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December 15, 2007

Thinking out loud.

Recently I got this comment from a reader:

A long term reader of your blog, I value your humour and dedication to personal growth. In reading about your outrage in the public library, I felt uneasy about the suggestion of limiting public access to information as a way to protect children... and women.

Wouldn't a responsible use of common sense see the problem contained? Perhaps something as simple as a childfree zone.

As I fall into the category that many call "old" and I work to become an well-loved elder like your Gran, I felt surprised at your repeated pejorative use of the word "old". Would the behaviour you object to be acceptable in a "young" person?

You make brilliant use of the power of humour. Please remember the power of words. Remember the value of open access to information. Be prepared to struggle with the consequences. Thank you so much for writing and for being a welcome part of my day.

As a long-term Southerner, I can always appreciate a good finger-wagging encased in such sweetness. I learned Robert's Rules of Order when I was six years old. "Say something nice, followed by your critique, closed by a nice comment." Ouch.

You can go back yourself and read the offending column where I used the word "old" three times: once in the phrase "old-fashioned," once in the phrase "dirty old man", and once in the sentence "can any old person off the street walk in and... " blah blah blah. I'm not going to piece it out, justification by justification. It's what I felt at the time and I know myself, so at least in this one criticism I know both God and Grandma understand I'm not horrible and ageist.

What's in your own heart doesn't change, even if it doesn't come out right in someone else's translation.

So why even focus on a simple, kindly worded critique of my core values? I think... I think perhaps I am bone-tired from never being good enough. This is why folks stop making new changes in their lives, or they stop telling people their dreams, or they stop writing, or they stop reaching and striving for more in life, or they stop having comments altogether ... you always get judged harshly by someone. A lot of folks love that, they love stirring up controversy and standing tall and proud for who they are in the midst of clamoring chaos. But I am not a big fan of creating controversy, that's just not my movie. I like standing tall and proud and all that, but I'm more of a "do it quietly because I am still working on some stuff and have more to learn" stander.

And I don't want to offend people or hurt people, that puts a bad juju into the world that completely negates what I want to do in my life. I'm sensitive to hurt, and so I don't want to inflict it upon others. I'm careful, always careful, but apparently never careful enough.

It is an impossible dream, opening yourself up and hoping people get you because someone inevitably takes you to task for something. Had I written "any ol' person off the street" which is how it sounds when I say it, I would have gotten an email or a comment from someone telling me I was misusing the word "ol'." Or that I was being folksy, or cheesy or whatever they heard in the moment. So I used "any old person off the street" instead.

It's just exhausting. And I do struggle with the consequences, every day, every single word. Don't you worry that I'm not hearing you, oh I hear you loud and clear. I just manage to keep most of it inside most of the time, and put on a smile, and pretend I can handle being told off.

I like hearing different opinions, I liked hearing folks explain what they would have done had they been in the library at the same time, and I loved hearing folks explain why they aren't into the idea of censoring the content but often had great ideas on how to isolate it.

One reader wrote:
"I am for more freedoms, not less."

And I loved that line and rolled it over in my mind as I drove home, I thought it had an excellent ring to it. I liked how she phrased it, not personally attacking anyone, just saying, "Hey. Maybe there is a solution that doesn't limit all freedoms of all people..." I like things that make you think.

But when the comments get personal ("You obviously have a prejudice against old people...") I take it personally, to heart, wonder as always how did I manage to screw that up? Should I just stop while I'm ahead and go back to writing news stories?

This has been a strange, interesting, long year. Being more exposed makes you hold on even more tightly to your privacy, and maybe it gets harder for you to be really honest. So you cringe in advance, know that people are going to find something wrong with you, and you either keep going or you hide.

Which did you choose?

Did you keep going, living bold and honest, or did you begin to hide, little by little?

I hid for seven long years and I have just now begun to re-emerge, define a space for myself. When you let people know who you are they have the opportunity to judge you and find you lacking. It is a risk, and I freely admit that sometimes I don't want to take that risk. Most of the time I do it anyway and it all works out in the end because one other thing I am learning -- finally, thank you God -- is that the judgment often given to me has nothing to do with me at all. People say all kinds of things all the time and it usually has more to do with them, and their unique expectations, life experience and opinions. That's not a bad thing. I love that I have my own judgments and personal preferences crafted from years of living how I live, seeing what I see, and so on. It is just part of me, and grows and changes as I do. That's why I was surprised to see a guy getting off watching porn in the public library, and surprised at my own reaction to it. I sat in judgment of that situation and found it offensive TO ME. I wasn't setting public policy, just wondering aloud about a strange day.

But you never know what will resonate with someone, that's why comments and feedback are so exhilarating. You get this experience of hearing other voices chime in, add, amplify. Sometimes you hear something that stings... and who do you listen to? It's a microcosm of life. Let's say I finish a work project and the business owner hates the design, but my boss loved it. Which opinion is the one I take home at night? It's a choice.

Why does one negative personal judgment stand out louder than 150 other opinions? I have asked myself this question a million times and I hate the answer: It only stands out because I made that choice. I made the choice to hear that one voice telling me I was bad inside and it seemed louder than all the other voices.

Why do I do that? How do you turn off a lifetime of listening to the critics of your life? I want to do this, find the light switch in the dark room inside of me and flip it, flood the inside with light so bright it burns out the Debbie Downers of this life. But I have yet to find that switch. It's one of the reasons I write fewer and fewer personal things here, preferring to save them. With a book I can avoid external critics if I want, avoid reviews, I just don't read them. Maybe it's time to switch to fiction already and forget sharing anything that's real.

Or maybe it's time to give up forever holding out hope that all people will get the message of a thing. That's the light switch, isn't it? Not all messages are for all people. People judge. It's life. It happens. Or society has gotten so honed in on gossip and judgment that we have huge industries built up just to expose, critique and judge. People say stuff, it happens, the world keeps spinning on its axis.

I know this in my head but struggle with it when I get a stinging rebuke. I work every single day on trying to let go, let go of hoping and wishing that people will stop sitting in judgment of me and always finding me lacking in some way. I cannot change anyone else, only me, and so this comes down to my own choice, my own decision, my own hide-or-be-seen dilemma. Can you remain soft in your heart and yet somehow develop a hard exterior, so that you can be who you want to be and never care what anyone else says? How on earth do you do that?

When am I ever going to be good enough JUST THE WAY I AM?
(For some people -- probably never. That is sad, and true, and also, kind of liberating. If you can NEVER please some people, you can simply stop trying to please them! Less work to do!)

Words do have power. They have the power you give to them. The truth for me is that I have to declare once and for all (again) to just let it go. Let go of hoping that I can please everyone. Let go of the judgment. Let go of what someone else thinks. Don't let a complete stranger try to tell you who you are. You know who you are.

I bet that even if you live really, really small someone will have something to say about it.

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Comments are closed.

Posted by laurie at December 15, 2007 9:27 AM