Lately, I’ve been thinking about something my mom used to always say to me. ‘Emma, sometimes, try to take things at face value.’
See, my mom and brother have always been cool-headed, even gentle, folk, whereas I have a bit of a history of being a little more hot-headed. Perhaps hot-headed is not the word. Maybe overbearing is more apt. Overbearing in the sense that I had a tendency to not just let things go. If someone did something that upset me and later offered an explanation I wasn’t satisfied with, I had to keep probing. Why did you do this, or that? I know you just said, but I want to know why you reeeeeaaally did it. I prided myself on getting to the bottom of things, weighing every ounce of evidence at my disposal, voraciously digging up more, and being thorough and clever in my interrogations, all the while taking notes and connecting the dots. I could put Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to shame.
After putting them through this very uncomfortable ordeal, I’d confidently reveal my findings to my poor unsuspecting victims, insisting that they accept my verdict and judgement of them as liars, manipulators and other unflattering titles.
To my credit, sometimes I would spare them this process and merely carry out my investigations in private followed by a hearing and sentencing of them in their absence. I would just be by myself, formulating my prosecution and concluding that whoever I felt had wronged me this time or the other was indeed guilty. Every now and then, my mother witnessed this spectacle and she would often humor me. ‘Okay, so you think Flora lied about being too sick to help you out yet you always help her?’, to which I’d vigorously respond, ‘Yea! She just didn’t care enough to help out. She knew how important this was to me. But she didn’t care. She’s lying about being sick. I know it. She sounded just fine on the phone!’ My Mom would then just smile and say something like, ‘Iyiii. How bad did you want her to sound? Emma, sometimes try to take things at face value. Give people the benefit of he doubt.’
Of course I’d just roll my eyes and shake my head in disapproval of my mother’s clear lack of analytical skills. ‘No one is going to pull a fast one on me,’ I’d say in my heart. I guess somewhere inside myself, I had a real distrust of people and their intentions.
I was also quite argumentative and would get into these long unpleasant exchanges with people, really going for the jugular at times, unfettered by the laws of kindness and general decency. They had to see that I was right, even if that came at the expense of their dignity. And if they were unkind to me first, then I was justified in my equally venomous reaction. They had it coming.
Over the years, there’s been a significant shift in these aspects of my character. Part of it has maybe come from the gradual evolution that time and experience offers us all if we are fortunate to live long enough, and some of it has been the result of deliberate efforts on my part to be what I think is better. I do still believe that a healthy skepticism is necessary just to survive life and all its waves, the curve balls that we get thrown, the gut-wrenching lows that tend to follow the exhilarating highs, the disappointments and heartbreaks that we can be sure to be on the receiving end of, just as we mete some out to others. It’s all part of the fullness of life. But I think that too much scepticism soon turns to cynicism and that can be crippling and toxic to yourself and those you care for.
Maybe you can feel yourself becoming that person… the partner who needs a blow by blow(the joke in here is not lost on me) account of every second of your significant other’s day. Or the manager at work who MUST call the clinic that your employee said they attended the day they called in sick, just to make sure they’re not taking you for a ride, the friend who can’t just say, ‘It’s cool. Maybe next time’ when your girl cancels on you. You instead demand to know why, so you can decide if her reason for bailing is good enough for YOU to not have things your way.
Maybe in our quest to not be manipulated, we unwittingly manipulate the people we care about; Manipulate them into feeling guilty and responsible for us and our emotions in ways that are quite problematic and unfair. Perhaps in trying to not be walked all over, we begin to walk all over people; forcing them to be entirely accountable to us even at the expense of their dignity. I read something that stayed with me: “You must love in a way that the person you love feels free. “
A healthy scepticism is good. Communicating is good. But I think too often, we mistake love for control. Don’t always launch a commission of inquiry into the actions of your friends and associates. The Government has that on lock and see how well that’s working out. It never ends.
Give the people in your life the benefit of the doubt. And sometimes, try to take things at face value.