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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Play

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It is commonly known that play is a child’s work. That one should allow for unstructured play. That play is complete in and of itself, without requiring a result, although it may have one anyway.

It is also commonly accepted that in growing up you will “put aside childish things” and acquire the focused, result driven, consequence-tempered approach of the adult. What I have observed is that in our “civilized” world, where we work more than monkeys but are less content than them , where every second of life is held to ransom but we have to wear headphones for music to blast away the boredom of our task, play is making a resurrection in the adult world. The five minutes of wind-gazing while you’re supposed to be working is play. The sexting without expecting an answer is play as well.

Un-needed experiments are also play. Those are my favourites. They are un-needed as I can easily find the results. They are also safe because my survival does not depend on the result. I can then fail. What a novel idea! 🙂 Not that I start with the idea of failing, I am too competitive for that. I start with the idea that I will win. At least I will learn something. If I fail, I can throw away the failure. This is waste and I do not condone it, I just acknowledge my luck that I have enough so I can fail without major consequence.

This seems very strange to other people. I don’t think they always understand why I should even experiment. I also don’t think they understand why I am not very upset when I do fail. In other words, why I play and not take things (life?) seriously enough. They like it only if I get a result that they like as well.

There is gratitude in me that I should have enough raw material so that I may be free to experiment. Like milk, raw, fresh, safe and yummy. Sometimes I get to the end of the week and I have not touched the bucket. Tomorrow I will get another bucket. Hm… seems a waste to pour it as fertilizer for the plants. Right, I guess we could make cheese. I can buy cheese from the supermarket. Yes, that’s true, but why not make it yourself? Ok, let’s make cheese. What sort of cheese? Most of the time I am smart and try an easy/fail-proof recipe. But nice as the result is, the learning is small. So next time I will try something more complicated. Success again, the feeling is better! The next time I will try something even more complicated… drat, I failed! Where did I fail? I followed the recipe religiously! Hm… I guess it was step 2 out of 3 possible. I put the drained cheese to heat up in hot milk. I think I need to put them to heat up together, then the whey might have a chance to actually separate… and then I can make ricotta out of that… brilliant, next time I will succeed!

The result was a bit of rubbery substance, some funny-looking milk, an empty bucket and a heck of a lot of dishes and cloths to wash. Given that I am not a child, I have thrown away the rubbery would-be cheese, I poured the milk as fertilizer and washed and cleared away the evidence myself. Some wasted resources were acknowledged and a lot of learning was integrated. I was happy and did not understand why I was not encouraged to try again. How else would I learn? What do you mean, what is the purpose of that learning? As my beloved Heinlein would say, “specialization is for insects”.

No, I did not need that cheese. Yes, I could have bought it from the supermarket.

I just wanted to play. I could. No one got hurt, abandoned or suffered because I played. So I did.