I don’t get zombies or reality housewives from any county.
Mariah Carey irks me, and I can’t say why.
I don’t like the pretty young grocery clerk, the one who’s too friendly to my husband. She imagines I’m invisible. Clearly, I’m not.
Maybe it’s my age, maybe my area, but I find myself growing less resilient to the un-kindnesses in the world, knocking my like-to-dislike meter all out of kilter.
There was a time it took a lot to rouse my irk. It’s not like I choose not to like another. The natural me is typically a likable soul, believing a smile can lighten a lonely heart trudging through a hopeless world (or an aisle in Walmart). I suppose that’s one thing that irks my husband — the fact I’m so friendly.
Recently when Bill and I were traveling, hiking around Monhegan Island off the coast of Maine, Bill had to say, “Have you noticed you’ve greeted everyone we’ve come across, and you’re the only one who does it?”
“Of course, I’ll say hello,” I responded. “The world needs more kindness. Besides, how do you just pass someone out in the middle of nowhere without a ‘Hello’?”
Seriously, I decided later, I’m pretty sure when John Smith visited the island in 1614, he acknowledged any and every passers-by in some way.
Lately though I’ve smiled at too many who didn’t smile back. I’ve been the subject of gossipers who failed to know the whole truth, which for me is the real truth. In turn, a protective shield layers in my shock in how subtly deceptive a kind-on-the-outside-soul can be.
Apparently walls build and hearts harden in the cruel moments, when some people mean to and others don’t. Their ignorance being their un-bliss and mine.
We buy acceptable lies to clothe us, all the while chipping away at our foundation.
It’s the competitive games we play in the workplace, the reconfiguring of societal rules by a group determined to win, whatever the cost.
It’s the posse of friends and their fidelity to their friend that empowers them to knock down a supposed enemy, even though they’ve only heard one side of the story.
Worst of all, it’s the power of one to take down another just because.
My epiphany began when I remembered when those hurts were first inflicted, making me ultra-sensitive to gossip that only strengthens the cliques who spread them.
The summer I was twelve, my parents, two brothers and I moved to Arlington, Texas, for my dad to open a new Holiday Inn one minute from Six Flags over Texas. After a summer of family friends visiting us, I met the new school year knowing no one.
Entering seventh-grade, I remember the kids being friendly. Some teased me goodheartedly because I was an Arkansan from Razorback country. (Side note: Texas had just slaughtered us in football the year before.)
During that first semester, I visited my friends back in Arkansas one weekend. That particular Saturday night at a youth group function filled with junior high kids, I was singled out as the girl from Texas.
Of course, the Arkansas-Texas football game was on the radio in the background. Guess who was now living in the losing state? Guess who was the target of all the “we got you back!” comments? Yet, I knew it was in good fun and just laughed. (Endorphins spark when we laugh.)
After Thanksgiving that same year, a new reality evolved. Without much notice, my mother packed up my two brothers and me, and we moved back to our hometown minus one dad. That first day back at school I met together with my group of old friends. Some new girls had been added since our junior high combined several elementary schools.
I’ll never forget that first day, standing in this circle of girls who were kindly welcoming me back.
I’ll never forget that day, “Josie,” one of the newest girls forming this new clique, asked coldly, bluntly, “So why didn’t your dad move back with you?”
She narrowed her eyes and seemed pleased by my shocked reaction. I was speechless, trying to process why she was being so mean.
One of the other girls whispered in her ear. She nodded and said, “I know.”
I soon learned how hateful Josie could be. Worse, I proved to be an easy target for her to reckon with. For Josie, wielding hateful words might have been in good fun. For me, not at all. I stood paralyzed each time she hurled her barbs.
I hurt more than I should have. Already wounded from a fractured home life, I had no survival skills to protect me. Internalizing the uglies in life, I simply decided I’d never purposely hurt others. Sometimes we assume kindness is birthed out of weakness. It’s not.
Since childhood, we’ve all been exposed to them, involved in them, snubbed by them.
When shared interests draw us together, why shouldn’t those who like the same things join forces? Those are bonds for rich friendships.
The problem I now have with that junior high clique is our only like interest was “being popular.” It wasn’t from a branch of academics or a particular artistic talent. It wasn’t a common faith or sport or activity.
My clique’s fabric had holes in it and too often the gossip woven throughout the cloth was all that bound us together. In hindsight I wonder about those who I hurt in this clique’s focus or lack thereof.
In the eighth grade I pulled away, rebelling in ways that weren’t always for my best. Growing up in a family who gave their best selves to the outside world, I wanted to give my best to those who were close family and friends. Leftovers were for the outside world.
Then a family friend’s daughter who was in high school with a family member said to me, “Your brother is never nice to me unless he wants my vote for student council!”
I felt her anger masking her pain.
That same year I had been voted as a homecoming maid. The other girl my age who also got it had campaigned by writing everyone she knew a friendly note. The falsity of friendships tainted it all for me. I pulled away more.
“Brown nose your teachers!” a family member encouraged when my grades slipped.
I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. My stubbornness became my unbliss.
And sometime during those aimless weavings, I was coerced to change into who I wanted to be by a quote I read in a book entitled Words to Live by.
“Great minds discuss ideas;
Average minds discuss activities;
Small minds discuss people.”
I pondered those words, “small minds, huh?” and questioned the worth of gossip and the thin threads too flimsy to hold.
Several years passed, I learned through my Bible studies that gossip was a sin. A sin? Like murder? Scripture upon scripture clearly defined it as wrong for all minds — great and small.
Yet even in my circle of friends at church and Bible study, gossip permeated. For some, gossip banded them tightly, leaving me on the fringe.
And my heart hurt through it all. For it was in my desire not to be a part of any of it, I tended to isolate myself in hopes of ensuring I didn’t gossip.
Not that I didn’t trust others so much.
I suppose I didn’t trust me,
and how I might prefer to be liked by others to the point of delving into gossip’s web just to be included. (Isn’t it better to be the one weaving the web than the one caught within its grasp?)
Even with all those years of trying not to gossip, I’ve noticed its alluring addiction. Some nights after the six o’clock news when Entertainment Tonight comes on, I hear in the opening few seconds the newest celebrity gossip. I pause to hear secrets about someone I don’t even know. Just a tidbit of juicy gossip considered “News.”
Recently my Merriam-Webster Word of the Day was Janus-faced, meaning “two-faced.” Janus was the god of deliberate deception, presiding over the beginning and end of conflict.
Can you see it?
When one accepts even subtle backhanded tactics to survive in a social sect, we lose trust in others because we now see everyone else through this skewed filter.
Worst of all, these childish games in the way we treat others is no longer a simple childhood ploy, but one that enters into the scheme of things called real adult living. The calloused heart of the matter enlarges generations deep, ultimately breaking all of us down.
For what is rooted in the heart seems to surface through the tongue with gossip. As a result of our jealousies, gossip spreads throughout all ages, genders, and socio-economic-educational realms. Nothing special about doing it.
Did you know studies show gossip stimulates endorphins in the brain?
According to WikiHow, not only does exercise and eating certain foods release endorphins, but so does socializing which also includes gossiping. Yet, the article offers how laughing, smiling, being open to love and having sex also sparks those feel-good endorphins. As adults I’ll let you choose while I slowly back out of this conversation.
In a Huffpost article by Thai Nguyen “Hacking Into Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins and Oxytocin” our take away is to exercise, laugh and eat dark chocolate.
Thus, I encourage replacing our gossiping ways that only hurt others to laugh with those suggestions to boost our endorphins.
Consider this — are our lives so insecure, so fragile, we have to diminish others to succeed?
Cliques and their gossiping ways ensnare us if we let them, and it’s one thing we have a choice in — when to hear, when to not; when to spread and delight in others’ responses; when to not.
Which leads to our usual first response to others and why we choose not to like them: how they look, talk, hold their shoulders, shake our hand. Once we know a bit more allows us to determine if we might consider them worthy of our acknowledgements.
So ask yourself:
Do you pick and choose who you’ll be the most friendly towards, the most patient with?
Do you have others in whom you’ve chosen to take anything they say as offensive?
Do you manipulate some with your moods but not others?
Do you discredit with disrespect?
Dishearten with a calloused heart?
Do you choose to be nice only because of what others can do for you with their level of power, position, education, religion or politics?
Do you justify overlooking, avoiding, ignoring purposely others who have nothing you can use?
If I’m so busy in my own circle of friends and family and fail to see how I’m hurting others in the midst of my good life, then I have to question if my life is so good.
Let’s choose to check ourselves when others have victories, especially in areas where we’re striving to achieve. It shouldn’t be hard to sincerely applaud others’ successes.
Let’s choose to resist icing our persona for the social media society where the appearance of a certain life constrains us to be a shell of who we really are.
Let’s question: Does an unselfish act have to be publicized? Or worse, is it just an act?
Here’s a novel idea — Let’s choose to be generous and kind anonymously. No one knows and we let that thread of good weave strengthen throughout us and be a reason we smile. (An endorphin high.)
When we choose to be kind and gracious to others, we show them we value their lives. We begin to recognize the goodness in others, solidifying our home, workplace, community, country, one person at a time.
clique |klik| a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them.
click |klik| become suddenly clear or understandable
Recently I had a dream. I was visiting with “Allen,” a young fellow I know. In the dream he was different. He was who he might have become had he not been overhauled by insecurities from his past. Some were from his home life, but most were from social contacts at school and church, or his lack of social contacts thereof.
Presently in real life, he’s brooding, making me wonder if he’s possibly brewing over lifelong hurts, even without realizing it. In my dream, he was freed from the rejections he’d encountered over those years. He was who he should have been, who he could have been.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us — children, teenagers and adults — lived freed from those constraints?
Sometimes I’ve thought about that day in junior high when I was singled out in being the only one in my clique in a dad-less home. Those memories kept me ever cognizant of what my high school students were dealing with and how I could reinforce their fragile lives.
A couple of years ago I was visiting with a former classmate, “Bob” and he mentioned Josie, who had been married to one of his best friends.
“So how is Josie?” I asked nonchalantly.
“Doing great professionally,” Bob said. His voice took on a bitter tone when he added she was still mean as ever, had hurt people close to him, and her personal life was continuously in shambles.
Without mentioning my hurtful events, I assumed Bob and many others had continued to have lifelong painful dealings with Josie. I wanted to be happy justice had won in her shambled personal life, but instead I was saddened for her. Most especially I ached for the many victims in her path she had wounded.
As the school years begin and end, I envision those hordes of children and teenagers longing to be liked by others, longing to feel a part of something. I also see adults, showing up for work, a meeting or some social function with the same anticipation.
It’s part of who we are.
I’m going to be more intentional and break out of my comfort zone to speak to someone at work/school/church/meetings and other events–to recognize the ones standing alone.
In the long run, it can end up being our delight. We discover others whose personality, interests, wit and wisdom broaden our lives, expanding who we are. We don’t want to miss that, do we?
Also, let’s think about how we have been changed by others’ behavior and words from the past. Have those memories grown too deeply embedded, hindering us from freedom? Have we given them more power in our lives than they deserve? In hindsight can we shake off those spiteful words and actions, untrue to who we really are? And forgive.
Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to be continuously subjected to that person’s abuse. Forgiving frees you to leave your bitterness at his/her feet and walk away.
May it become clear to us it’s possible to be freed to be who we are created to be.
“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” Eleanor Roosevelt
Art on Clothes
Vida is a design company that contacted me about using some of my artwork on their clothes. Check out the website http://www.shopvida.com/collections/voices/ann-elizabeth-robertson and tell me what you think. Some of my butterfly designs and travel photographs are now on shirts, t-shirts and scarves. I also love that part of the proceeds are used for an international literacy program.