I feel a Diana tangent coming on. Prepare yourself.
Every day that I live, it becomes increasingly clear that I do not understand the people around me. I meet you, I talk with you, I read your reactions and after some interaction I begin to get the sense that I know you- but the truth is, I do not really know or understand you any better than you know and understand me. Despite the shallow connections that we make (maybe we like the same books, or movies, or music. Maybe we agree on religion or politics or the best way to raise children. Maybe we connect or maybe we don’t) at the end of the day I really don’t know what you’re capable of. And you have no idea how I feel about myself.
We have opposing preferences- we communicate them differently, we value different things, we make different decisions based on those values, we learn differently, we relate differently, we have different brain chemistry, different perspectives. And to top if off we were raised by different people in a unique situation and environment that influences everything we do. The truth is, half the time I don’t understand myself so how foolish is it to assume I have the capacity to truly understand anyone else? Judge anyone else?
As a mother surrounded by a hundred other mothers- all with strong opinions on how to be “the best” mother- As a woman surrounded by a million other women- all with strong opinions on how to be “the best” woman- Just check out Pinterest- I have come to realize the futility of comparison. What seems obvious and simple to you, may seem overwhelmingly complicated, and a little unnecessary to me. What energizes and makes me happy, may seem dull and meaningless to you. When you hold me to your standard, I come up short. When I hold myself to your standard, I come up short. But the standard is false- there is no universal standard for raising children. There is no universal standard for being a good woman or a good person, apart from the agreed upon “Golden Rule” that very few people actually follow. Because no one likes to be judged, yet we judge each other constantly (sometimes subconsciously). And nobody likes to be misunderstood, and yet how often do we make a real effort to see things from another person’s perspective? I assume that I know you- you assume you understand me. So I judge that you’re selfish and crazy for doing this. You judge that I’m lazy and misguided for doing that. But honestly, I don’t know the pain you feel or how hard you try to prove your self-worth every day. And you don’t understand where I’m coming from or where I’m attempting to go. Its easy to throw around labels like Douche-Bag (my personal fave), Selfish, Crazy, Lazy, Misguided, Liberal, Conservative, Bigot, Close-Minded, Shallow, Socialist, Loser, Religious Fanatic, Hypocrite, Hater. Its easy because we think we know. We actually consider that after living our lives in Converse All-Stars, we completely understand the person in high-heels. We actually think living life in one pair of well-worn shoes qualifies us to judge, justifies our pettiness, and validates the false standard we take for granted is universal.
I believe in God. And not just any God. The Christian God. The Mormon idea of The Christian God. And with that belief comes an entire religion-full of standards: I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol or tea or coffee, I didn’t have sex before marriage, I donate 10% of my income to the church, I value motherhood over a career, I attend church every Sunday and serve in time-consuming callings without compensation. I avoid R-rated entertainment, I believe gender and family roles are eternal and essential to our progression and happiness. And I believe one of God’s greatest and most unselfish gifts to humanity is free-will, our ability to choose for ourselves how we will live and what we will become.
Obviously, the standard I hold myself to is going to influence the choices I make which undoubtedly differ from the choices of someone who believes differently. Does that make me a close-minded religious fanatic who hates smokers, alcoholics, feminists, atheists, and gay people? No. Pardon me, but Hell no. Do my beliefs or standards make me even the slightest bit better than an agnostic whose choices are also based on his own beliefs? Of course not. The only real difference between us is that if I get drunk at a party I have the unsavory consequence of knowing that I am a hypocrite, while my drunk agnostic friend is simply enjoying himself.
And how can we compare personalities? According the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, I am an INTJ. Which, in short, means I require more time, structure and personal space than most others to function properly. I tend to make non-emotional, outside-the-box decisions based on intuition. I’m not particularly spontaneous. I’m not great at focusing on the mundane details that life often requires such as making appointments, renewing subscriptions, or maintaining the car. Sometimes I forget about the details entirely because they’re just not that important to me. I’ve never been interested in pleasing the masses or living up to any one’s expectations besides my own. There are very few women INTJs and of those women very few decide to become mothers. As a result of being different, I feel I am constantly having to defend myself against an accepted standard that I certainly didn’t vote for.
The spelling-tests and sandwich-making and nose-wiping of motherhood drains me. I vow never to become a member of the PTA, HOA, or any other A for that matter (Associations in my opinion, are not good). I couldn’t care less if my children receive their High-Flying Hawk or Perfect Attendance Awards (shocking, I know). I don’t mollycoddle my girls when they get hurt, I don’t attempt to shelter them from the natural trials of life, and I expect them to be respectful, kind, thoughtful, and honest even when no one is watching. I don’t lie to them about the Easter Bunny or fairies or leprechauns (I’m SUCH a jerk!), but I read imaginative books with them, write morbid/ funny stories for them, and give them sweet birthday parties. I encourage my daughters to think for themselves and to solve their own problems. I give them responsibilities and the security of routine and family traditions. They know what to expect from me- I’m always up for deep conversation about random, abstract topics. And even though I expect a lot from them, I hope I never leave them in doubt of my love and respect for them as individuals.
How can I compare myself to someone with a different personality-type and life experience? Its like comparing a guitar and a piano. Its a matter of preference isn’t it? I do my best to provide my children with what I think they will need most to become functioning, independent, creative, confident, happy adults. I know I don’t meet the accepted standard of “the best” mother. And I care about that less than the feminine standard indicates I should. I accept that I’m not a perfect mother. I’m not a perfect woman or person either. My weaknesses haunt me every waking hour and when I dream at night. I expend all my energy trying to live up to my own high standards. Maybe we all do. But with our energy spent on measuring up to our own standard the last thing we need is the added pressure of measuring up to someone else’s.
I don’t expect everyone to believe what I believe. I don’t expect everyone to value what I value. I don’t expect everyone to understand the way I function, think, feel or parent. I don’t expect everyone to appreciate what I’ve been through or the choices I’ve made or why I continue to make them. It isn’t necessary to understand someone to have respect for them. Humble acknowledgment that we aren’t really going to understand anyone until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes and spent a lifetime in their head and heart may be the first step towards real progression. Ending with the final step, “But I love you anyway.”