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Sunday, January 16, 2022

Accepting people even when you don't fully understand or appreciate them.


I won't go into much detail for anonymity reasons, but I became aware of a family that had faced a very sad circumstance in their life.  They were culturally very different from me.  I had had some experience (and friendships) from people of that culture.  However, those around me hadn't necessarily had the same.  So, not everyone in my circle fully appreciated the family's reaction to their sad circumstance.  When you broke down their reaction, the family's reaction is quite logical.   Fully embracing it publicly could, at least in theory, involve the loss of face.  Besides, as I discovered with the loss of my dad, mom and closest sibling in recent years, life and its grind and responsibilities do not stop just because you face hardship. 

Putting myself in the family's situation, I am sure I would react differently.   Part of me says, they weren't really reacting well.  However, as I have noted in prior posts, our reactions to life circumstance don't always follow script.   For example, love and grief do not always abide by what is expected or even necessarily socially acceptable.  I have to consider that maybe they are handling thing the way their life needs require them to, especially in light of their particular culture.

This gets to a larger point.  We are shaped by our life experiences.  We are shaped by who we grow up around and who we spend time around and the cultural influences we listen to.   This shapes the way we think and the way we read or interpret situations or people.   For example, if you grow up in an environment in which people are often duplicitous and will not necessarily tell you how they feel (or feel about you) to your face, you will be caught off guard when you run into people who are more honest and say what they think straight to your face.

Unfortunately, in our society, for worse or better, our life experiences, can limit us to understanding others who fall outside our familiarity zone.   For example, if a family member died doing something they shouldn't one family might quietly bury that person with little fanfare or acknowledgement.  The circumstances surrounding the death might bring too much 'shame' to the family and negative publicity in 'their community'.  So, they quietly handle it and move on.   That is their way of coping and surviving in their community, their circle.  They are probably broken up about it, but they also know they have to carry on.   Another family might publicly acknowledge their loved ones' flaws, how they missed the signs and even tell their story in hopes that other families don't have to go through the same heartache.  People not understanding the culture of the first family might see them as coldhearted and be totally oblivious to the pain they are masking and the obstacles they face to fit in.

Personally, often I am a very private person.  My father was a very private person.   There were things that happened in my formative years additionally which shaped this aspect of my personality which I won't get into here.   However, one thing I will mention is this: I have dealt with anxiety disorder since I was 17.   It used to be very debilitating, but between gaining confidence, learning coping skills and having access medicine to combat it, I have learned to cope with it such that I can live a 'normal' life.  That being said, one of my coping skills is being able--to a degree--to compartmentalize that which is bothering me (and that I cannot resolve immediately).  Part of being able to compartmentalize or set aside that which is bothering me is not continually talking about it.  If I am talking about it all the time, I am forced to focus on it straight on and that can cause me excess stress and anxiety, where it is not necessarily productive.   Now, if discover a story or article, find a person who might be helpful and/or have experienced the same issue or problem or have an epiphany on it, I will bring the issue or circumstance to the forefront and discuss or consider it, even if it ramps up my anxiety.   But, I will not keep on bringing up the issue or circumstance constantly when doing so will cause me too much anxiety without any real advancement towards a solution.

A lot of people in this circumstance find a need to 'vent' to find a way to get rid of their anxiety.   They might see the way I handle it as bottling it up or worse they may perceive that my lake of 'venting' implies that I don't care.  That would be the furthest thing from the truth.  Just as I see too much 'venting' as unproductive, stressful and a waste of energy, they might view the relative silence on my part incorrectly and even showing a lack of concern.   My environment and my circumstances shaped me a certain way, not necessarily right or wrong.  Others' shapes them a different way, not necessarily right or wrong.  

I have known people addicted to the bottle and/or drugs, people who have no exposure to either of that in their life may see those people as 'irresponsible' or 'not caring enough' or just some variation of being a 'bad person'.   Yes, there are some people who are sociopaths (or psychopaths) who really don't care about others and will do whatever they want just to 'feel good' and don't care who it affects or who is hurt in the process.  But, with a background that included CSA (childhood sexual abuse), family dysfunction (stemming from at least my grandparents, if not further) and seeing similar issues in others, I know that people do things to try to escape the pain of their traumas, often times not understanding the risk when they start it.  With a relatively healthy childhood and circumstance, this may be hard to full appreciate.   This doesn't mean you accept or condone destructive behavior, but what it does mean is you just classify those who engage in it as selfish, non-caring, narcissist, or sociopath's without knowing the road they've traveled.

I grew up lower-middle/working class.  So, when I hear about a young man or women from a rich and prestigious who are throwing their life away, I can't necessarily relate.  Many assume that if they just have means, life would be totally better and relatively problem free.  However, imagine you grow up in a family with means, but with it you have so much expected of you.   You are expected to join the family practice, business, or become a doctor/lawyer/etc.   You are expected at all times to be on perfect behavior because your name is prominent in the community.   You have all kinds of people who wish to be your 'friend' and you don't really know if it is because they find you interesting or believe that doing so could help them get ahead.   Imagine, you are a person who is not cut out for this, imagine the pressures to succeed put on you by your 'family name' by your family and society, imagine the pressure they put on you to do what they think you should do and not what you necessarily want to, imagine wondering if people are your friends for what they think being such might help them.  Beyond that, we don't always know what demons might hide behind family portrait.  So, I try to listen to their story before I go to the "POOR RICH SPOILED KID" mantra.

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Our life experiences are helpful to us in understanding other people and their circumstances.  However, we have to be careful not to let them limit us in understanding others, their thoughts, their ways.   Specifically, if we are not careful, we can actually get to a place where we judge others' thoughts and ways as ridiculous, invalid or illegitimate.  Unless we are completely insulated in our own cocoon or echo chamber, we are likely going to find people whose life experiences and/or individual circumstances have led them to thinking, believing, responding and/or behaving in a way different to us.  The point is we may not completely understand them, but if they are important to us, we will accept them even when while we are still working on understanding them.  Just like we wouldn't want them to put them into a box of 'their understanding' of us based on their experiences, we should not put them in a box based on 'our understanding' based on our own experiences.








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