copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert
On any given day, in any given way we create a foundation for our lives. What we think, say, do, or feel will be with us throughout our existence. Even if we believe, we are no longer where we were, we evolved, [and we all do] the effects of our actions, our reactions, do not change unless we work extremely hard to transform them. Indeed, no matter how diligently we are in our pursuit, attempting to erase the effects of our deeds, our failure to function, or our rejoinders, these will linger in the hearts and minds of those we associate with.
People presume to know who we are, and what we meant way-back-when. Today they are more certain than ever. Emotions are easily entrenched.
Only a day ago I was endeavoring to say, just this. Two prominent persons were in the news. Numerous articles were written discussing their doings. Television broadcasts assessing their situations filled the airwaves. Throughout the day, each time I heard or read of one report, the other followed immediately. There were no transitions between these news items. The tales were presented as interesting, somewhat ironic anecdotes, In my mind, the inference was ever-present; the past is evident in today’s occurrences.
As I evaluated these narratives I thought of nothing more, than how “funny” life is. Try as we might, we cannot escape what we said or did long ago. It was and is almost humorous to me. When we consider the twists and turns of events, no one could imagine what will come.
It seems to me, those most wanting to forget what occurred “when we were . . .” are the ones more deeply immersed in their history. I penned prose discussing what for me is somewhat laughable. In our effort not to repeat history, we often do as we did long ago, or we create a chaos that pales by comparison.
How often have we purposely pursued a prospect different than those we embarked on before only to discover the similarities? If we are able to strike a chord that relieves us of former follies, it seems many of us give birth to bigger and better traumas. While reviewing the day’s events, I marveled.
In my mind, these two persons were notably not repentant for their earlier conduct. They each often seem embroiled in incidents that relate back to their past.
In my missive, I spoke of the wonder woman of note, an esteemed and articulate aspirant. Some say she is a “polarizing” figure; yet, her prestige is unquestionable. I imagined that she might have been more cautious, or may have attended to what could have been easily misconstrued prior to this late date.
I theorized that perhaps, not wishing to be vulnerable, open, willing to apologize for what others felt and thought hurtful caused a reluctance to change that did not serve this renowned person well. I pondered; perchance, if this exceptional individual had done other than take a defensive stance, the coverage of her deeds would not have been so great.
I also offered the other tale musing how harsh life can be when we work to justify our history. I spoke of a person some think is a criminal. [Who am I to presume.] The man discussed in my now deleted missive fell so far from favor that the mere mention of his name causes people to cringe.
The only correlations stated in my essay were the two had each been the focus in the day’s news, and each does what many or most of us have done. They have not actively attended to their history.
If any of us has not enthusiastically worked through what was, we might relate.
If those around us refuse to lovingly labor with us in hopes of resolving past understandings, well, the predicaments may be similar. Oh, those well-established emotional reactions can be our undoing.
In my own life, my personal history haunts me often. I cannot imagine that I am alone in this experience.
I might cite the conversation I had two years ago in September. An estranged family member and I spoke for the first time in a long while. I tried, as I had done many times over the years, to discuss a trauma I never understood. To this day, I am unsure what happened or exactly when. I only know that until we, authentically chat about what this individual is feeling and why, we will never move forward. Indeed, our relationship will continue to regress.
Avoidance of the topic has caused great harm. Ignoring has lead to shared ignorance. Pretending nothing is wrong reaps greater problems.
The best way out is always through.
~ Robert Frost [Poet]
In this more recent discussion, I shared all my sorrows. I suggested every possibility for why we might be where we are, or were on that autumn day when we spoke at length. I offered my sincerest apologies for every word, and any action. I explained where I might have been years ago and accepted there was so much I did not know then and desired to understand now.
These words came back to me, “It is all in the past.” I stated, ‘It is not. What was effects what is. Our history is our foundation. It is evident in the present and will create the future, if we do nothing to correct our differing impressions.’
Two months ago, another individual mentioned an event that occurred more than twenty years ago. I recall the incident well, and the ensuing misunderstanding. Money exchanged hands, was re-paid, however, inadequately according to this other person. I remember the same, and for a score I was certain I had made amends. Apparently, in the mind and memory of this individual I had not. However, nothing was said to me for all this time. Decades came and went and not a word.
Once I fortuitously learned of this lingering lament, much made sense. There had long been an unexplained distance between this party and me. Might this unpaid debt, the one I thought was fully settled be the cause for such a divide. I strongly suspect it was.
Again, I was told, now by a second person “It is in the past.” However, once more, it was not. I shared with this love as I had with the other. “Times gone by shade our present and will be prominent in our future.” We must be willing to approach the untouchable topics and decide that we will work to change what was. If we do not we will be forever haunted by our history.
Granted, if the persons we intermingle with are unwilling to alter their initial impression of what we may think are false claims and judgments, our interactions with these individuals will forever reflect their perception of the days gone by. Their understanding of us, interpretations of our message will be their staunchly defended truth.
Not one of us can escape the fact that we have not always been or done as we later realize was best. Some never think, or state, they have ever done wrong. That conclusion might harm these persons more severely than admitting, ‘Perhaps, I was at fault.’ They envision stating they were in error as a weakness. For these saintly souls, vulnerability is not the strength I perceive it to be.
For me, knowing I am another flawed human being is a reality. Those that read a recent treatise of mine might tell you that. Many did tell me this.
I am being “constructively criticized,” rebuked and reprimanded for supposedly expressing a thought I did not state or even think to consider. I suspect all of us might be able to relate to this.
Interestingly, much of impetus for this inaccurate interpretation was evoked not by my words, but because of an image presented as an introduction to the publication. In my mind, I was stating that two people had a history that was affecting their lives in the present. Each wrote of their past, and details of their doings were discussed in the mainstream media on the same day. Both stories I thought somewhat bizarre. For me, that was the authentic connection, the only combining of the two I saw.
However, numerous persons viewed my symbolic message differently. It seems, once the portraits were perceived as one, they were forever linked in the minds and hearts of others. The visual took on a life all its own. Many readers were not able to separate their first impression, or expectation of what was to come, from what preceeded.
Ah, the human heart and the effect it has on a rational mind. We are all escorted by to our emotions although few wish to admit this. Perchance that is why our history haunts us. We protect and defend our beliefs as fact. Our failure to recognize that what is real for us is not valid for another harms our relationships and ourselves. I long ago learned, what is “right” for me is the relationship, not my need to prove someone else in error.
Often when we word our condemnation of an act, we present a punitive stance that defines the essence of the wrongdoer as erroneous. We use expressions that do not open hearts. Instead, humans turn a phrase that is punitive and demeaning to the other. We place the onus on them, the person that disturbed our sensibility. Had they not said, done, thought, or been as they were [or more truthfully, as we believe them to be] then we would not be in distress.
Words such as “I am disappointed in you” [your essential being] pass for constructive criticism. “Tsk, tsk” [How could you be so corrupt, cunning, dishonest, deceitful, and devious] are considered caring, statements of concern. “This is beneath you” is posited as an acknowledgement of your extraordinary quality. Supposedly, the speaker is intending to state their love and admiration. However, were these words said to you, you likely would not feel as though they were fond of you.
Might the articulation actually be more about the speakers’ apprehension, their anxiety over what they believe you or I have become or possibly always were.
With thanks to a man I did not fully understand for years, for he was not like anyone I ever experienced, I learned much. Our perceptions are our reality. Only empathy can educate us. Nonetheless . . .
Most people that presume to know us best, those that claim to have deep knowledge of our intentions, rarely do. Others believe they recognize whom we are within. Frequently, they refuse to. Any attempt at sharing our authentic motivation for whatever might have moved us, is defined as “a veiled pretense,” a “patronizing remark,” or “beneath us.”
In my endeavor to share a thought that I have honored for years, ‘Fact is far stranger, and infinitely more humorous than fiction,’ I was slammed, damned, criticized, and condemned.
If others never speak aloud in a truly caring manner when they have concerns, nothing will change. If they are busy placing the onus on us and are unwilling to believe that what they perceive as our intentions are not, there will be no growth, no understanding, and definitely no shared wisdom.
In elementary school, we learn the term ‘constructive criticism.’ We think that our expressed concerns are these. Seldom do we imagine how our disparagement might be heard. I wonder if this construct, caring censure might be an oxymoron. Can a person be critical without being cruel. I think there are ways to productively pronounce a genuine concern without using words that define another as fatally flawed. However, these require an open heart and mind.
Criticism is a misconception: we must read not to understand others but to understand ourselves.
~ Emile M. Cioran [French Philosopher. 1911 – 1995]
Demeaning another will never serve to secure a reciprocal reverence. Shaming a spirit cannot create a beautiful bond. Defensiveness does nothing to further discussion or understanding. Change will not come if we are entrenched in our emotional evaluations. Calm is not created when we chose words that cut like a knife.
In a debate, there are winners and losers. Disputes do not reap reflective rewards. In my mind, these forums offer no resolution.
When someone defines what is above or beneath us, based on his or her unfaltering belief that they know our intention better than we, they place the blame solely on us. When an individual decides that a person is suggesting more than what they state on the surface, then that person is reading between the lines and envisioning their own message.
For those who think, life is a comedy.
For those who feel, life is a tragedy.
~ Horace Walpole [Father of Gothic Novel, Earl of Orford]
I was told what I really think and who I truly am. Those that have never meet me, cannot, or will not dialogue with me as a caring, communicative person might, concluded that my message was what I had never thought it to be.
While as a human, I could rationalize and argue the point they presumed I was making. I could also make a case for the contrary were I to try. However, I had no desire to debase the subjects of my missive beyond what I thought interesting
Possibly, my essay was incomplete. I was not endeavoring to go deep. I genuinely was just jotting down a moment of surprise that two such stories, examples of how our past never dies were broadcast back-to-back during the evening news.
If, as in my situation, a visual is offered revealing that two people have a history that is invasive, and each was being discussed publicly on a single day, is interpreted as meaning more than it was meant to imply, then the messenger will be killed. I am slain and in the minds of many, I was totally to blame.
I submit, perhaps the image was powerful and communicated what was not meant to be. I might have included a third frame. The visual within that box could have been your face or mine. However, if the text of the treatise is read as it was presented, or at least as it was intended to be, the reader might understand my message.
I will try to state it simply. Anyone of us that does not work through their past and chooses not to help others to understand who we truly are is doomed. We are fated to realize that people will forever recall our history. The fiction others create will appear as facts, in part, because we do not correct it.
At times, we may not know that someone is feeling as they do. However, when we are a public figure, as the two I referred to are, it is difficult to avoid ample angst. I thought it fascinating that these two individuals were being publicly reminded of their past on the same day, nothing more.
I think, possibly, we all are forced to face what was; yet, our reminders of the past are not printed in the papers; nor do the accounts of many appear on the same day. Rarely do we need to address our errors or what others perceive as our mistakes in an open assembly.
However, on those occasions, when we do endeavor to correct a misimpression, as I have repeatedly tried to do today, our words fall often on deaf ears. Thus, the thought submitted earlier in the now defunct treatise illustrates my initial and intentional claims. Facts, or what passes for these, are funnier than fiction. Historically, the past does not fade from minds. Sadly, for some, what “may” have never been will always be when humans are involved.
People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.
James A. Baldwin [Author]