Saturday, January 11, 2014

I don't ask for much, just a little respect.

While this isn't exactly about marriage, it is about relationships. While I am inspired to write on this topic by a platonic relationship, it relates directly to any, romantic, familial, professional. Whatever.

When discussing this issue with a friend, I was told that I am easy to offend.
I think people have the wrong idea about what offensive means and what it means when I am offended versus mildly irritated. I also think people should, perhaps, reevaluate their idea of what is permissible to say to others, especially those we love and care about, consider our friends, etc.

I'll begin with the issue in question. Alan & I want children. This is nothing new, no huge revelation. If you follow this blog or have met us, you know we are psyched about having kids someday. We have to wait a little longer, but it won't be too long before that's a part of our relationship. And I have always wanted kids, as long as I can remember.
I also have lots of friends and acquaintances who have chosen to be child-free. Which is equally awesome and cool. And I roll my eyes every time I overhear someone telling someone else who mentions they don't want kids, "Oh you'll change your mind," or "When you meet the right man/woman," or any other number of patronizing and condescending things about knowing what a person wants better than the person themselves. Who the fuck are you to tell them what they do and don't want?? And even if they DO change their mind, they don't need your smug ass saying "I told you so." (Mini-rant forthcoming!) I am ALL about people who choose to be child-free. I think it's pretty cool and at this point, I kind of think it's what the world needs. We are running rampant over this world, we're running out of room. And some people are having 4 or more kids. And while that's their choice too, due to modern medicine, the population cannot sustain this forever. So kudos to those of you choosing not to have kids, I applaud you! Not only are you doing what is best for you, but it's benefiting the whole world too! FUCK YEAH. This world needs diversity, INCLUDING those who choose not to reproduce. We all play a part. FUCK FREAKIN YEAH!
But you know what I don't like? When those of us who do want kids happen to bring it up, or even when someone else brings it up, when a child-free person feels the need to say things like "Ugh, I hate kids," or "Ew" or "Kids are so awful," or any other number of things relating to how much they dislike kids or how gross babies are etc etc. I once witnessed this happen while children were present. Seriously. This also applies to marriage (see "Don't Ever Get Married"), people who don't believe they ever want to get married (or were burned by a bad marriage in the past) always end up telling engaged couples (or even seriously dating couples) how terrible marriage is.
Why the fuck is that ok?
Why is it cool for you to look down on and insult the choices of those who want children? Especially in my case, I do everything I can to make it clear that whatever life choices you make, whether I agree with them or not (as long as they aren't harmful to yourself and others), I support your decision. The world is full of difference and beauty in all its facets. All the differences make it better. I value all walks we can take, even if it's not the one I would take. We can't all take the same road, or we'd be traffic jammed and bored.

Which is where respect comes in. I don't believe that I'm easy to offend. I do think, perhaps, I am easy to disappoint. Because I guess my irritation at being disappointed in someone comes off as being offended. There are some real easy ways to offend me, but they're pretty limited. Willful ignorance, intolerance and hate are the easiest ways to offend me. I suppose I have high expectations of people. I truly believe the best in people. And when they fail to meet those expectations, I get irritated. Because it's not hard to be a good person. It's not hard to take a step back once in a while and look at yourself in the mirror to admit your shortcomings. I make it a habit to evaluate myself and my actions on a regular basis to try and learn from my shortcomings and avoid making the same mistakes in the past. This blog was actually a part of that process for a long time. Still is occasionally (I only say that for the low frequency of posts nowadays). I truly believe in all people's capabilities to be better versions of themselves. It's completely within your grasp to do it. So when I make a criticism of your behavior or something you said, it's not because I'm trying to tell you how much you suck, or trying to prove how much better I am than you. I'm offering you a chance to see something you might not be able to see. When my best friend of 15 years chose to stop talking to me last summer, and when her fiance then chose to send me a scathing email about what a piece of shit I am, I took a long time to read, reread, and evaluate the messages I got from both of them. I looked at myself hard in the mirror. And I cried a lot. I wondered why someone I love so much could do that to me, and then, between crying spells, I evaluated what truth could be taken from what was said. The content of these messages aren't relevant. And how much I did or didn't take as truth from them is irrelevant also. But I assure you I did take some of it to heart and attempted to keep them in mind or make some changes accordingly.
We all believe ourselves to be better than other people. "I'm a better person because I'm a Christian," or "I'm a better person because I don't eat meat," or "I have never killed someone," or "I donate money to charity," or whatever other reasons we can come up with to justify why our shortcomings don't make us bad people while our triumphs make us better. It's self preservation, and we all do it.

But what bothers me the most is when people absolutely refuse to see it another way. Or refuse to take into account that other people have feelings too. That what you say DOES matter. Not every joke is acceptable because "I was just kidding." I'm a communication scholar (SCARY RIGHT???), so no one knows better than me and my fellow scholars how much of an impact the jokes we make and words we choose make. Saying "no offense" doesn't suddenly erase the offensive portion of what you just said. Claiming "I was just kidding," doesn't change the fact that what you said was hurtful. And I swear FOR GODS if you tell me I'm being too sensitive, I will show you what being "too sensitive" feels like (with a frying pan and your skull*). I don't even actually care if you change your opinion on the matter at hand. What I do care about is that you try to take into account that your feelings aren't the only ones at play here.

I don't know if I've talked about this on this blog before, but I say it a lot in general. I don't think everyone has to agree, or act the same or believe the same things. But I do know, for a fact, that life in this world would be a lot better if everyone was accountable for their actions. If you say something that hurts my feelings (which is what offending someone is, make no mistake), apologize. If your intention was not to hurt someone else, then an apology is appropriate. Not jumping all over the person and telling them to stop being so sensitive. Not telling them it's somehow their fault that YOUR joke (which you, as a fully functioning adult CHOSE to make) hurt them. I've written before about how easy it is to hurt those we love and say things that are written in ink, how they never truly disappear. And how if you don't actually care that your words hurt that person, you don't actually care about that person. Let that sink in for a while.
If your friend tells you that your words hurt them, and you say "Stop being so sensitive," or other words that say it doesn't matter that your friend is hurt, what you are actually telling them is "I don't care about your feelings."

Seriously. Reflect on that. Reflect really fucking hard. And THEN think about a time you were in their position and how you felt when someone told YOU to not be offended. Or try to imagine what it must feel like to tell someone that a wound hurts, and the doctor tells you to stop whining. That doctor just told you that your pain doesn't matter. Just suck on that morsel for a while.

I'm not easily offended. I'm easily disappointed. And I'm not going to change my standards. I believe people can be better than they are. And I will continue to hold that standard. And if you continue to be my friend, you must understand that I will love you no matter what you do, but I won't change my expectations.

They may be high, but they aren't unrealistic.

*I don't endorse violence. But this is actually an accurate metaphor, so I'm gonna keep it. If you're wondering, the metaphor would be me wildly swinging a frying pan around because I think it's funny, you getting hit in the head because you happened to be in the room, telling me you're hurt, and me telling you to stop being so sensitive, it was just for fun.