Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Cold Hard Truth

On the plane ride home, I read a fantastic Australian young adult novel; Feeling Sorry For Celia. It's written by Jaclyn Moriarty, who I THINK is the sister of another Aussie author I like.

Let me go check......

Okay, yes. Moriarty's website confirms that she's the sister of Liane Moriarty.

Cool.

Feeling Sorry for Celia is told through letters written to and from Elizabeth (the protagonist). There's really nothing new about this type of novel. What makes Moriarty's novel stand out is that it also includes imaginary letters that Elizabeth receives. I suppose they could be described as Elizabeth's self-esteem. They're like those little voices inside of us who question everything we do, insult us, rain on our parade, and make sure we don't develop any delusional ideas regarding the fact that we might be worthy of good times and happiness. Sometimes Elizabeth receives positive versions of these imaginary letters. They lift her up, making her feel hopeful and good about herself. Then often these letters will be followed by one from the Cold Hard Truth Association.

I'm plagued by letters from the Cold Hard Truth Association. I'm guessing a lot of people are. Right? And in some ways, it IS a helpful association. It prevents us from getting overly swelled heads. It keeps us down to earth. In small doses, the Cold Hard Truth Association is probably a healthy thing. It's only bad when we get too many letters from them, and not enough letters from the associations telling us we're decent.

Some of us (or maybe all of us?) don't just have that inner organization bringing us down. We have people in our lives who take it upon themselves to do the job as well.

Feeling good about yourself? Feeling hopeful about something? Wanting to share some happy news? Well, share anything positive with these people, and they'll make sure to do some tall poppy trimming. With these people, saying anything positive about yourself equals bragging. And they won't tolerate it.

Friend #1 and I were discussing praise, and whether it's a good thing or bad thing. I talked about how friend #2 had recently said she thought I sang very good. Friend #2 had given me VERY nice compliments about my singing. I had been extremely touched by this, but also somewhat sad and conflicted because prior to that, I hadn't gotten much positive feedback about my singing. With a sort-of smirk, friend #1 said that maybe friend #2 had been lying. Yeah. Silly me to have imagined that maybe friend #2 was giving me a genuine compliment. Why didn't I realize that I'm a HORRIBLE singer, and that friend #2 was just blowing smoke up my ass?

Friend #1 left me not only feeling defensive about my singing, but even more so...defensive of friend #2. Not only was friend #1 accusing me of bad singing, but she was also accusing me of having a dishonest friend. That didn't make me feel so hot. Why couldn't friend #1 been kind enough to give my singing and friend #2 the benefit of the doubt?

When Jack was a toddler, we visited someone's house. Jack has a phenomenal memory, and Tim wanted to show these people what he could do. Now excessive bragging in parents is tacky, but I think mild amounts deserve to be tolerated.

What Jack would do at that age is point to things and make a noise to indicate that he wanted us to tell him what it was called. We would teach him, and then quiz him on what he had learned. He seemed to love doing this, and we didn't pressure him to perform when he wasn't in the mood. We weren't awful. I promise.

Tim did a brief demonstration of what Jack could do. The people could have said. That's awesome! Good job, Jack! He's so clever! Wow! That's how most people in our lives responded to Jack's intelligence.

At this house, we got a different reaction. One of house owners said something like, Well, let's just hope he doesn't become one of those kids who never learns to speak.

Now I'm guessing she was referring to Autistic-Savants. And maybe there's a way you could gently express concerns about such things...if you were truly concerned.

But this was NOT like that. This was someone unable to tolerate someone being pleased about their child's abilities. She wanted us to make sure we weren't too pleased with ourselves. She wanted to bring us down a notch....several notches.

Sometimes I think the cold hard truth is not about blessing others with your impressive honesty. It's about making sure others feel small so you can feel bigger.

On the other side of the coin, you have those who do the opposite. They shower you with compliments and hope, which you KNOW are not deserved or warranted.

You tell them that your crush said hi to you in the hall. They tell you to start planning the wedding. They even start buying you bridal magazines. They always say what you want to hear, but eventually you realize their words are empty bullshit.

In response to the crush situation, the cold-hard-truth friend would say something like... well, don't get excited over that. He's way out of your league. He was probably saying hi to someone behind you.

Maybe in the middle, there's a reasonable friend. They let you have your hopes and dreams, but won't fluff you up with complete crap.