Talking with a friend the other evening, we discussed the meaning of words, how we each see and hear a word differently according to our experience of using a word in context. Both of us might have liked to take the conversation deeper, but as we were at a celebration, it was never going to happen. Happy people, all saying hallo, moving around the room, laughing, joking, having fun, sharing words that require no inner Googling.
We are taught in all the good books to accept, that acceptance is half the battle, half of any battle within a relationship, whether in work, school, home or community. To accept that we are different, not just on the outside, not just in the way we see colours or moods or situations, but deep inside and based on childhood learning, familial teaching, experiences and lifestyle. How on this good earth can we ever expect that to work? It presupposes that whatever subject arises between us is never going to land in a soft place, unless, of course, we can accept our differences and just enjoy the chat. I have a friend who is colour blind. He sees everything in shades of grey. I can wax as lyrical as I like about the Autumn colours and he will just chuckle. I imagine for a moment not being able to describe anything at all in terms of colour. Well, I can’t imagine that, and yet, he, who has never seen red or green or anything in between is barely phased at all.
That particular example is pretty easy to accept, but there are many others, millions of others where we can potentially butt heads. I want white walls and you hate white. White reminds you of hospital waiting rooms. I attempt to change your mind because white, for me, is cloud, ice cream, frost on winter branches, school socks, Persil. But I cannot change your experience of white any more than you can change mine. One of us has to accept.
Or, is that resignation?
My friend at the party did have a moment of two to think deeper whilst I yelled my return hallos into a very noisy room. He has always been good at that, being a deep thinker and on his feet regardless of noise. He first thought that resignation sounded like giving in, like a weakness, a washing of hands, but, then he found a different way to understand that word. Resignation is pro-active, not necessarily reactive. ‘I resign’ sounds powerful, autonomous, in control of self, of my own mind. It’s also a very good way to hold onto dignity should I come to the realisation that I am about to be fired.
Back home, I know that I have consciously chosen both those words to explain how I am managing my role as carer. I accept that I have been gifted a role in this new production. It isn’t the lead role, nor the one I would have auditioned for, but it is the one assigned to me. On a minute to minute basis I get to choose how well I play my part. When I meet bad temper, does it cause me to react like for like? Yes, sometimes, when I am tired or when I take my childhood understanding of those words, the way they fit together, the way they sound and let them hurt me. To him, they mean nothing much. He was just grumpy, that’s all, and once the words are out, five minutes later, he is cheery and chatty and asking me if I slept well. I was seeing, at that vulnerable moment, colours he never painted. Those words, projected like a fireball, were aimed nowhere in particular and rooted in frustration and fear. I get that when I am not tired or low or feeling sad.
Then, there is resignation. I am resigned to the fact that I am here, right now, and for the long haul. Does this make me feel weak? Am I giving in?
Absolutely not. In choosing that word I take control, not of the situation, not of him, but of myself. I resign myself to the fact that this will not get better, nor will it go away. I resign myself to no end in sight, to more bad temper, more of everything. And I learn, bit by bit, inch by inch, that if I watch the words carefully, seeing them in my colours and yet understanding that he may well only see in shades of grey, then I can accept that words are just words. It’s in the interpretation of those words where lies their power.
If I sound like your mother when ticking you off about not picking up your socks, you will scoot straight back to childhood and respond accordingly. You will probably whine and then sulk. I undoubtedly do sound like a mother, but it will be my own peeking through those words because she is the one who taught me the inflection and tone and colour of a ticking off. I do it her way without a second’s thought, and, as all mothers around dropped socks sound much the same, I could easily sound like your own. I try a different tone, a different choice of word assemblage floating towards you on a fluffy cloud, but the message still stands. ‘Pick up your fricking socks will you!!!!’ And the response doesn’t change. Nobody responds with a ‘Of course I will, I’m so sorry, it will never happen again’ (aka an adult response) do they?
So, if none of us have really ever grown up at all, then how do we manage to look and sound like adults right up to the point when words blast us back to the playground? We may be suited up and sensible but if we don’t begin to understand that words mean different things to different people, and then to consciously work on our childhood bungees, learning how to release them, to become the adults we purport to be, then wars really will never end.
If dementia had not come knocking, I would never have travelled this journey of learning, of inner Googling. It is humbling, oh yes indeed, uncomfortable, yes, angry making and very frustrating at times, but the lessons I am learning tell me that whatever circumstances any of us live in, we can always go deeper, become stronger, wiser, more aware, more compassionate, more ready for fun.
More likely to wear the Unicorn Hat.