Tenderness

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It comes, unsurprisingly, from Latin. What may be surprising is the root: it means to have, hold, possess. It’s an ownership term, really, and it raised my interest because, as it happens with old words, we do not use it in that sense. We use the word for something that is fragile, young, delicate or for a feeling of deep affection that makes us smile at our happiness.

I can possibly reconcile the first meaning with the root, as usually the things we have/hold are smaller, more fragile than ourselves. I am also used to diminutives and even diminutives of diminutives – they sound sweet, truly 🙂 – especially around children (smaller, more delicate, fragile).

I cannot reconcile the second meaning though, not to that root. It would be interesting to know how it got there. Maybe the ownership is reversed, do you think? Maybe the object of our tenderness actually has a hold of us, and we enjoy our servitude?

Tenderness in this form leads, if you’re the impulsive type (like me) to the blurting out of certain facts of life (like “I love you”), most of the time in the middle of conversations that have nothing much to do with feelings. It’s a welling up of feeling, you see, it was always there but then that object of tenderness says something so lovely that you can’t help yourself and you have to let them know of the link.

Even if the situation puts a muzzle on the words though, tenderness is one of those feelings that calls out for more of the same. Unlike romantic love, where pain is almost implied in the process, tenderness leans more towards agape, about as pure as any human feeling can get, and so pain is bypassed which makes you feel safe, which then leads to you wanting more tenderness and so you put yourself in situations where you are likely to get this. In other words, you seek out both the feeling and the people who have offered this in the past.

Tenderness is an indulgent feeling, there is a luxuriating qulaity to it that I believe stems from that feeling of safety I mentioned above. This is what I mean by the hold being reversed. If we are safe, then it follows that some walls can come down, that we do not have to prove so much, be so active or try to decide how far to go. We do not have to impress therefore we can relax, be vulnerable and understand ourselves as small, rather than the larger than life bias we usually see ourselves through.

We offer tenderness usually to children, youth, pets, the elderly and sometimes baby gods. Basically, the ones on the brink of change (to grown-ups, to human, to death, to power).

When it comes to receiving tenderness though, sometimes we identify the lack before defining it. Something may be missing from a relationship that we have in another. We wish and ask for it (let’s just cuddle on the couch, anybody?), we model it, we grieve when we don’t get it and yet we get embarassed when we see it (PDA? It’s in our DNA 😛 ). Contrary creatures that we are!

Now, what to do about those who have never felt tenderness? Where will they learn?

Change

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Mmm, interesting, this one… yes, the French and the Latin have had a go but it is probably derived from Celtic and it seemed to be back then “all about the money, all about the dum-dum-dum-de-de-dum”. Sorry, could not resist the song 🙂

Change also makes our lives interesting, and that’s probably the understatement of the year! For a species so loudly proclaimed as adverse to change, we seem to inflict a heck of a lot of it on ourselves! Note – we are also adaptable as a species, but that in no way cancels out the above – apples and oranges, you know?

I was thinking about changes lately, both from the challenge and the loss perspectives.

A change is a challenge mostly when you initiate it yourself, or when the result of the change leaves you… still you. So, ironically, a change is a challenge when you remain unchanged. You may change your country, your job, your house. As long as those changes are of your own accord, or irrelevant to your person (open plan office? Hot-desking? Technology updates? ) you grumble, mumble, rumble and get on with it.

A change is a loss when it is done to you, without your accord or with a result that leaves you diferent. Our individuality does not take this kindly, if at all. Death, separation, illness, natural or man-made disaster…. the list goes on. You may, in time, accept these changes, but you are not the same person as you were before the change, and we mourn this probably more than the actual change.

Change as loss is insidious and cunning, pervasive and disabling, annoying and startling. It is a digging and quarrying of the soul until nothing clean or whole exists and every bit of you is disjointedly propping up crumbling walls of the self, with the result of us limping fearfully through the same life we may have embraced before.

We may associate this type of change with loss of youth or innocence. We cannot unsee, unfeel, undo our experiences. We can, sometimes, traumatically forget and yet that isn’t an “unchange” so we reject it. But after the bewilderment and the anger and the grief, we prove our adaptability and we take the minutes and the days and the years onto this other path that is laid out inf ront of us.

We are brave, you know? We are brave exactly when it matters, in the dead of the night, when the seconds are unwillingly counted in breaths. And from the twisting and warping of who we were then, the bonsai understands, accepts, and tries its darnedest to protect the young, straight, tall sapling growing nearby.

I can but hope…

Anniversary

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Yep, Latin again 🙂

Not as interesting, maybe, as other words have been, but anniversaries (at the turning of the years) are on my mind these days, and it seems appropriate I write this on the leap year justification day.

Once we get past Latin fractions in Roman numerals with English pronounciation (ouch!) anniversaries are about time, both perception and flow. It is about the past, and the memories associated with it.

I find anniversaries useful, convenient even. If we change, that change can come from outside (life happens, and it is rarely under our control) or inside. This type of change we can control up to a point, and it is here that we can act. And if we try to act (change is an action) then we change in response to the past, to memories, to time.

The way it happens for me is that I live my life in the present, with my assumptions and my judgements and my choices. I recognize the source of some of those, as do all of us, mostly in childhood but always in the past. Memory being selective it has already filtered out for you the routine and mundane and retained the needful to know, however obscure. But on anniversaries I have licence to actually remember how that selection has been made, and why. And remembering, as Christopher Robin implied, is not quite the re-telling of a story, and is not as vivid. Time has put a veil on the colours and one can, as I do, try to look beyond them to the full picture, with context, and from a different place on the time continuum. This where change can happen, when you look at a picture not only from your own perspective but from a time perspective. This detachment allows responsibility to shift, understanding to develop, acceptance to follow. One may find, as I do, that sometimes it was also my fault that a relationship ended. Other times it becomes clearer the action that started all the consequences one faces at present. I try (hard!) not to get into “what if” insofar as regret goes. Lessons for the future, yes. Beating myself over the past, no.

Time is said to mellow things out but what I find is that time clarifies things, and it is only by being in a different place that you accept them, therefore they do not have the power to hurt as much. If you have remained in the same place, that mellowing doesn’t actually happen. It is in the travelling on the continuum, it is in the change that detachment grows. And by detachment I mean distancing per se, in time and space. The re-telling of the story is allowed to become a remembering, and as such make space for other stories.

It is an interesting thing, that celebrating anniversaries implies the present you thinking about the past you to maintain the hopes for the future you. It is also interesting that anniversaries, when change can happen if you let it and sometimes if you will it, are actually celebrations of stability.

Whether joyful or sad, anniversaries fare better if there is a ritual, a protocol, pomp and ceremony if this is your style. The remembering has to happen and people love and live their life by the symbols they determine. So whether is is a present, or a toast, or a party, a declaration or a wink, it helps the past, always trailing in the wind of the future, to be present.

An opportunity for change…

Tokenism

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Think the only woman in a welder’s helmet in a factory – worthy of a news segment.

Think Barak Obama – the first black president of the USA – worthy of many, many news segments!

Think Caitlyn Jenner – on the cover of a famous magazine – and worthy of probably the same number of news segments as the above put together! 🙂

What do they have in common is quite obvious.

They are people.

They are also Other. Different. Unusual.

And tokenism? This doesn’t get too many positive votes, whether on television or anywhere else for that matter. But they are related and there is also some hope, if long term, for change.

Let’s split hairs.

I come from a country that was multicultural with a mono-cultural type of aspirations. Everybody should behave the same way, speak the same language, study the same subjects, be proud of the same things.

I live in a country that is multicultural with a bi-cultural type of aspirations. Everybody can behave this way or that way etc. etc. and if there is a third (or fourth, or fifth…) way then we will find similarities and go from there… towards multiculturalism (probably, in time).

Tokenism is seen as the bad guy in this. Let’s give some (few) of them the pieces of carrot we have no use for and that will keep (all of) them quiet. That is the usual view.

And yet I would argue that tokenism is one of the few honest-to-goodness ways of changing humans. There are “Damascene conversions”, usually following an outstandingly rare important event (or a trauma) which changes people forever. They are just as rare as that outstandingly rare important event or the not-so-rare trauma. They are also not very reliable because you cannot control the direction of the change: yes, the change can be for the better… or not. This type of conversion is very fast however.

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With tokenism you can control the direction of change provided you take a couple of generations to apply it. The results can be visible quickly but have to also be sustained over a longer period of time. Think road signs in two languages or more – of the same mountain for example. They weren’t there before. Now you put them up. Old-timers* scoff and snort and generally ignore or decry the change (and the expense: “why fix something that ain’t broken?”). The old-timers’ children grow up seeing them however and they will ask their teachers (or their parents :P) why the two names – discussion ensues, and a young mind will make the decision very quickly – they will use one name at home and the other name everywhere else. Their children will probably know one name as true and the other one as historical. I will not always bet on which one, but I have hopes 🙂

I would say that tokenism comes from the top down. Damascene conversions usually happen to isolated individuals. Is there no other way? Talking to your neighbour comes to mind…

What do you think?

*Old timers are not always old. Even when they are old, they remain delightfully argumentative. I happen to love several of them 🙂