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Archive for the ‘Identity’ Category

Self-Image

Sometimes I wonder if there is a connection between self-image and reality. When I reflect back to my childhood, there was a very strong connection between my self-image and the child that I was in reality. I thought I was not like other children and I wasn’t. I was this scared, funny-looking European kid going to school with a lot of happy American kids. I wrote about that in my memoir, Becoming Alice. Imagine how aweful these poor kids have it who suffer from anorexia when what they see in the mirror, a perfectly normal child, is percieved as a fat kid.

As time went on, my self-image and the person I was in real life became closer. I became an American adult. And the feelings of inferiority and lack of self-confidence went away. I was pretty much the person that I thought I was. It would be up to somebody else to tell me otherwise.

But now a chunk of years have gone by and I think that misconnect between self-image and reality is creeping up again. I still think of myself as a pretty average, normal, American adult. But now I often am reminded that I fall into another category. This incident made me become aware of that fact: I am sitting around at my athletic club having coffee with a group of girls/women (why is it that the older you get, the more likely it is that older women are called girls?) talking about this and that, nothing of great significance. I did notice, however, that most of these ladies with whom I play tennis are much younger than I am. I looked at one of them and was reminded that she wrote me a very nice note telling me how much she enjoyed reading Becoming Alice and that she figured I must be her mother’s age. Okay. And then the cute young thing sitting next to me remarked that she thinks it wonderful that I still play tennis … and she hopes she will be able to do the same thing when she is older.

There it is. There is that word older that doesn’t fit with my self-image. I don’t know what to do. What behaviors should I undertake to fit into that category of old. There is a glitch between my self-image and what other people think of me. I know what I must do. I think I shall just ignore them and keep my self-image as an average American adult.

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Last night I went to a meeting of a book club which I have been invited to join. I have known some of its members, but not all. In being introduced, I learned that there is another woman in the group whose name is Alice. My head bobbed back a bit in surprise. Alice! Nobody I know, or have ever known, has been named Alice.

The lady I met was as shocked as I to meet another Alice. Well of course there are others: Alice Roosevelt, the daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, Alice B. Toklas, member of the Parisian avant-garde of the early twentieth century, or Alice Paul, associated with furthering the suffrage movement for women, to name a few. The one thing we have in common is that we all are of a certain age and older.

It makes one realize that names are fashions of an era, just like the clothes we wear, the music to which we listen, the art we admire, the way we raise our kids, the values we hold, and the list goes on.

In my day girls had names like Nancy, Barbara, Elaine, Patricia, or Anne. Fast forward a couple of decades and you get names like Linda, Laura, Bonnie, Sue, or Kathy. Fast forward again to the names of today’s kids and you get Ashley, Laura, Bridget, and Emma.

As you probably read in Becoming Alice, I actually chose the name of Alice for myself. What was I thinking? I wasn’t. I chose it because my brother was dating a girl named Alys. In today’s world that name would be Allison. I don’t fit that name.

Most people don’t ever veer from choosing the names of the time for their babies. That’s why I have so much admiration for the young couple I know who had the courage to name their son Oscar.

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I was in the beauty shop last week getting a haircut. It was on a Friday and the business was booming; every one of the half dozen chairs was occupied with customers and operators working as fast as they could to process as many clients as possible. I often enjoy looking at the costumes of beauty shop operators because I think that they think they must be in punker garb to be successful. Purple and orange hair. Rings in noses, earlobes, belly buttons. You get the picture.

My beautician is dressed normal. She is fifty years old and perhaps that makes a difference. I don’t know. During a lull in my conversation with her, I overheard a customer at the other end of the row of chairs speak to her beautician. I couldn’t see either one of them since my head was tilted down so that we could cut around my neckline, but I heard, “I met this guy and he’s great. He owns his own business and he’s a Republican.”

It made me laugh and I said to my own beautician, “Never mind that he’s divorced because he beat his wife and cheats on his taxes, but he’s a Republican!

Of course, I know many people who have different formulas for whom they like. For example, mothers who don’t want their daughters to go out with anyone other than Jewish men, Mormon men, Catholic men, Armenian men, Germans, Swedes, Poles, and, of course, Democrats or Republicans. Need I go on?

What has happened to the time when we decided to like someone who was kind to others, ambitious for their families, charitable, intelligent, hard-working, lovimg, open to new ideas, or just simply nice.?

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I’ve often wondered why so many of the public figures in our society say “I take full responsibility for this problem.” These public figures may be congressmen, evangelests, actors, businessmen, and the list goes on. Their actions may be to abuse power, steal funds, or take part in unacceptable, and sometimes perverse, sexual behavior. Currently the inspectors of the nuclear plants in Japan admitted they haven’t done it right for years. The air traffic controller at the Reagan National Airport fell asleep, leaving two incoming planes to fend for themselves. Luckily no one was hurt. Where was the FAA in all of this? They haven’t taken “full responsibility” for the incident either, except to say there will be a “full investigation.” The controller has been fired, but we haven’t heard a word out of him.

I wonder why no one has ever come out and said, “I’m sorry.” It must be that saying I’m sorry means that you admit you have done something wrong. It implies that you must feel some guilt about what you have done. It makes you look bad. In Japan you will “lose face.” But if you say, “I take full responsibility for this catastrophe or problem,” it implies that the problem may have been caused by some other person, perhaps an employee, a spouse (for a failed marriage), an adolescent (whom you haven’t monitered closely,) a neighbor, a colleague, anyone else other than yourself.

I have always thought saying I’m sorry showed strength of character. It shows a person is confident enough in himself to admit to others his mistakes and feels he can overcome the problem and still be accepted. Perhaps I feel so strongly about the importance of saying, “I’m sorry” because my father never, ever in his whole life admitted he was wrong or had made a mistake about anything. That is, not until he was ninety-seven years old and was caught red handed in a mistake he’d made. I am so glad that happened. I can now remember him better for all the positive characteristics he had, and they were many.

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I still have Bosses, Leaders, and Power in my mind. How could I avoid thinking about it? Every day that I put CNN on for the latest news, I see the kind of Leadership, the kind of Boss, and the Use of Power that the Lybian leader, Ghadafi offers his people. This also effects the rest of the world actually. Just go and fill up your tank at any USA service station and you’ll see how his every move impacts all of us. Ghadafi is a tyrant, for sure, but what I want to know is how there are so many Lybians who support him, who fly his plane and tanks and kill their fellow citizens. Have they been so crippled by having their own ability to think taken away from them for many years that when they are finally given a chance to exert themselves, they are unable to do so? Is this the same kind of brainwashing that we had seen among Hitler’s “judend namely the German children, who cheered for him blindly? This is all very scary stuff, as far as I’m concerned.

But I’m also worried about the leadership of the countries in the rest of the world that stand by lamely and don’t use the power in their hands to stop the Hitlers and Ghadafis and Mubaraks and … and … and …

Is this also a problem on a much smaller scale? For example, how many parents dominate their children, how many husbands and wives dominate their spouses, how many siblings dominate one another, how many bosses dominate their employees to the point that they are unable to express their own free will? Not a small number, I would imagine. I think leadership qualities can be identified in childern as early a nursery school. Perhaps we should find a way for those who are being bossed around to learn early on how to deal with those who rule over other in negative ways.

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Being liked is such a subjective feature that I went to the dictionary to see the deifinition of the word like as it pertains to people’s relationships. It states: To regard with favor or have a kindly or friendly feeling for a person (or group, etc.)

I don’t think about being liked at all any more. It doesn’t really matter to me, although I’d rather be liked than disliked. In any case, there isn’t anything I’d do to encourage or discourage any other person’s thinking or feeling about me. As I often say now, “It is what it is” and ” I am who I am.”

But that was not always so. If you’ve read my memoir, Becoming Alice, you’d know that I would have jumped through hoops to get anyone to like me. I even religiously read a column in my home town newspaper that instucted people who felt left out, what to do to get others to like them. Their advice was compliment everybody you come in contact with. They wrote: Tell them you like what they’re wearing, you think they look good, you think they are smart, you like their house, their car, their garden, their cooking, etc. etc. etc. You know, I think they do have a point. It probably works some of the time.

On the other hand, I think that tactic brought to the extreme can be counter-procuctive. Ever heard “kissing up” to your teacher, your friend, you lover. or anyone else. Not pretty.

Another annoying tactic was one my own dear father used. When in a social situation, he’d agree with whatever anyone in his immediate company said. It ususally came with a broad smile and, “Right you are!” Then after the party left and we were in our own kitchen, he’d say, “Did you hear what that idiot believes? How stupid can you be?” Sometimes I wonder if either one of those tactics got anyone a friend who actually liked them.

Personally, I think one has to just plod along being themselves and hope for the best.

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My little granddaughter is twelve years old right now and entering her teenage years. She already has a group of girl friends that mean the world to her. I remember raising my own girls and learning that when in the full bloom of adolescence, their friends meant more to them than their parents.

I got to thinking about the fact that most people want to be liked … throughout their lifetime. But the intensity of that desire seems to change in a bell-shaped curve during a person’s life span.

Think about kids in nursery school who relate to one another in terms of playing with a toy or fighting over the possession of a toy. They ususally want to have things going their way … at all costs without worrying about how the other might feel about them. Forget about being liked.

As the years pass, they begin to start wanting to be both liked and respected. They want their classmates to think of them as “nice” or “smart” or “good athletes” or “good at the trombone,” etc. etc. In adolescence being liked is linked to being “cute,” “beautiful,” “a hunk,” “popular,” and “part of the in-group.” Being respected has not yet become a big deal. The most brilliant kid in the class could be a “nerd.”

Then in adulthood, being respected is as important as being liked. It involves ones success in whatever career they may have, as a breadwinner or homemaker/stay-at-home-mom. One alone is not enough to achieve happiness. The most brilliant, respected doctor who is disliked by his patients isn’t going to get very far. And the “nicest” guy in the neighborhood who can’t keep a job to support his family also has a problem.

Then there is old age. Of course, if you haven’t enough money to retire and take care of yourself, you aren’t in very good shape, no matter how “nice” you are. But if you are are okay financially, you probably don’t give a hoot if people like you or not. Take a look at all the “grumpy old men” out there who are forgiven their behavior because of their age. Or, the “old biddies” who are accepted as they are.

I guess the lesson learned is that if you are lucky enough to make it into old age, it doesn’t really matter if others like you or not. Hope I get there someday!

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