Thursday, 3 January 2013

Open With Care

It will probably come as no surprise to those who know me, that I have always been what used to be known as a tomboy. That is to say, a girl who does things that are more often associated with boys. We had separate playgrounds at school, separated by a brick wall. The girls played hopscotch and skipping games on one side, and the boys played football (soccer) on the other. Guess who regularly climbed over the wall to play football. 

As a child I didn't wear dresses. I didn't play with dolls. I climbed trees and played war games. I fought and got dirty. I never understood girls' games at all. My mother didn't mind, she'd always been a tomboy too. She didn't really know how to raise a girly girl, so she was probably actually quite relieved. They don't call us tomboys anymore. It's OK to thumb your nose at gender roles these days. 

It's no secret that I have always liked spiders and snakes. Never understood the problem. And it didn't bother me in the least when my husband presented me with a dead rat as I was preparing chicken parmesan last night. Pythons need to eat too. 

So, I found myself amused by this bag. Maybe I'm simply insensitive but then I never knew the rat. It wasn't a pet, it was a stranger. I never saw it alive and happy. We met when it was already humanely killed, frozen, bagged, and designated as dinner. That is the food chain my dears. It's better to be closer to the top. 

There is a connection, for sure, between "male" pursuits and the lack of sensitivity. How many times are men chastised for being insensitive, or ridiculed if they show their feelings? It varies from culture to culture, but certainly western men are expected to be stalwart, so you get both aspects of it, good and bad. They are calm in a crisis, which we like, and then say things that hurt our feelings, which we don't. We want it both ways, but it's asking rather a lot. Turn off your sangfroid on demand, sorta thing.

Now that we have a society that is at least pretending gender equality, and expects everyone to behave the same, we end up with a bit more sensitivity from men, but sadly, a bit less from women. Unfortunately, some ambitious women think they have to be cold-hearted bitches to succeed, and even more unfortunately, quite often they're right.

The question then, surely, is how much of sensitivity is nurture and how much is nature? It's definitely a bit of both, and I look to people I know well to see how it varies. What's really interesting is that those who are the quickest to say tactless or even cruel things are often the ones who are hurt mostly deeply by the words of others. To put it another way, people who live in glass houses seem to throw the biggest stones.

Makes no sense, does it? You'd think people would clue in, but they don't. Look at history, the most highly persecuted people almost always become persecutors at the first available opportunity. The lesson is totally missed, the golden rule totally forgotten. So, is it a warped sort of revenge, or what? Or is that what insensitivity is? An inability to judge, not just the feelings of others, but also the intent of others. An interesting phenomenon.

Maybe it can work the other way, by neither causing nor taking offence. So which comes first? Where do you start? I have read that if you take nothing personally it's an instant cure for almost all unhappiness. I'm just not so sure it's that easy to do. But like everything else it's always worth a try. We have all sorts of choices when we hear harsh words, we can decide that the speaker is expressing his own pain, or that he's just an idiot ("consider the source"). We can assume a misunderstanding, maybe on our own part. This is especially true in the written medium.

I think it's impossible to always avoid offending others. Some people have hot button issues. Some people seek offence. There's nothing we can do about these folk, they have to work on themselves. We can apologize though, even if we weren't at fault. Costs nothing. Yeah, a price for everything but humility is free!

How the Dickens do you balance speaking your mind without upsetting the more...precious...amongst us? 

That's the real question, isn't it? Plain-speaking can and often does cross that line, and in fact plenty of people defend themselves by saying they were only speaking plainly, when we all know they were being very naughty indeed. Deliberately provocative.

For now I have decided that it is one of those things that is supposed to be difficult. Finding the balance takes effort and care, and it should.


  1. Our python insisted on live prey. We raised the mice and my children would name them and they would become snake food. It is the way of the world. (If the snake will eat pre-killed food that is great I have nothing against that either)
    I try to be open minded as possible. It doesn't always work to keep me from being offended. Especially online people seem to like to make personal attacks these days. I suppose that too is the way of the world.

    1. It's just too easy to atack in print. Many of those who do it wouldn't dare speak like that to your face, so they are cowardly bullies. Even more cowardly are those who do it by private message, but I don't get so many of those these days.

      We tried the mouse-breeding thing. It was fun for a bit but I hated the smell and then Ru got too big for mice and needed rats, and they take up too much space. We used to buy live rats, but then pet stores started to make you sign a document promising to love it and squeeze it and call it George and DEFINITELY NOT feed it to a snake. For a while we just went to different store each time, but it got tedious, so we tried giving her a dead one, and she accepted it. I guess if you're hungry enough anything will do. She's sleeping this one off as we speak.

  2. It gets rather boring to comment to your blog by "I agree", but that will have to do. You are one of the few people I know who routinely thinks in and/and terms. Nature/nurture for instance. How many brain cells does it take to see it is some of both? As to the exact percentage, WHO CARES?? As for the sensitivity thing: my son says some people need de-sensitivity training. Amen.