Saturday, October 29, 2011

Humpty Dumpty And Me

I don't think it was one, hard, direct hit.

I think it was the result of repeated blows.

Delivered over years and years all those years and years ago. A lifetime or two has passed since then. But even so there is still a mark on my soul that is the distinctive colour of bruise. Even the slightest touch there, hurts, deeply. Even the slightest breeze over the tender skin reawakens the ache. Up through time, comes the horror, the overwhelming fear, and at sixty, I'm six again. An adult, a child again. Power is gone, strength is gone, words are gone.

For me it is a tone of voice, a tone that I feel dismisses me, that I feel diminishes me, that I feel dishonours who I am. "Who do you think you are?" asked of a four year old ... leaves the only right answer to be "no one, no one at all." And that's what happens when I hear that tone. A cascading river of humiliation pours over me. A reminder that no matter what I do, now, will never, ever, make up for what happened then.

Today, this morning, I asked Joe a question. We were both tired. He spoke to me with impatience, he spoke to me with that tone that called me 'stupid'. Hearing that tone, in his voice, hurts beyond measure. I don't understand why he can't hear it. I don't understand why, when that tone is used, the world doesn't stop and gape at the cruelty behind the message contained in the timbre. When a soul is struck, why don't the angels cry out in protest. When a spirit is assaulted, why doesn't the world stop - shocked. When a 'self' is rent asunder, why does it fall in Humpty Dumpty confusion never to be put back together again.

And, AND, A.N.D. I hear that voice all the time. I hear it in the mouths of parents who speak to children as if children aren't breakable. I hear it in the impatience that comes in the moment, the impatience that forgets what it was to be powerless, to be left gasping for air - struck by parents who forget that their power has a very long reach ... a reach deep into the heart of self hood. I hear it and wonder - do these parents remember that love is a decision that is made every moment, that love is an action more often of restraint than it is of generosity, that the love a child offers is only free for a very short while, that the love that they need now, you will need then? Perhaps not, because I hear that voice all the time.

And, AND, A.N.D. I hear it in words that flow over people with disabilities, words that are paid for, paid for by their disability, paid for by their need for support, paid for by employers without the power to employ. I hear that tone used, and used, and used again as if disability comes with it the inability to feel humiliation to understand dominance. Disability does not mean inequity - though you'd never guess that. Disability does not mean inability to understand, or feel, or hurt - though you'd never guess that. Disability does not mean that discrimination, in act, or tone, or deed is acceptable practice - though you'd never guess that.

And, AND A.N.D. I hear it in the words spoken between those who pledged to love and honour each other. I hear it in the words that pass between couples. I see it's footprints that draw a line, a demilitarization zone, down the center of a table between two who once loved - who now eat without speaking. I hear it been men who love men, between women who love women. I hear it in mixed marriages of men and women. I hear it in my mouth when I speak to Joe with impatience. In his mouth when he speaks to me in frustration. I hear it and wonder how it can be that it comes to this. I hear it and react with anger. I say it and live with regret. How does it become so easy to hurt another, to diminish another. Why is praise not natural? Why is cruelty so easy? I don't know.

Perhaps because the angels don't cry out.

Perhaps because the world doesn't stop.

Perhaps because the responsibility lay with us, lay with those too tired, too busy, to care any more.

Do people realize the damage that can be done?

By a tone.

By a glance.

By a stare.

Sticks and Stones ... bring them on. Let them rain down on me. But, Lord God Almighty, please, please, please, watch what you say. But, I beg of you, watch how you say it.

You have power.

Don't misuse it.

You have power.

You have responsibility.

You have power.

And the purpose it is best put to ...

Is to govern yourself.

That is power indeed.


Dave Hingsburger said...

PS I read this to Joe and have his permission to publish. I don't want to portray him as someone who hurts me needlessly. I'm writing here about a tone of voice we all us, a manner of speaking that is horribly commonplace. In this situation it was Joe who spoke to me that way. It could easily, on another day in another situation been me speaking to Joe that way. I wanted to convey here, and did so with his OK, what that does to someone. Joe and I talked about this about an hour afterwards, both pledging, eact to the other, to be more careful with each other's feelings.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

I think you are a very thoghtful and gentle man.

Thanks so much for this post.


Anonymous said...

It's true Dave... and most often the people who have been the kindest to us - those we've given the most trust to - who are able to hurt us the most. They are particularly able - because of the place we've given them - to dig up that little "me" of the past who is insignificant, not worthy, can't be trusted to get anything right, must be put down, kept down in their place, who will never be "good enough" - for anything - that me who was taught those things in our formative years, and who we have spent the rest of our lives trying to re-form in our own minds, into someone who really is significant, really is making a positive difference, who really does MATTER...

It's a constant battle - and we can't rely on anyone else to do it for us. It's an inner battle as to whether we let those things in and whether we let them land for long... We have to so solidly know who we are that others completely lose their power to even suggest otherwise...

Problem is, I do know who I am - only too well... I know the dark side, anyway... And the light side, it's funny how people just expect you to know that side, and so they don't affirm there at all - or very little - even when you do well... But they LOVE to affirm the dark side... as though you didn't know it was there, when in reality it looms over you constantly, and you really don't need their help at all... What you do need their help for is to remind you of the light side,and that you have it in you to overcome the dark...

And of course you're right... I say "they", but it's "me", too. Hurt people hurt people. But they don't HAVE to...

I loved that you and Joe talked about it... that you gave that hurt significance, and that you both made a pledge to each other to be more careful with each others' feelings. What a great example of "loving well".

Dave Hingsburger said...

Julia, I wrote a post about your question from a few days ago. It will appear tomorrow morning. Let me know what you think.

Glee said...

copied from Facebook:
A teacher in New York was teaching her class about bullying and gave them the following exercise to perform. She had the children take a piece of paper and told them to crumple it up, stamp on it and really mess it up but do not rip it. Then she had them unfold the paper, smooth it out and look at how scarred and dirty is was. She then told them to tell it they’re sorry. Now even though they said they were sorry and tried to fix the paper, she pointed out all the scars they left behind. And that those scars will never go away no matter how hard they tried to fix it. That is what happens when a child bullys another child, they may say they’re sorry but the scars are there forever. The looks on the faces of the children in the classroom told her the message hit home. Pass it on or better yet, if you're a parent or a teacher, do it with your child/children.

AkMom said...

Thank you, Dave. I need to convey this to my daughter-in-law who sometimes forgets how big/old she is in comparison to my 3 year old grandson.


Beth said...

I have many "soft spots". I also have a very hard time with emotional and social understanding. Body language baffles me, but tone (and certain phrases) cuts right to my core. Often enough, the people using them don't realize what they're doing... and so my reaction is deemed "over-reaction" and I'm diminished further.

When I was younger, I was often told by a parent that my emotions were wrong. That I didn't feel (or think) X, I really felt/thought Y. I was encouraged from many sources to distrust my own thoughts and feelings (this before I had trouble discerning emotions). This created all kinds of trouble, so I'm very sensitive to any suggestion that my feelings are illegitimate. Even if I am over-reacting or have misinterpreted the situation, the solution to that is backing away and explaining, not telling me my feelings are wrong. I'm a firm believer that emotions in and of themselves are not wrong but what you do with them can be.

People often don't make sense. They're not logical. I don't mean to suggest we ought to be Vulcans, but I don't understand why arguments or expression of strong emotion tends to be a mess of logical fallacies. I suspect most people understand the meaning despite there being no sense on the face of it. I don't and that tends to lead to worse consequence for me because it's assumed that I'll understand so I must be "intentionally dense", right? The general assumption seems to be that I'm only pretending not to understand. Sure... I find this kind of thing intensely frustrating and downright baffling. People often have no idea what they do, I think.

Anonymous said...

So often it is anger and impatience that is behind that tone.

I sometimes feel myself holding that tone back with my partner- and I know that held back, my words are pinched and strained- not kind- is it any better than the anger? I hope so, but really I hope that I could just jump all the way to kindness.

I want to let that anger out, in the other direction- holler "arrrgh, how can you be so stupid!" into a deep well that will soak it all up and not let any get on those I love. But leaving it inside is corrosive, too. I wish I knew.