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?

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Greed

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For once, this is not from Latin 🙂

But that is not the most interesting thing about this word. This would have to go the the unification by result of two opposites (plus and minus, yin and yang) into a characteristic that ranges from humorous to fatal. I shall attempt to explain.

Stepping into the realm of ethics, most especially applied ethics, you will meet terms like vice, virtue and in religious terms, sin. Greed is one of the sins or vices that has been considered fundamental, major, capital. In other words, really, really bad.

If Aristotelian etichs looks at virtues in the middle and vices (two of them for each virtue!) stemming from taking said virtue to extreme, then greed and miserliness don’t seem to be exact opposites. The opposite of a miser would be a spendthrift, not a greedy person. The opposite of greed would be probably someone who would not reach out for necessities (I understand that eating disorders were at one stage considered a part of a sin).

But when it is considered a sin it also includes miserliness. Which it, in some way, its opposite. Looking at it mathematically, greed is a plus, miserliness is a minus. A greedy person is always seeking addition to his already existent possessions (of anything, really, not just money), while a miser is going to extremes to avoid subtraction of his already existing posessions.

You can also have a person who is both greedy and a miser. The sin of greed unifies them anyway not by intent (which is different), but by result. The result is the unavailability of resources for anyone else. Whether you take them out as miser or grasping more of them as a greedy person, you are not making them available to others who might need them. That lack of generosity, charity and consideration for others is considered a sin, rather than the more neutral wealth.

Religiously speaking, in the end, greed is a sin of the self and, as such, linked with pride. Evolutionary speaking, it is not so clear cut… up to a point. Those who grasped more (food, hunting teritory, females, other resources) had a better chance of survival so at an individual level they would have been stronger and more likely to have strong progeny. But people did not evolve as solitary animals, on the contrary, so at a species level I believe the selfish genes select for co-operation and that leads to sharing of resources. Communities of people around the world, “civilized” or not, have careful, extensive and sometimes enforceable rules around the sharing of resources.

Greed was given as an explanation for people’s disregard for their environment once community took a backstep to industry, once there was a distance between the food you eat and the place where that food originates from, once  individual values were required and the social ones were “nice-to have”, once “team building” had to be taught in workplaces…

And if you read the paragraph above, you also see what can be done about it.

A way back?

Possession

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You know that feeling of shock you get when someone describes you by a word you would never have associated with yourself? Something like “You look so happy” when you know you are anything but, or “you have been so helpful” when all you tried was to serve yourself.

For me the shock has come because of possession. I consider myself one of the most possessive people I know. So being described as “giving” has put me in the ironic position of justifying a weakness. Not a sin – for me that is pride – totally different subject.

If you also take into account (and I do!) that I don’t know what jealousy is, being possessive is an even bigger headache. So let’s analyze a bit.

I can give provided one of two things happen: one, I retain the object as such (loaning it to others for the duration) – like giving them a copy of a book I have read, enjoyed and considered appropriate; advice is another such object, so is expertise. Two, by giving I get even more in return – a present, for example, or the end of an irritation.

I can give even if those two things cannot happen, compelled by love – that is a gift, therefore wasn’t mine to begin with. Haven’t you been in love, and found the absolutely perfect gift? Even if you paid for it, did you ever consider it yours? Or were you just a conduit, helping the rightful owner take possession?

But then we have to define possession: have, own, control. Both in object and in spirit. Therefore it is by default something that is separate from you. Not only the object/spirit you possess, but the actual possession (An act? A state? A fact?). A more schizoid explanation of the separation of body, mind, spirit etc. I do not know! Think about it… you control yourself, don’t you? So you, yourself and the control exerted are three separate entities. Mad, innit?

But that separateness leads to questions like “what do you have? What do you control? And mind you, how do you do that?”

The clothes on my back, the salary I draw, the bed I sleep in… changeable. Childhood mementoes – more difficult to give. Ourselves or the people around us – let’s not joke about it!

So the giving is not so much of an object, although they are a start – and the easiest.

It is in the relationships where we have so much trouble giving. Managing expectations, so to speak.

I consider the people I love to be entitled to what I have to give, objects, advice, time, suppport etc. It is therefore my privilege to give so that everything should be normal. Note, it is not a prerogative. Nor can I lose. That object, the perfect gift, I cannot give it to anyone else. How could I say “I love you” if I am not prepared to share the time and the memories? We only ever should count at the end of a relationship.

Fingers crossed, it would have been worth it!

Dual

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It’s good advice to talk about what you know. It can save you from embarassment or even danger. It also shows the real size of your pride 🙂

On this occasion though, there is a subject that I know nothing about whatsoever. To be more precise, I know about but not of. I know it from others and via books. I have thought about it, trying to define the limits by going as close as I can through other subjects (like finding the shape of a little one through the blanket that hides it). I have compared it with other subjects. I have experimented with it (especially in situations where I am reliably informed it happens). I have a pretty good handle of it… except I cannot know it. Not really.

For me, the subject is jealousy.

I know envy. In fact, it took me years to get to a point where I can actually differentiate between the two. They tend to flow into one another, mingle, then separate on a discordant note that jars the mind. I can think of jealousy, you see, because I know envy. I can think about the limits of jealousy by using envy as a guide and greed or scarcity as cats’ eyes on the road.

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The simplest way I know to tell them apart is possession. Do you have it? Then it’s jealousy. Do you not have it? Then it’s envy. But is it difficult even then.

For example, as a child, I told my mother that the stork should come and take my little sister away again. Was it envy or jealousy? I tend to think it’s envy, for two reasons. One, I was the oldest, I was used to my mother’s full attention, now I didn’t have it. So it’s envy. Of course, you could also say that I had my mother’s full attention and I was in danger of losing said attention to my little sister. In which case it’s jealousy. Right, so let’s find another example.

Er… I can’t. I can find many more examples for envy. I tend not to envy possessions (as in money, objects, clothes etc.) and find myself turning a pale shade of lime when it comes to experiences, potentials, skills. The ability to organize something in Excel, the freedom to travel, the space you have on the farm where I could plant a forest, yes, I envy all that.

I have loved. I have watched people I love start relationships with other people, sometimes completely unsuitable. I have watched them have happy relationships, too. I have loved and been loved in return. But I have never been jealous of any of them. It always made more sense to me to help a relationship grow (say, between the boy I loved and the girl he loved – not me).

Going deeper, maybe it wasn’t real love. Hm… years have passed, looking back, it still shines as brightly. In some cases, it never actually faded at all. Deeper still, maybe my infamous defence walls have blocked the actual “bad” feelings of jealousy. What brings down defence walls? Alcohol? Been there, done that, no result. Danger? Ditto. Either I have impregnable defence walls (which they’re not, I can occasionally take them down myself so I can open up completely, and yes, sometimes I do get hurt) or I actually can’t feel jealousy.

So argument number two, with one possible count of jealousy and the rest of envy… what’s the likelyhood that the first one wasn’t envy after all?

Now, about that envy… should I try to cure myself or just use it to motivate myself?