We've all felt betrayed at some point--been the butt of someone's joke, found out that so-called friends were talking about us behind our back. Middle school and junior high--that was standard operating procedure.
But most of us leave our childhood and childish behavior behind. We take with us the scars and the hang-ups, and as adults, we still find ourselves in situations where we feel like we're right back there, and the scars rip open.
It's no fun to go through. I'm not sure if it's fun on the other side, to be the one snickering, the one twisting the knife, or if most the time it's simple miscommunication. We've all been on the receiving side, and we've probably been on the other end, too. No doubt we've felt justified when we snicker, when we mock, when we act passive-aggressively towards someone. We've rationalized the behavior, decided we have the moral high ground, or that we were just kidding.
Both parties know, though, the difference between just kidding and being shitty.
If it still rips me up when it happens to me in my mid-forties, what the heck does it feel like to our kids, the children we work so hard to equip to face the world, to distinguish between genuine friendship and lip service, when they are the butt of the joke? When they realize they fell for lip service?
Relationships are tricky--going from acquaintance to friend is fraught with obstacles, and all it takes is a big enough miscommunication or a large enough divide in something important for it to go all the way in the opposite direction to hurt feelings and no relationship at all.
As big boys and girls, we know that, but we also know it sucks just as bad every time it happens to us. And the blow is even greater when we watch it happen to our children.
One of the things I try to remember before I react is to consider intent versus delivery--something I sincerely hope with all my heart that people will do for my children, for whom communication is often so difficult, and for whom friendships are like diamonds to be prized above everything else, even Legos.
What was the person's intent? Is it possible that the person is stuck in a situation where he or she is unsure of how to react? Does the tone of voice and word choice not match his or her emotional state (much like my Bobby's communication)? How can I get clarification of the person's intent without deepening the potential miscommunication?
Online, or via text, time is on my side--I can stop and think before I react with my gut. I can run it by other individuals. I can sleep on it. I can reread it or replay it again as many times and from as many possible angles as I can think of.
I can do that before I choose to act. I can avoid knee-jerk reactions. I can try to separate out my emotions and get myself in check before I respond.
Sometimes, that's enough. Sometimes, it's out of my reach. Sometimes friendships end and end abruptly with no chance for closure, and those hurts tag along, ready to attach themselves to new relationships.
My children have taught me to be direct and blunt, to be honest. To avoid pussyfooting around issues and to directly ask. I love it when I can engage in relationships where honesty, unvarnished and sometimes acutely blunt, prevails. I know I can stop at their words. Except for those times where I can't and I need to ask for clarification. And that's okay--it's so vitally important for my kids to learn that they don't have to pretend to get something, that they can ask direct questions until they do understand--that they will be met with patience and acceptance--when I provide that to them, they provide it to me. My adult friends with kids on the spectrum are very similar--we speak our minds and we give each other a break and we work to make sure we understand--well, at least the friendships that have lasted do--and maybe that's key. Maybe that's the difference.
We give each other a break. We give our kids a break. We breathe, we back off, we wait and we make sure. We cut each other slack. And we do our level best to always be genuine in our communication.
I believe that's one of the most important lessons I can teach my kids *and that they can teach me* is to have faith in each other's good intent and to be compassionate.
To wait. To listen. To accept.
But somehow I also have to teach my kids the unfortunate reality that we have to know when that's the right approach and when it's not, when the right thing to do is to end a relationship because the other party is disingenuine.
How do I arm myself and my kids with this polar opposite mentality--to trust until the other person gives you reason not to, to give until the other person shows you all he or she does is take?
How many chances does a person get?
How do you find a way to be direct when the other person is passive-aggressive?
Can you? Or is anything you do also going to be passive aggressive? Is there any point in being direct and asking questions regarding intent to someone you've realized is passive-aggressive?
Hell, is this post tacitly passive-aggressive?
If we as adults have such a difficult time untangling this kind of stuff, how do we expect our kids to do it?