You’ve planned it all out. You have carefully chosen the words. You begin to express your feelings about some behavior your child has engaged in. It’s going pretty well, your son or daughter seems to be getting the message, when you suddenly find yourself segueing into something your Mother said to you thirty years ago. Something you always resented. And there you are, saying the same thing, almost word for word, to your own child.
Many, if not most of us, have had this experience in one form or another. We may vehemently disagree with Mom’s opinion or critique, but find ourselves spouting off something so similar that we are shocked and can’t figure out where it all came from. Well, we do know exactly where it came from. Mom. It’s all her fault, right? Not exactly. We ourselves have a great deal to do with it.
We create our worldview, our sense of how the world works and our own place in that world, at a very young age. Usually, by the time we are five. As most children do, we learn by experience, seeing and hearing etc., and by the repetitive actions and words of those around us. In other words, we learn to define our world in the words and actions of the most prominent individuals in our lives. For the majority of us, that means Mom, our parents, and our siblings if we have them. It is here that we learn acceptable behavior, as well as the unacceptable.
As we grow into our unique individuality, we may find some, or a lot of that, that we disagree with, wish to change, or even get rid of altogether. That’s really hard to do, after all, we are still using the same language that we learned as impressionable children. In a very real sense, we are stuck with words that are not our own unless we set out to create our own definitions, as individual as the people we hope to become. And yes, that is one of the reasons that each new generation creates its own jargon, that can often be incomprehensible to the last one. It is that deep need to leave home, all that it entails, and to see the world on our own terms, with our own eyes and ability to judge, and our own definitions.
Many of you perhaps, have figured out where I am headed with all of this: to that word definition. A definition is a simple explanation of a thing, an object, a state of being, and yes, even a person. If we do not set out, deliberately, consciously, to find our own definitions for the life we choose, we run the risk of living our parent’s life, not our own. Not the one they lived, but the one they defined for us when we were young children, watching and listening. Think about that for a moment.
I am not my Mother, nor am I my father. Although I love them dearly, respect them in many ways, even count them at the top of my list of heroes, I am not them. I am me, this separate entity. I look, feel, and often think very differently than they have done. Although, at the same time, I am parts and pieces of what both of them have taught me, a blend of some of their better qualities, I would hope. For an example, this writing thing I do, is something quite foreign to either of them, even though they both taught me different aspects of Creativity and the need for that element in my life.
My father crafted things in wood: plant stands, small toys, frames, and even the clock that hangs on my living room wall. He taught me the joy to be found in quiet pursuits, steady ongoing rhythms, to listen to my own ideas of how things should be pieced together, and the simple pleasure of a job well done. My Mother, on the other hand, secretly played a harmonica for years, until we discovered her doing so one day. She also decided to learn how to paint when she was sixty and eventually had her canvases hung for public showing. She taught me that one is never too old to learn, and again the importance of detail, patience, and an eye for the completed picture.
Somehow that all translated into the manner in which I approach my own chosen participation in creative pursuits. But, again, very different from theirs, and according to my own definitions. And it is that writing that allowed me to find those different definitions, as well as the desire to encourage others to do the same. Something neither of my parents ever really thought about doing, yet quite clearly sent the messages silently by their own actions.
Here is a simple exercise you can do to discover some of those “other people” definitions you are still using. It’s called Stream of Consciousness writing. Simply sit down with a piece of paper and pen and write the first word that comes into your head. Then write the next word that pops into your head. Continue your list of words until you run out of paper, or simply feel that you are done. Keeping in mind, the major individuals of your youth, slowly read back through your list. Mark the ones that you associate with those figures, whether it is the word you chose, or something inside the word that triggers off a memory, or input from your senses. Mark those words that do just that with initials or a few words of explanation. You might be surprised at the doors you can open by doing such an exercise.
More important, is the very real fact, that you will come away with a better, broader understanding of your own person as well as the definitions you use to make your way through your life. You will also present yourself with an opportunity to change those choices you have made, by changing the words to new or other ones that suit you more directly. Don’t throw the list away. Keep it. You may want to explore it more deeply in a few days. Or write about what you have discovered about yourself and your own personal worldview. Who knows? You might even find your Mother.