605: No, thank YOU

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I am so dreadfully sorry that I was in conversation with my husband, and neglected to notice that you held the door for us to enter the establishment. I am sure my error was compounded in triplicate because you are black and I am white. I can assure you it wasn’t intentional, nor do I expect such service from strangers, or black people in particular. Neither my husband or I am visibly handicapped, so you offered (of your own volition) to hold the door which you could clearly see we were capable of opening ourselves. That was both courteous, and kind of you.

What wasn’t, was your announcement in overly loud voice of that sarcastic “You’re WELCOME” when we neglected to immediately and profusely thank you ourselves for your kind (and unnecessary) gesture. Believe me, your deliberate rudeness put our unintentional forgetfulness squarely even and then some.

Why bother to offer a kindness (necessary or not) if all you are after is the public notice of your nobleness? And your conduct when you didn’t get your thanks (for whatever reason) certainly left us both with a clear impression of your “nobleness,” didn’t it?

Yes, it is our usual habit to acknowledge such a gesture with spoken thanks. Yes, we were engaged in our conversation, and we forgot to thank you. I don’t believe I have lowered myself to that level when my polite gestures have gone unrewarded and unnoticed, and if I ever have, I am thoroughly and utterly ashamed of myself.

484: Putting On a Good Show

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There is something to be said for putting on a good show. Celebrities earn millions in that endeavor, and it is the basis of all performances. A good show. For the rest of us not employed daily as actors (or politicians), a good show involves a mask.

Masks are defensive, and they are designed and intended to hide and conceal what lies beneath. Even for masks that are strictly ornamental and are donned only for those special, formal occasions, the root purpose remains. To conceal. To hide behind, to present the facade of the mask instead of the true face of the wearer.

If masks were for ceremonial use only, that would be one thing. For ceremonies, we often dress unusually, and engage in formal, ritualized behaviors, so the wearing of masks would not in those cases be inappropriate or even a cause for concern. It would be part and parcel of the ceremony, and it would be removed promptly once the occasion was finished.

A mask is not always visible, even though it is concealing. This paradox is explained by the masks, or the roles, that we humans assume in order to cover our deeper, truer selves. Sometimes the mask is a smile that covers and hides depression or other problems from others who might think less of us were the problem visible, even though they might also help us. Sometimes the mask is a habit we use to hide behind, such as compulsive spending or shopping, or working too much, or partying every weekend. Masks come in a lot of types and sizes.

The problem with a mask is when it becomes such a habit that the wearer cannot remove it, even when they sincerely want to – even when they try. That is the danger of donning a mask in the first place.

It is frightening, true, living life bare-faced. All the flaws are there for everyone to see, and not everyone is kind.  Still, with your mask firmly in place, those who ARE kind will never know who you really are, or that they could help you. The advantage to living life bare-faced is that the people who do like you that way are liking the real you, not the mask you picked out to wear to fool everyone.

It is worth the risk. Pry off the mask.

163: Addictions

I have a very good friend who is an addict. It took me quite some time to arrive at this conclusion, because there is a stage in addiction where things are not so bad, and the addict deludes themselves and everyone else that their addiction is under control and that they can stop at any time. Besides, I like them an awful lot, and I really did not want to think that they had this very real, very big problem, because it is going to affect my relationship with them pretty severely. I did not want to face that fact, either, let’s be honest.

But the evidence is now absolutely overwhelming, and can no longer be denied. Even friends who really would rather not face this problem have to admit that there is one. It is a real shame. How does one become an addict? It’s not like somebody sets out to become an addict – OH, well, I guess today I am going to become addicted to heroin, or maybe today I will become an alcoholic. It does not work that way. So, how does it work?

Having watched this process happen for my friend, it is pretty clear to me that becoming an addict is a slow process of behavior that becomes a habit, and then a need. How does a habit become a need?  Through practice and repetition – especially if the habit involves a substance, like nicotine or alcohol, that is addictive in itself. That, I guess, makes it even easier for the habit to become a need. But, to be fair, even behaviors that do not involve an addictive substance can become an addiction – like surfing the Internet, or shopping (now I am really getting close to home).

So, how is an addiction overcome? There have already been lots of times when this friend has vowed that the behavior will stop – I’m done, I’m finished with this, it won’t happen again….but it does. And now, the decisions about this are all mine to make. It is clear that my friend cannot stop, or won’t stop – it is really the same thing in effect, if not in motive. My relationship with them is not important enough to my friend to stop, and their own health is not important enough for them to stop, and they won’t stop until they want to stop. And they do not want to stop – at least they don’t want to stop enough to stop.

So what is left for me? I can still be their friend, but in a much reduced capacity, because I cannot handle their addiction. It causes problems for me (and for them) financially, emotionally and at work. I have other family members who depend on me, and I cannot lose my job over this. I can’t be THAT good a friend.  So, where do I draw the friendship line? What can I allow, and what will be off-limits?

None of this is easy, for either me or for my friend. I would like to keep this friendship, but I don’t know if that will be possible. I have to protect myself because of the others who depend on me. Life just genuinely sucks sometimes, you know??