how my accusers may have fallen in their pursuit of evidence of my non-existent wrongdoing. They spent a lot of time and money chasing after this information, and someone, somewhere along the line, must have said, “what the hell are you doing?” because they never dug up the dirt they were certain was within their grasp. There must have been enough misinterpreted data along the way for them to continue in this fruitless pursuit, and I imagine they fell victim to their own limited viewpoint when evaluating the facts.
Knowing human nature, and in particular, knowing the individuals involved, they never did give up believing I was guilty of some wrong-doing. Perhaps they are still waiting for me to trip up.
I’m not suggesting
we remain so open-minded we become gullible, victims of our own consideration. There is a point where we know enough to draw reasonable conclusions. It’s when we think we know more than we actually do that we’re most likely to judge others. The biggest danger is judging people who are more acquaintances than friends, or assessing situations in which we are dabblers, not experts.
Nothing is as it seems…so judge not, lest ye be judged.
In my last job, we weren’t allowed to kill the bugs.
Okay, it’s a bed & breakfast, so they had an exterminator come out on a regular basis for the comfort of their guests, but if a wasp flew into the dining room, you called Bill. He’d show up with the bug jar, capture the wasp and set it free.
Which is all well and good, but in my house, you take out the Raid.
The mice were saved, too, whenever possible. One such soul, Rodney, kept coming back, even though Bill would capture him in one of those humane traps and take him far into the woods in back. I’m not sure how he knew it was Rodney every time, but they developed a bond of sorts.
I couldn’t help myself. I offered to bring over my cat, Walter, for a play date with Rodney. That suggestion was met with a wounded look from Bill.
Despite my jokes, I respect Bill’s philosophy. It comes as a direct result of his time serving as a Marine in Vietnam and a police officer in Little Rock in the 70s. He’s seen enough killing and death.
He tells stories of his time on the force, but never as a Marine in combat. Something true of many, if not most, servicemen and women. What they witnessed, and took part in, during war is not something they want to remember or repeat, in words or actions.
Instead, some, like Bill, try to make sense of what happened by protecting all innocents. Bless the beasts and the children, as they used to say. A phrase born of a country at war. Where are the protest songs today?
We become the people we are today in part by our response or reaction to what happened yesterday. Ideally, it is a response, a chosen way of thinking and being. But what happens when you are thrown into a situation for which you are never prepared, then asked to live with the resulting emotions? The guilt, the shame of an inexplicable experience may result in burying your thoughts and beliefs about what happened. You lose a part of yourself.
Believe in yourself, the person you know yourself to be in spite of the thoughts that hammer at your brain. Seek out the support of others. Never give up in your search for better.
This life is far from perfect. But it is what we’re given for a time, so never give in to the worst. Let the better part of life win.
How do I know who you are? And what do you know about me by looking at me?
As I write this, I’m wearing clothes that need a good wash, my hair is in desperate need of styling, and any makeup I put on earlier today has worn off. I need some groceries, but I hesitate to head to the store. I don’t want to be judged by my appearance. It probably wouldn’t be complimentary.
Yet even at my best, my most cleaned up, there are going to be those who judge me in a negative way.
Just as so many make assumptions about others. We all do it to a certain extent, sum a person up with our first impressions. That quick assessment is based on our beliefs and previous experiences, and is likely to be limited and narrow.
You won’t know me until you talk to me, and even then it will take some time. You won’t know me until you see me in separate circumstances, and most people don’t have that opportunity.
We have our beliefs about others that are tidily summed up in stereotypes. The Germans are stoic, if you’re from Latin America, you’re passionate. There is some truth to those beliefs culturally, but not necessarily for individuals. Each of us has our life experience that shapes our unique personality.
In America, if you’re from the south, you’re a bigot, a racist. Yankees are rude. For that last one, I’ll tell you as someone who’s lived in both southern and northern states there is a more genteel, some might say passive, approach to manners in the south. So in contrast, those from up north do appear rude.
For example, the idea of mirroring someone’s statement to show you understand them is simply not done at the very Southern company I worked for several years ago. It’s considered rude, confrontational. Instead, you should… well, frankly, I never did figure out how you’re supposed to handle it.
And while I wouldn’t call all Southerners racist, there is a remarkable them/us view with many of the people I know born and raised south of the Mason/Dixon line. They don’t see it. In fact, they justify every word of their own beliefs. As do I, with my own beliefs.
There are times when I need to challenge those beliefs. For example, you might arguably say I have some prejudice against those from the southern United States.
We make broad judgments based on a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, manner, clothing, accent, and whatever else we take in during those first seconds of meeting someone. And those judgments stick with us.
Some stubbornly maintain their beliefs, while others are willing to challenge themselves. Some give others a second chance, some are one-and-done.
Some have seen me at my worst, and don’t want to risk knowing me any further. My disappointment at those times is a challenge for me overcome.
People who know me know I’m a caring person, compassionate and kind. They know I’d do anything for my family, and that includes my cats. They know I shrivel up inside at the thought of hurting my friends.
They know other things about me, too. Things I won’t list here, because why spell out my faults?
They have forgiven me my insensitive moments, my selfish moods.
Each of us is complex, even those who seem the most simple. We all can surprise those who think they know us with an unguarded moment.
So who you think you see is not who I am. Nothing is at it appears, no one is as she appears.
Years ago a woman I knew casually was tragically killed in a senseless accident. Since her roommate was close friends with my roommate, I was in on a lot of details surrounding her death I would have preferred not to have known.
But one incident stood out in a humorous way. The woman who had died was a tough broad, whose style can best be described as “woodsman’s.” There was little femininity about her, in appearance or manner. Yet hidden underneath her bed her roommate found not one, not a dozen, but hundreds of Harlequin romances. She had her girly side, you could say.
Since then my former roommate and I always speculate what friends and relatives will find “under the bed” when a loved one dies. We all have our secrets; few in my circle would ever acknowledge reading romance novels of that genre, but who knows what they’re pulling out from under their pillow as they prepare to sleep?
Some of those secrets can be heartbreaking to learn. Discovering your loved one had a secret love could be painful, perhaps even beyond what it needs to be. Decades ago, a friend of my mom’s was killed in a plane accident. She was a flight attendant (well, stewardess, it was that long ago), and up until a short time before this flight, she’d been having an affair with the pilot, who was married. They’d called it off and agreed not to fly together again, personally or professionally.
However, she was on call to work that day, and had to work to fill in for a sick colleague. Everyone on the flight died in the crash. When I learned their story, I wondered, did the pilot’s wife know about the affair? Did she think her husband lied to her when he said it was over and he’d never fly with this young woman again? As far as anyone in the know was aware, the affair truly was a thing of the past. But that man’s wife may have lived out the rest of her years thinking otherwise.
Or she may never have known a thing about any of it.
As I write this I’m pondering what secrets I have that family and friends could learn after I die. Hopefully that’s ages away, but what if it happened sooner? I honestly can’t think of anything, yet I’m a private person, so there undoubtedly are things about me that would surprise others. Hopefully not dismay, but I make no promises.
I believe in keeping some secrets. It doesn’t need to be deceitful to go to your grave without revealing all sides of yourself to the world. Those who are left to learn the truth, however, need to be forgiving and kind, even to the departed.
(This is part 2 in a 3-part series on Layers and Secrets. Watch for part 3 in two weeks!)
The day after my brother’s wedding reception, the family and a few close friends gathered at his and my sister-in-law Ann’s apartment.
It was about as a casual an occasion as you can imagine, so I took out my knitting. I happened to be using some beautiful hand-carved needles for a project made of angora and lambswool. Ann’s friend David, an artist, took note of the needles.
“They’re a piece of art by themselves,” he commented, and graciously asked me about what I was making. In turn, I told him how beautifully he’d sung the night before, something I’m sure he was used to hearing. David has a phenomenal voice; at one time he was a soloist in the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. Let me assure you that is an accomplishment.
We had a really pleasant conversation. Seventeen years later, I still look forward to the time we speak again. David later commented to my brother how nice I was, and my brother was certain he hadn’t spoken to me. Nice? Not how viewed his sister.
I am nice, to a fault. But while I can be very, very good, I can also be horrid. Less so as I’ve gotten older, I suppose, but yes, I can be nasty. Family dynamics being what they are, I’m guessing this was a time when there was more tension between my brother and me than happiness.
A few years ago I went through a hell I’m working hard to move past, and it changed me. Initially I found I was much better able to stand up for myself, and a layer of anger seemingly charged all of my actions. The anger still exists, but it’s only a small part of the whole now.
Sometimes, though, my anger and frustration can’t help but eak out, and I have to have a long talk with myself. I choose not to become someone who resorts to passive-aggressive tactics to communicate her feelings, but in order to do that, I have to monitor what I’m feeling and and why.
I am not someone it’s easy to get to know. I constantly surprise those who think they know me well with an offhand comment that reveals I’m not so naÏve or sheltered as they think I am. I frequently hide much of myself from others and conform to their image of me. It’s easier that way.
The blessing for me in all of this is I understand people are more complex than we often realize. I tend to be less surprised about someone’s hidden talents or quirks because I accept that that is the norm. We all have layers we hide beneath the everyday aspects of ourselves.
Layers, and secrets.
(A three-part series on Layers and Secrets. Look for Part 2 next week!)
I’ve recently become addicted to the CBS TV series “Madam Secretary” with Téa Leoni and Tim Daly.
It’s another insider-White House series, this time with Téa as the unconventional Secretary of State called to duty when the man previously holding that position goes down in a plane accident (well, no accident, but you have to watch for details about that…). She’s a former CIA operative whose then-boss is now, well, President (played by Keith Carradine).
Husband Tim Daly is a world-reknowned religious and ethics scholar, and the two get plenty of play in international intrigue. Some of it’s a bit too intense for my liking — modern audiences seem to crave more of something I find distasteful — but a lot of it is very real human emotion, played with a good dollop of humor. You get the feeling the Secretary of State is just one of us. Until you look at her day.
(If you’re wondering about the title to my piece, I had to get it out front: I keep slipping up and calling the show “Madam[e] Alexander” like the damn dolls. Okay, lovely dolls, but they have nothing to do with this show in any way, shape or form. I’m hoping to break myself of this habit by placing it right out there.)
An ordinary day for Secretary of State….like the first episode of Season Two, which just finished. (The season, that is. The first episode aired months ago.) Somehow, despite the fact that in a bizarre turn of events Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord has become acting President for a brief time, you relate to her. At least I did. In part, because, you see, poor Bess was being called upon to perform modified lyrics to a Billy Joel song at a state dinner. Yes, SING. Like me, she’s tone deaf. Unlike me, her chief of staff is (Broadway legend) Bebe Neuwirth, so she was saved.
The show is generally much heavier than that, so don’t look for anything so lightweight on a weekly basis.
But here, at last, is my point. Secretary of State is a serious position. So is White House Chief of Staff. There are plenty more such jobs, with consequences both glorious and catastrophic. And while there is no one person capable of making the perfect decision every single time for any given role, there are those far more qualified than others, more likely to consistently make strong decisions. Like any job, there is value in having experience, connections and wisdom from previous choices.
Some of those jobs, such as Chief of Staff, are appointed, and others, such as Secretary of State, are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The meaning of the process of “advise and consent” that the Senate takes on in the confirmation process varies from scholar to scholar, but in practical terms it amounts to this: the President has the greater power in choosing who will fill those positions.
And the people he or she chooses shape this country in ways big and small, change lives and bring opportunity — or take it — from others who can make a difference.
In other words, our choice of President is critical.
It’s not a favorite year for many for presidential candidates. Lately I’ve been hearing words that strike greater fear in me than anything else, “I think I’ll just stay home on Election Day.”
Don’t let this election be decided by those who don’t — or won’t — vote. If you stay home, you’re part of a movement guaranteeing the wrong man will win. It’s no longer the same party politics.
Watch Madam Secretary for a taste of the decisions our leaders will have to make. Dramatized? No doubt. Real? In enough ways that matter, yes, it is.
Recently a friend of mine, a male friend in his 70s, asked me why women wear high heels.
The answer is simple. You look sexier wearing them. You’re taller and slimmer, you stand straighter, you may even walk more confidently.
But they are so, so bad for you, and your feet just may hurt like hell in very short order. A 25-year-old woman should not have bunions, and yet I’ve known several who have, all because of their shoes.
Looking sexier isn’t always the way to go.
A news story from Great Britain brought this issue front and center again this last week. A 27-year-old temp worker, Nicola Thorp, was sent home from her receptionist job because she wore flats instead of the required 2″ -4″ heels. She’s started a petition to change the law in her country, and her efforts are going quite well, with more than 110,000 signatures collected so far.
There was no reason the temp agency could come up with, according to Ms. Thorp, requiring the heels. It’s clearly a matter of image, make that, sexism. Put the pretty girl at the front desk.
A friend of mine was recently advised to seek a job for which she didn’t have the skills, and the individual doing this job coaching told her, “it doesn’t matter. You’re pretty so the old codgers won’t care how good you are.” He pushed the issue, telling her she had an asset she wasn’t using. It was futile explaining to him how sexist and demeaning this is, even though every example he gave of women who held their jobs with similar “qualifications” only reinforced what was obvious to us.
Here’s what was particularly frustrating about that conversation: this isn’t a man you would, in general, call sexist. Yet in this area, he’s blind to his thinking.
As is much of my country, and many others as well. We still expect women to look pretty to succeed. There are multiple problems surrounding this, not the least of which is, some women are pretty. Most, with a little mirror time, clean up good, and want to put their best face forward, literally. No one is going to get away with telling them not to do that in the name of defending women’s rights.
But relying on your looks in your job is giving up your power. There is no strength in going before your boss, even going through the office doors, knowing your chief asset is your appearance.
So where does the line get drawn, how is the issue resolved? One small step can be made by not using your appearance to gain favor as a worker. Other than meeting a standard of proper grooming, your shoes shouldn’t be winning over the executive suite. In fact, they shouldn’t be noticed.
If you’re dressed properly, they notice the woman.