Words and Meaning
Do words mean anything? Should they?
I am wrestling with multiple levels of words, actions, visuals, and meaning.
The other day, a friend of mine was praising me up one side and down the other for what a terrific friend I am—and then proceeded to refuse me a favor small in comparison to what I’ve been doing for her lately. Seriously? She had had a rough week, but so had I. I was emotionally distraught and needed to talk. So she decides that that is as good a time as any to set and enforce a boundary.
Part of what made the week difficult for me had been the diagnosis of my husband as likely having a “small amount” of cancer. He heard “small amount that may take decades to become bothersome.” I heard “The cancer is back!” Given his previous cancer and Huntington’s (and how it affects his ability to think clearly and logically), my interpretation is radically different than his. Having a little cancer is like being a little pregnant in my mind. Is he just hearing what he wants to hear? Is that simply what all humans do?
Also, lately I’ve been encountering conservatives who assume I am one of them. A salesman had come to my house (basically under false pretenses of a vacuum-cleaner check-up). He looked to be in his twenties. When talking about where I wanted to eventually move to, I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind living in the mid-Atlantic, but not so much in Dixie because of some of the racial attitudes I’ve encountered. He said he had never heard of that motivation. I felt like asking, “And you’ve been living in what cave as of late?” He mentioned he would be careful due to the way some of the state governments are run. (Read: He wants a red state that is not obligated to honor federal rules, regulations, and laws he and his friends personally disapprove of.) I know conservative-speak. I was raised by a couple of them. I’m sure he was checking my responses. When he left, I said that, for December in Michigan, the weather now is exceptionally warm, thanks to the el nino. I could tell by his body language that I had triggered the whole climate-change-denial reflex, which was completely unintentional. I also have a friend that I will see later this week who is extremely conservative, but she comes by her assumption of my agreement honestly: I used to go to her church.
Why did he assume I was like him? Because of my clothes and demeanor. Having been evangelical and Eastern Orthodox, these environments have shaped my demeanor and clothing sensibilities. I dress very conservatively, which contrasts sharply with my liberal post-Christian views. How do I avoid these conversations? Side-stepping them is exhausting. I feel like I have no integrity talking to these people. I cannot be who I am with them.
How do I avoid these mis-assumptions? Do I need to dress in Buddhist robes or wear satanic jewelry to convey “I am not one of you”?
I feel like I am mis-firing on all cylinders. I am mis-communicating right and left. I am trying to find a Buddhist response to my emotional pain. I am in a lot of pain right now. What do I say? How do I say it? Does it even matter what I say if people are simply going to hear what they want to hear?
I am trying real hard to not damage my relationships right now by saying things I will regret. But how much value should I place on relationships that make high demands of me and then turn me away when I am in emotional distress? I don’t want to over-react, but I also don’t want to repeat the mistakes of my past. I believe that when a similar situation keeps popping up in fairly rapid succession, then I am somehow responsible for creating it. I am too old to keep making the same mistakes over and over. I want to handle all of this with integrity and compassion, not just for others but also for myself. I have no idea how to do so.