Monday, June 15, 2009

Respect and Its Implications

This post has been on my mind, off and on for over a month now. A lot has been happening in my immediate circles, not the least of them being the shock of losing Vicky’s father so unexpectedly.

In the end, I think all relationships come down to respect. When a wife says something horrible about her husband – as I often do – it’s an unpleasant experience for bystanders, but it remains her right and one that has to be respected by the said bystanders. She was in the marriage with all its beauties and its troubles and she knows why she cursed. Whether it was a fair thing to say or not, it’s a right she has earned.

(I strongly recommend both links. Poppy's for the insight and Boo's for the frustrated agreement.)

In my own case, I’m no longer sure I’ve earned the right even though I’ve been freely exploiting it for three and a half years now. If there’s one thing that has changed about my marriage in the last six months it’s the rhythm of our fights. We fight now because we’re depressed. We don’t fight the marriage any more, being tied to one another. And as I accept the togetherness as a given (even while I’m having wistful thoughts of divorce/homicide or at least separation) more and more I question my right to speak to another human being as I speak to Vicky. Just because I show him more love than I show anybody else, does it automatically follow that I am entitled to abuse more than I’d dream of abusing another person to their face?

I read recently that in cases of violent relationships the first time you are a victim, after that you are just a volunteer. This thought made a deep impact on me because it’s the way of thinking I’m currently at. In any relationship, given any toxicity, the first time you’re faced with it, you are a victim. But if you cannot sort it out and you cannot see the need to sort it out and you will not break away, you are a volunteer. You will have my empathy but not my sympathy because I think you are strong enough to do something about it instead of sitting at home licking your wounds. That’s what I told myself, at any rate – I have long conversations to with myself, that at least has not changed – and so, I’ve tried to be neither a victim nor a volunteer.

In clearer terms: when we fight, I try not to take every little thing so personally. I may do so in the heat of the moment but when I’m calmer I try to treat it the same way I would wish my own little meannesses to be treated – to be forgiven and forgotten as something said in the heat of the moment rather than a deep truth fighting its way to the surface helped by the righteous fury of my indignation. It sounds like a very simple change to make and in a way, it was. But it’s been a very far-reaching change in my mindset. I am, for instance, far more forgiving a person today than I was five years ago. I’m less confrontational and less likely to think it’s all about me.

I find myself less willing to take a stand than I used to be. I’m very clear on my stance on a particular issue (take the recent blowup on the blogosphere) but I find myself respecting each blogger’s right to her opinion. Even when the opinion makes no sense to me. Where earlier I would have taken sides now I’m content to let the people involved find their own end. Now more than ever I’m learning the importance of letting the ones at loggerheads battle it out in their own way.

I used to think mediation helped, especially in close relationships, but hey, I don’t want anybody explaining me to E or the other way round either. I don’t know if it’s the right way, but it’s the way that is making sense to me these days. When friends of mine are having very serious relationship issues it still makes more sense for me to let them work their differences out themselves than for me to negotiate a truce only to find it shattered the second I step out of the picture.

Then again, perhaps I’m just a bad mediator. Now there’s a thought.

My father-in-law’s short fight with cancer emphasised the lesson I learnt from my watching my grandfather in action: that it’s better to live as you like and die young than live on as something you never wanted to be and die old and lost. When he fought his medical restrictions, for instance, I understood his frustration even as I wanted to yell at him to not complicate our lives any further. I think I learnt to respect a man’s right to live as he chooses even if he does break a bit of my son’s heart in the process. That is just another part of the picture I shall have to paint for Rahul – not just a grandfather who loved him and took pride in him but also man who did things his own way and was somebody to be proud of.

Yesterday I tried to explain to Vicky, yet again, why I want him to pull the plug on me rather than wait to see if I come out of a coma. To me it’s about the way I’ve lived my life. I’ve never lived my life particularly quietly and I don’t want to die a vegetable. I want him to respect my right to die. Whereas to him it’s unthinkable that he would give up on me while the slightest hope remained. Both of us make sense but I maintain that my personal right to die is of greater significance than his right/duty to do what he thinks is the best he can do by his wife.

I have always fought to see people as persons in their own right rather than the people they are to me. I learnt to step back from my parents and my brother when I was only in my mid-teens. It wasn’t a detachment so much as teaching myself to see the many parts of the whole. My brother, for example, is always going to be my brother to me. But it helps me see him through truer lenses if I also acknowledge his needs and shortcomings and achievements in aspects of his life that have nothing to do with me. It was even harder seeing my parents as husband and wife rather than my mother and father but learning to do so has helped me place my uncles and aunts in context. I’m not saying it’s always easy and I’m not claiming to be very expert at it either, but I do try to respect a person’s right to be the person they want to be. Being an inherently bossy person this is never easy but the advantages of this kind of learning are strong enough to make it worth while. I find my life much richer somehow, this way, when people are no longer uni-dimensional.

Edit:
A comment from Starry-Eyed that gave me a very valid additional perspective into this post:
" respect a person’s right to be the person they want to be." It sure takes a lot of burden off us women, otherwise we start taking responsibility for everybody else!
On thinking about it, it's true I feel less claustrophobic in my circumstances than I did before.

Edit:
Thanks Ro, for the link. Folks, IHM has a whole series of posts on the topic. Again, worth a read.

12 comments:

Average Jane said...

This makes so much sense! Although I would have never been able to articulate so beautifully, I think I have been more peaceful (especially with the in-laws) after I started being "respectfully detached". PS: Have been reading you for a few months and your clarity of thought amazes me. :)

Avanti Sané said...

Para 7 and 8 literally define my attitude and approach in life these days.

Motherhood must have sobered me down. Or maybe I just don't give a f@#$% any more.

starry-eyed said...

I just loved the victim-volunteer metaphor...makes it so clear about the woman's choice to accept the abuse or not.

And this was so beautiful..." respect a person’s right to be the person they want to be." It sure takes a lot of burden off us women, otherwise we start taking responsibility for everybody else!

ckpadma said...

Yes, I agree that all relationships come down to respect. I am also writing my thoughts on them in my blog, though I am new at expressing myself this way

Poppins said...

Yet another of those posts dammit - how do you write so well?

I was nodding my head when you spoke about letting go. I think that's as important if not more, than standing up for your rights.

The line "Just because I show him more love than I show anybody else, does it automatically follow that I am entitled to abuse more than I’d dream of abusing another person to their face?" gave me the jitters. That was me. I refuse to do that anymore. I only have the right to love.

Thanks for the link.

Sue said...

Jane -- Thanks. Respectfully detached is how I cope with my side of the family too. I come of a family of nuts and married into one liberally sprinkled with their own nuts.

Avanti -- You made me go count paras, woman!

I don't think it's about me not giving a fuck about stuff. I think I care, especially now when I hold my remaining friends even closer, but I'm learning that standing on the sidelines can also be a way of showing that I care.

Starry-eyed -- Yeah, I loved the metaphor too, I really wish I could track it down.

As for taking the burden off, very true.

Padma -- Send me the link when you write your post?

Poppy -- The appreciation is entirely mutual you know. :) I have been re-thinking about my entitlements in relationships. Mostly I'm upset because I feel denied, but really, how much of what I think I should is something I'm entitled to? It's a thought. Most important, it's a thought I can consider more rationally today than I ever could before.

Rohini said...

I read it here

Sue said...

Ro -- Thanks. As soon as the page loaded I recognised it. I read a lot of blogs the day I read this, but you'd think I'd remember what I read where. Age catching up with Sue. :(

dipali said...

Sue, very early on in my marriage I learned that each family uses language differently, and so what for me was slightly teasing banter could be a serious insult to my spouse. It took us time to find 'our family' language, and to reach the magic formula of total respect coupled with total irreverence.
Yes, I'm still learning, in other important relationships, not to take the spoken word too personally. I care too much for myself to let thoughtless words hurt me.
I find that being quiet rather than being hurtful is far more effective. And then, when the other person has cooled down, I explain what was upsetting. Mostly works.
Great post, by the by:)

Spontaneous Mini said...

I am so temperamental thats sometimes (often) I say something with n intension to disrespect but the damage is done.
Thank God, have an understanding spouse or else it would have been tough.
when one talks too much it does bound to happen. I am waiting for age to mellow me down ;-)
Look I still refuse to take the responsibility.
Nice Post :-)

Sue said...

Dipali -- True. A lot of Vicky's banter used to hurt me very deeply. He's learning to temper it while I try to curb my tongue when in a temper. Slow work, though. *sigh*

Mini -- LOL! Yeah, well, I've mellowed a LOT and I'm telling you, it ain't all it's cut out to be...

Collection Of Stars said...

Sue, you have put it across so beautifully.
I am going through a similar phase and I can associate with each and every word of yours.
It sure is hard work but the benefits are great :)