I went to “add new post” again, despite working on a dozen other post drafts off and on, desiring some kind of completion. But it’s a process, not just about products, right? And it’s for my own growth, to be able to understanding my inner and outer word, so as to determine my direction for the next fifty years and ten minutes.
Been thinking about the nature of freedom, and the layers of small but firm constraints on acting as a free agent from moment to moment. What is the difference between socially valuable inhibitions and constraints, and those which merely strangle individuality and maintain conformity? When does charging ahead with one’s own unique choices, despite barriers from the realm of fashion, habit, or cultural norms, enrich and delight, boldly knock aside meaningless or harmful mini-traditions of dubious origin, and when does it merely fizzle, or worse, hurt others?
For example, last week I set aside a zucchini and a cucumber to pass on to my daughter’s riding instructor, CB. I’d asked her what veggies she liked, since she ought to have some return from the manure I was taking each week. Not that she wasn’t grateful–wished I could take more, if only I had a truck. She asked if I had any zucchinis, and of course I did, brought her one a few days later. Now I was about to give her another one, since I had, as one does, too many. Mentioned it to my daughter as she was getting ready to go to the barn, and she reacted very negatively (she thought I was giving three zucchinis, if that clarifies things). It was as if I was about to do a shameful thing, something that would reveal me to be the pathetic not-to-be-associated with parent I really was. She tried to forbid me from bringing the stuff–three zucchinis? Just because she said she liked them? Implication: the instructor was only trying to be nice, but there was no way she actually wanted more than that first zucchini, if even that. My daughter’s distress really was of the sort that cries, “Don’t embarrass me, please!”
Stepping back from some of the responding feelings in myself, of the child-to-child type of transaction, of maybe truly being pathetic, maybe tending to do dumb things about which knowing people rolled their eyes in private, I stepped up as parent instead, and asked her to explain. In the spirit of a teachable moment. She couldn’t calm down enough, couldn’t articulate, and resorted to muttering, “Oh my God! You just don’t do that!” under her breath. I said in my most level-headed manner, “Are you saying you don’t trust CB and me to be adults about this, for her to be capable of saying she has no need for more zucchini, or maybe next week, for us to joke about having too much zucchini and trading recipes just to get rid of it? That would be fine–whatever. But she told me she likes zucchini. And why would it reflect on you anyway? Why are you concerned at all?” I felt the need to teach her that its okay to act on one’s own despite pressure, as well as have her be unsuccessful, not rewarded, for pressuring another person is such a way. But I also felt her genuine distress and wanted to be compassionate and put her interests before my own, or that of anyone who might be desperate for a zucchini.
But suddenly I was questioning myself. All I wanted to do was share something, the fruit of my labors, a gesture of appreciation and consideration, but I might, in fact, actually be about to annoy or embarrass someone else, as well as look pathetic. Which then makes me angry–why should there be judgment on acts purely personal and creative, not harmful and not in the ethical realm? Why should it matter whether someone does what “people just don’t do”? And why, furthermore, could some people, the cool, self-confidently unique, socially cutting edge people, pull off such things while the rest of us get laughed at?
What came up in connection with these thoughts was the time my mother bought me a new pink plaid parka which I regretted picking out, didn’t like after all, was embarrassed to wear to school. My friend RR complimented me on it, and assured me, against my skepticism, that it was very nice. So I offered it to her. After all, she seemed to like it more than I. There was an awkward pause. She haltingly explained that she was only saying she liked it to be nice, that she didn’t really want the coat. I had completely misunderstood, committed a faux pas, not cool.
Another incident, of wanting to do something to specially acknowledge an education professor I respected, went better: I dropped in to his office with two homemade scones to share, a sort of breaking of bread together. He got it, this bearded, peace-emanating Christian professor, who shared Krishnamurti quotes for our consideration in Philosophy of Ed class, who used spontaneous role-playing to explore questions of ethics, culture, practice in teaching. Said thank you, and quietly ate with me, listening to what was up in my learning process. No judgment.
I guess this reveals my level of insecurity and fear of social exclusion, of being misunderstood and judged. And the thread, in my life, of that conflict between being myself and being “normal.” Between fitting in and breaking out, playing it safe and taking those from-the-gut risks. Maybe it’s because this process in still alive in me that I feel prepared to help teens walk that road, desire to support those like myself whose special contribution to the world is in danger of being stifled. The process of facing social pressure from my own children, who, after all, I see as not having legitimate authority over my choices, is a learning process for me, as well as a chance to draw out some principles for them to consider in their own growth.