Monday, February 16, 2015

The lies I tell myself

When I was younger (now a great deal younger than I care to admit) I went to school in the Radnor School district in Pennsylvania. Radnor Township is one of the richest (in terms of per capita dollars) areas in all of Pennsylvania, my family and I however - were not on the same scale. I started my school experience with 1st grade @ Ithan Elementary.

I was socially different than most of my peers. This was not immediately obvious to me in school till I got to be in 4th and 5th grade. I tended to keep to myself finding it difficult to relate to those around me. I was tall - freakishly so for my age, which made it difficult to keep me in clothes that fit. I almost always had flood waters for pants as I would sometimes shoot through two or three sizes in days or weeks. This contented with my desire to just blend in because it was easy to see, and by extension make fun of, that fact that my clothes didn't fit. Not to mention that I wasn't at all interested in the word 'style' as it portended to what I wore unless it was possible to prevent additional ridicule. The problem with that was our family often was not able to purchase the 'stylish' things due to their cost. I still have memory of having one of those one piece snow suits and not being able to put it on completely during winter recess and the boy that punched me in my gut that same day because I decided to stand my ground that one time that one day.

My years in the Radnor school district left me with the jaded point of view that I shouldn't really care what other people think about me. I made a point of attempting to look past what people were whispering (or so I thought) or even pointing or saying directly to my face. I convinced myself that despite the fact that I see these people almost every single day, that at some point none of them will really be a part of my life and that their thoughts and opinions didn't matter because none of them were taking the time to get to know who I was, what I liked or disliked or even what I stood for. This idea permeated how I went about living my life. I didn't care much about my appearance - I was barely kempt by most male teenage standards.

So - why is all that back story important?

I realized something for myself the other day, I actually do care quite a bit about what people think about me - that I was lying to myself and others that I didn't care what other people thought about me. You see - I am amazingly empathetic and I connect with the thoughts and feelings of others easily. So easily in fact that it is somewhat like slipping on a shoe, or a comfy pair of socks. There are cases where that empathetic ability doesn't work as well - but for most cases, it works all too well.

Over the years I have come to think of this empathetic ability as a super power, because so many people don't seem able to connect with others the same way. The problem is that this connection, the empathy with others, drives a level of caring that in a great many ways I wish didn't exist. My empathy makes it hard to separate my feelings from those of others around me as a result I find it amazingly difficult to be around large crowds, public speaking is really hard, walking around in large cities like NYC are a drain to me. I know how to close some parts of my ability and myself down to try to prevent from getting drained - but it is difficult. I have a strong desire to be valued by those people around me, those I have chosen to be with at any given point in time.

I also find that my level of caring can be adjusted - caring more for those closer to me, that I can discriminate a bit, generating higher trust with those that are closer to me. I have learned that it hurts enormously when I misspeak, or misstep with someone that I care about, because trust is hard to rebuild, and I don't have a time machine to go back and say things differently than I did even if I want to. I have also discovered that words chosen un-carefully are a wonderful betrayer of intent just like a poorly timed or written email, txt, or tweet. I try to make those missteps and other events be learning events for me because no one is perfect and I am certainly no exception.

I said when I was a kid - that I leave my heart open, my being open, so that others can see and be involved with who I am and that by doing so I was also open to an enormous amount of hurt. This is still true today, the difference is that because of the history above, I am more discerning about how I care about being hurt. It hurts more when I screw things up with people I WANT to have in my circle and less with those I can keep further outside - but my lack of caring isn't an absolute like I thought it was as a kid. I am still learning how to deal with the ebb and flow of trust as a result of my caring. Still learning about the ebb and flow of value that comes from the people I chose to be with and those that chose to be with me.

Here there be Dragons - take care, step lively and be ready for the good and the bad. Still trying to figure it all out at age 41.
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