Suzanne Dudley Schon
Me In Meaning
My father said plenty of things that I’ve had to un-learn. Thank goodness for therapists and kind friends who have helped me with that process.
He also gave me one of the greatest gifts that I carry with me every day. It provides me with some of the most reliable power available. Power that is entirely under my own control.
What was it that my father said? There is a lot of “me” in “mean.”
My first memory of it was at the age ten when I was suffering at the hands of some girls on my school bus. I wept, explaining how they were mean to me. When my father said, “Susu (yes, that was my nickname), remember, there’s a lot of me in mean,” he must have noted my blank face. At first I wasn’t sure if he was referring to himself when he said, “me.” Then because I began to wonder if he meant that I was a mean person, my trembling lower lip surely cued him to say more.
He explained, pointing out how the word “me” is embedded in the word “mean” and “meaning,” and that how we interpret what is said to us, is up to us. My father was careful with a penny and equally frugal with words, so that was pretty much the entirety of what he said.
Because I was raised in the era of “children should be seen and not heard” (yes, I am THAT old) and also competed for attention with five other siblings, I took my “gift” and had to figure out how to unwrap it and use it all on my own. There were no tutorials. My parents did not serve as human-you-tube-channels on “how to.”
My take away at age ten needed tending and pruning that it didn’t get. Over time my interpretation was that any “meaning” I extracted from situations or words was all “mine,” and if it hurt because I hurt, it was my own fault. I needed to take responsibility for ensuring no one would say hurtful things to me. Also known as: be careful never to offend and do what you can to ensure that others are pleased. Over time my lopsided sense of responsibility grew like milfoil in lakes. (A silent weed in water that quickly pervades a body of water and then chokes out the oxygen.) I formed relationships with other people who were happy to use my tendency to their advantage. They cropped up in many fields of my life. Yes, oxygen became scarce.
After hitting a few rocky emotional bottoms, I finally grasped back in time, through the eyes of my father. My father, who I understood, loved me very much. He didn’t intend for me to suffer cruelty. He didn’t intend for me to twist my brain into believing that it was my fault for interpreting pain as the truth about who I was. Or deform my choices into non-choices based on pleasing others.
I finally came to understand.
Much like one of those old coin sorters, I could plop in words or scenarios and let them roll through a series of questions. Was this a feeling, emotion, or something more tangible? Was I “interpreting” accurately? What part of it was mine? What part of it was the other person? Could I learn something about myself or the other person? Was there an opportunity in the arms of a difficult situation? What did I need to do? How might I take care of myself? CARE of myself.
I could decide to believe it or not. Make it meaningful to me or not. How I chose to interpret it. How I would carry it forward or not.
I’m still practicing. Some gifts just keep on giving ☺