Thursday, June 16, 2016

"I could have been her friendly acquaintance but she wouldn't allow it. She didn't have any of those."

When my kids were young and we homeschooled I met another mother at one of our "park days". As our children played we introduced ourselves and began to chat.  Very early on, as part of her introduction actually, she shared a very interesting fact about herself.  "People either love me or they hate me," she said.  She laughed as though this strange fact was a happenstance of fate.  People either thought she was wonderful or hated her.

Most people know a very few people they can't abide and have a few more close friends who love them while the rest of everyone they know are some variety of congenial but emotionally unengaged acquaintances.   These are the smiles in passing and polite inquiries concerning children, parents, the dog or the weather, all the things that provide the grease that lubricates the wheels of polite society. 

But this woman had no neutral interactions, no neutral relationships, no polite exchanges.  People loved her or they hated her.

Of course it quickly became clear that she didn't allow anything but love or hate.   Those who wanted to be friendly to her had to love her.  If you failed to love her enough you'd face some variety of social punishment where she'd be certain that you knew that you had to meet her expectations of love... or hate. 

It wasn't long before one of my children committed a mortal sin.  I have no idea which one it was because she never spoke to me again.  Not once.  Not even a stiff "hello".  Nor did she allow her child to play with my children.  Another mother let me know what happened.  One of my kids who I was teaching that "smoking is bad for you" because that's what mothers do, shared this tidbit of wisdom with this woman who was smoking, because that's what children do.

What I was supposed to do once I'd made the effort to find out what was wrong was go grovel.  I was supposed to prove that I was one of those people who would love her.   I react in predictable ways to abusive manipulation.  I accepted the information the other mother gave me.  I listened to the excuses about how this woman smoked because of hard things in her life.  I did not scold any of my children for making a perfectly normal statement to an adult.  And I let myself become one of those who "hated" her.
Of course I didn't hate her at all.   I didn't even feel bad because she'd been offended.   I felt nothing but an academic interest in her as a character study.  No love.  No hate.   I could have been her friendly acquaintance but she wouldn't allow it.  She didn't have any of those.

What she was doing, and what most anyone will recognize, is she was using emotional manipulation to control other people.  It was about power.  You loved her.  Or you hated her.

What brings this to my mind now is a small thing... a little thing... a tiny thing...  related to the horrific murders in Orlando.  Someone published the opinion that somehow people who had not supported gay marriage were not entitled to be supportive, to even care about, those who had been murdered.  As if anything other than love... is hate.  Anything other than 100% agreement and support... is hate.  No in-betweens.  No disagreements.  No polite tolerance.  No indifference. No social interaction of asking after the dog or job or weather in the presence of disagreement.   Just love or hate. 

I would like to think that this was just one random dummy on the internet.  That anyone could think, somehow, that this was something insightful instead of horrible is alarming.  We are human.  We can and do love people while believing in our hearts that they are very wrong.  We can and do care about lives lost, of sorrow and grief, and people's right to be safe, even in the face of disagreements.  We can and do care about people as people even when we find them personally unbearable.   Why?  Because sane humans do not think primarily about how to use emotional manipulation to control, shame or punish other people in order to force them to make a choice between love and hate. Healthy human relationships are built in all the in-between places.

If someone isn't willing to allow that, they are the one with the problem.

As I was thinking of writing this today I noticed someone had posted a link to this essay, "Friends Don't Care."   It's from July 4, 2001.   It's about the virtue of not caring, and it's about guns which my post is not, but since it is, I'll segue to the PinkPistol's national organization page, and to this page compiling a list of contacts of people who have pledged real material help to anyone in the LGBT community who are interested in learning about concealed carry personal defense in their local area.    Oh, and this one for Elijah.


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