When we are little we are all taught good manners, how to be polite, how to be giving, although no-one can teach us how to want to be polite or giving. This doesn’t seem to bother our elders and betters whose main aim is to make us look like we are genuine in our giving, so they won’t appear lax in parenting skills in front of the family or, worse, Uncle and Aunt Grumfuttock, who live next door and who claimed visiting rights the day they elevated themselves from plain old Mr and Mrs.
There can be a chasmic gap between giving and wanting to give; from saying sorry when it wasn’t your foot that got in the way of Aunt Grumfuttock’s stick but the other way round, thus making it NOT your fault that she now flounders at carpet level like a fat walrus on the rocks, to offering very small crustless sandwiches around at tea time to women with orange faces and big bottoms and answering inane questions about what you want to be when you grow up – something you no longer plan to do – not if it involves any more of this giving, which looks more like giving in.
What to do with this gap? I told my kids it was absolutely fine to think one thing and say another, after all, they didn’t feel in the least bit sorry and nor did I think they should, although I went through the ghastly mother-motions of enforced sorryings, in order to keep some equilibrium. What I wanted to do was bop the Smug Adult myself, but that would have caused no end of on-going problems, especially if the SA was a teacher or policeman or relation which was usually the case. I had turned the process into a fine art myself, long ago losing the initial false guilt that the world so happily heaps on our shoulders. What you do is this……..imagine a different ending for the old so-and-so who won’t back off till that Sorry word falls out of your mouth They could explode, for instance, or fall into the sewage works, or be filled with helium and float all the way to Australia. They might take the biggest cake, the one you filled with laxative, or disappear down a rabbit hole and come face to face with the Red Queen. You could make a mouse run up a trouser leg or, better, a sheep tick. Let your imagination run free.
Another gap is between helping and interfering.
I practice the same mental acrobatics when someone tries to be helpful and is quite the opposite. I tell myself that they have never really landed inside their own lives which is why they invest great effort in fixing mine. Initially I admit, I feel a prickle of sweat on the back of my neck and the need to rise up and defend my choice of action, one I mistakenly shared with them. I should know by now that to keep quiet about what I plan to do is the only way to avoid unhelpful opinions, but I am consistently foolish, sharing my ideas with one who just can’t help but leap in to fix me.
Picturing funny endings frees me from growing a mental garden of resentment, anger, bitterness, hate. If I can picture Aunt Grumfuttock filling with helium and floating high over the rooftops at the same time as she is glowering at me through her mean little eyes with her pudgy paw held out for her stick and her apology, I can say whatever she wants to hear and turn away with a wonderful picture in my mind and a big smile on my face. If a person steps over the boundary of helpfulness (because I asked for it) given freely, and without obligation, or so I thought, and becomes overly ‘helpful’ (when I didn’t ask for it) given at a price, I can still be gracious-ish whilst thinking what I like.
We all face people every day who ‘make’ us feel we need to protect ourselves. Instead of taking it seriously, taking it on, I say take it off and make it fun. There is so much ‘wonderful’ in our lives to focus on. When someone grows tiresome we may need to find a way to point out our boundaries, but, in the meantime, the picture of Aunt Grumfuttock, floating like a UFO among the stars with a sheep tick inside her bloomers, will do.