Friday, July 3, 2015

Never Attribute to Malice...

I've been on the receiving end of some downright hurtful comments lately, but I can't tell if these comments are being said by people who are being intentionally hurtful, passive aggressive, or simply the result of people being unaware of how they sound. Hanlon's razor comes to mind: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

For example, I was recently told, "Oh, I'm so sorry you don't have any children. My life didn't have any purpose or meaning until I had a child. I finally understood what love is. Jesus really does grant all desires!"

This, of course, is simply ridiculous on multiple levels. If one's life has no meaning before having children, then perhaps one needs to find a way to add meaning to one's life that isn't related to having a child. I understand that having a child can add a depth of meaning that wasn't there previously, but such comments negate any meaning that people gain by cultivating other relationships and experiences both personal and professional. Jesus does not always grant you every desire you want, otherwise we'd have a lot less poverty, a lot less war, and those of us who wanted children would have them easily.

And of course such statements negate my experiences of love. I can and do regularly experience love without having a child.

I'll admit it makes me sad to think that the only way one experience meaning is to have a child. I don't believe this to be true, and I wish those whose lives haven't any meaning in them otherwise would realize that there are so many other ways to have a meaningful life.

On an only slightly related note, a few weeks ago I went to a graduation party for an acquaintance who had finished her nursing degree. I introduced myself to another person there who happened to be an adjunct in the math department. I asked her if she was teaching this summer; her response was, "Of course I am. I don't have a husband to support me." I don't think I responded to her statement - to be honest, I was so surprised at her statement, I just blinked at her. My knee-jerk reaction was to say something like, "Me too!" or "My husband supports me, regardless of the semester," thereby intentionally misunderstanding her. This is unkind, and I'm glad I kept my mouth shut. I'm trying to be kinder in how I react to people. It's a process. (I'm a bit on the snarky side. I am not snarky to my students unless I'm teasing them, but I have a difficult time otherwise.)

There are many assumptions to be made here:
  • I assumed that this particular teacher was making a dig at me in terms of having a husband who financially supports me.
  • To me it sounded like she was assuming that no teachers anywhere make enough to take the summer off (although many teachers do work during the summer for that very reason).
  • There's the assumption that a teacher can't support her family on her salary, or contribute equally.
Of course, she didn't know that last year I was working two jobs while completing my Master's degree; that the sum total of these three jobs was more than 100% (60% time at one school; 60% at the second school; 33% at the third school); that Ed and I had talked about this, and he fully supported my taking the summer off from teaching because how hard I worked last year. This conversation also happened before I scheduled 14 interviews in the past six or so weeks. Looking for full-time work can itself be a full-time job. Goodness.

One can't control what other people say; I'm trying to control my own reactions, not to take everything personally, overlooking the (often temporary) stupid or careless things people say, and not taking everything as a personal affront or critique on what happens in my life.

I can't control not having children - some people can and do control their fertility, but others among us don't have that option, nor can I control a birth mother not having chosen me to be an adoptive mother. I can't control not having been offered a full-time job despite my best efforts; I can only keep looking and making myself available. That said, I wish I were less bothered by others' off-the-cuff remarks that I know aren't specifically a response to my life.

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