I was asked today in incredulous and almost mocking tones, “Why on Earth are you doing all this?”
I answered, “Because I want to.”
And in reply, “What you really need to be doing…”
I have been shocked at the gamut of reactions the people around me have had to my project. There are really five categories of reactions I’ve come face-to-face with: 1) Supportive; 2) Eeyore; 3) Unsolicited advice; 4) Bizarre personal attacks; 5) Personal attacks disguised as exaggerated relief; and 6) Don’t forget, but you also suck because…
Most of my friends and family have been so great! I have friends who visit with me while I sort, friends who go with me to raw food restaurants, “buddies” to hold me accountable, and siblings to cheer me on. Thank you so much. I hope to return the favor someday.
This reaction sounds like, “There are only so many salads I can eat.” or, “No one would want any of my stuff.” and, “what if you gain weight again?” And so on. It’s funny because it’s so non-sequential. But it’s also not funny because the wet blanket approach often feels like passive aggression disguised as self deprecation. I take comfort in that Eeyore reactions have nothing to do with me.
3) Unsolicited Advice
“You just need to be more organized.” Or, “You just need to leave the (noun) in the same place…” Or, “You should never start running in winter.” Or, “Moderation in all things.” Or, “You shouldn’t get rid of your (nouns).” And no one can help themselves NOT to say, “If you just (cleaned out/picked up/made) the (garbage/the living room/the bed) every day, your (car/home/bedroom) would stay (trash free/so much cleaner/freshened up).”
Speaking for the scatter-brained-fried-from-external-input-barely-keeping-our-heads-above-water crowd, let me just say this: “We KNOW. We’ve tried implementing all that for years! We’re trying right now! Now help us find our keys!”
4) Bizarre Personal Attacks
Bizarre personal attacks are funny to me. Luckily, what the neighbors or casual acquaintances think of me is of little concern, and they are usually the go-to source if you’re shy on Bizarre Personal Attacks. Mature and well thought-out attacks like, “You aren’t any fun anymore,” or “What good to me are you now?” rarely elicit the response from me I think the attacker was hoping for. In parenting we call the appropriate reaction to illogical behavior the “neutral face.” The neutral face works great on adults, too.
5) Personal attacks disguised as exaggerated relief
“I am sooooooooooo glad to hear that! Your (fill in the blank) has always been terrible!” Personal attacks disguised as exaggerated relief make me want to never discuss anything personal again. I obviously wouldn’t be making changes unless I KNEW my (fill in the blank) was terrible. Finding out that someone else has shared the disdain and has made a note of my undesirable state triggers my retreat response and an old script of mine which demands I withhold all inner thoughts. This is the trickiest response for me to rise above. In this case, the “attacker” usually means no offense. They might even be trying to be validating. Sometimes I think response 5 and 6 both come from the same thinking error.
6) Don’t forget, you also suck because…
It’s a strange and common thinking error to infer that because a person is taking a hard look at their lifetime of choices that their entire life is now fair game to pick apart. When faced with those who want to “help” me remember ALL the things on which I “should” be working on, I want to shout, “You get the lighter fluid! I’ll get the matches! Let’s just burn this bitch to the ground!”
Instead, I hate to say it, but I’ve caught myself shouting at the well meaning, “Stop pointing out ways I fall short!”
In the end, I know that just as my overall motivations have very little to do with most people, I also know that the reactions people give back to me have very little to do with me. It is a human frailty that we personalize what other people say and do, when in reality, we all have scripts with subroutines that overwrite our clarity and objectivity every day.
I can never actually know another’s motivation or intent. And I further suggest that I can never truly know my own.
SO! As of today, I resolve to let both those who I barely know AND those who I hold dear, react to what I’m trying to do in any way they want, without it affecting me. I know that their reality is their’s alone, as is mine. I will not use their reactions as evidence that I should pull away. Nor will I let any of their negativity infect me.
And as to the question I was asked today, that brought ALL of these feelings to the surface, I have an answer for you, dear friend. You asked me why on earth I was doing all of this?
This is why:
O Me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.