not fine

April 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm 1 comment

Echo is watching Peep and the Big Wide World this morning. We checked out a DVD from the library. As far as cartoon/t.v. things go it’s not too bad. The themes are simple and innocent, there is science involved, and at the end there is a segment with real kids in real backyards. I love that part, the realness of the backyards. When the kids are playing hide and seek they are hiding behind the kind of detritus you might find in our backyard, stacked lumber, big buckets, random garden piles. I like it that the parents didn’t rush around prettying up their house even though a t.v. crew was coming.

All in all  I don’t cringe when she asks to watch it, but as I type on the computer, or stretch out on the yoga mat, the dialog filters into my brain and I end up disappointed. They aren’t mean to each other, which is extraordinarily common in cartoons, and they don’t sum things up with a trite moral conclusion, which I enjoy, but they do this other thing that bugs me. The characters pretend to not be feeling what they are indeed feeling.

When tiny little Chirp, the red girl bird, gets stuck in a tree, she tries to hide the fact that she is scared. She plays it down, like there is no real hurry to get her out of the tree. As an adult I can see that she is covering up, but Echo is three and takes things at face value. If Chirp says she isn’t scared Echo believes her, even though Chirp’s body language doesn’t match up. She is learning to ignore cues, to accept duplicity.  And although masking emotions is something so many of us do, I wouldn’t say it is preferable. The writers of this program have chosen to put themselves in a teaching role by describing the basic scientific nature of our environment, but they are missing the opportunity to teach kids about other things as well, most notably healthy emotional expression. It’s a bummer.

I can imagine what it would be like if everyone simply said how they were feeling. I don’t think I am going to make it to the dinner party, I’ve been feeling fat and insecure all day and I really want to just go home and take care of myself by soaking in a bath. But thanks so much for inviting me. It feels great to be invited. Instead of, Oh, it looks like I won’t be able to make it tonight. I wish I could but I’ve got so much I’ve got to catch up on, but thanks any way! Somehow, along the way, we have decided it is better to lie about almost every single aspect of our emotional lives.

Why can’t Chirp say she’s scared? She’s stuck in a tree! I certainly would feel scared in a similar situation. There is no comic payoff for her to lie about it, she could easily say something different without the arc of the episode being affected in any way. But Chirp isn’t really a little red bird, she’s a round ball animated by a couple people in a city somewhere. Her expressions come from some other people sitting around a table in an office, and those people probably cover up their feelings all day long as well.

I know I’m picky. I know I’m sensitive. But come on people! I’m sick of the smoke and mirrors. When your teenager comes home from school and you ask them how they are, sincerely hoping to get a peek inside the psyche of your beloved child, and they say, fine, even though their body is slumped and there are tear tracks down their cheeks, it won’t be simply because they reached their teen years and parents aren’t cool anymore. It will be because they have watched every single person in their life, and every single character on t.v., on the internet, and in movies, lie.

When we aren’t truthful about what we are feeling we rob ourselves of the opportunity to authentically connect with the people around us. We prevent ourselves from receiving empathy. No matter how well intentioned our friends are they cannot have a real conversation with us if we are giving them false information. Most of us are starved for community and connection, it is something we want more than anything else. When we get it, we are ecstatic, our problems seem smaller and the world is a beautiful place. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen very often, mostly due to the fact that from the very onset of every interaction we lie.

We don’t have to be “fine”, we can be sad, mad, blank, anxious, or we could even say “it’s a long story”. The people that care about us want to know the real answer. This isn’t to say we are obliged to detail all the agonies of the last half hour to the bank teller, we aren’t, but we can be truthful.

At the very least, please, if stuck in a tree and scared about it, admit it.


Entry filed under: empathy, life lessons. Tags: , , , .

intermixing worlds a yellow dog AND a brown dog

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. David Allen  |  April 22, 2010 at 10:17 am

    Our culture teaches us that emotions can be innaproriate. We are taught to feel shame when we feel the wrong thing. We are taught to push away bad feelings, to deny them.

    So we end up feeling broken, with shame and self-destructive thoughts and behavior. We feel like we have no control, we feel numb, we can’t connect with others, we are trapped.

    Our feelings are the first thing we should acknowledge, and directly experience. Although social conventions may limit where and how we can express what we feel, we can still experience those feelings.

    The experience gives us confidence that we can handle strong emotions. The experience gives us insight into why we feel what we do. The experience gives us control over ourselves and our situation. We can connect to others and make healthy choices for ourselves.


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