Friday, June 14, 2013

Crossing the Line

One’s privacy is one of the most important components of an emotionally healthy and happy life. When boundaries are breached into our private lives, we tend to naturally become defensive – usually appropriately, sometimes with great difficulty! This subject has been the topic of several conversations lately and I thought laying down some guidelines is essential to keeping peace amongst friends as well as acquaintances. This instruction will more likely be welcome by the offended unfortunately rather than the offender.

Similar to stepping around sensitive topics when first meeting someone, we should always be mindful of the personal boundaries of other people. I have discussed the rudeness of playing loud music, eating smelly food, wearing too much perfume or cologne and infringing on the ever-quizzical middle armrest. But simple conversations can often lead us into dangerous territory even after we have become more acquainted with others.

Take for example the slightly overweight woman whose stomach is often given a second glance to ponder the “is she pregnant” question. How horribly uncomfortable she must feel as she catches your eyes resting on her midsection a second or two longer than usual. Imagine how shattered she feels when asked when is she expecting – or even IF she is expecting! Sadly this happens far too often and whether the question is delivered in total innocence or as a passive aggressive jab, it has the potential to be very hurtful – and it is rude.

Or what about the newlywed couple, who before they even have a chance to get onto the dance floor for their first dance, someone tactlessly asks, “So when will there be little ones be coming?” First of all, it’s not a kind or necessary question – it goes to the rude side of bad taste, so don’t ask it – ever, not even to your sister! Secondly, it’s none of your business. Such comments are ignorant and discourteous because they are intrusive. One’s family life is off the table when it comes to “interesting” topics, especially when one is just getting off the starting blocks.

Nor do people need false pity and idle gossip. There is the chatter by some pretending to be concerned about a person's plight, who have little or no genuine sympathy. They know full well that there is no real truth about a situation but go on embellishing the story. These people seem to bask in the ill fortune of others, delighting in it, as it makes them feel better about their own miserable lives. I have noticed this form of commiseration often becomes the topic of choice at the local hair salon. It's a heartless pastime. The truth, if there ever was any to begin with, is morphed into exaggeration or lies, which are often times very damaging and hurtful.

I am not suggesting that having compassion for friends and family who are facing current challenges is off limits; I am injecting a word of caution – think. If we were to take a few moments to think about what we are about to say, what our true intentions are, and how the words may affect others, we would save ourselves, and those around us a lot of hurt feelings and a lot of apologies. Most of us can probably remember times in our past when we wish we hadn’t said certain things to certain people. Those comments, which may have been long forgotten by the person offended (or not), can stay with us for the rest of our lives. Just think what a few seconds of careful consideration could have prevented!

We also need to keep in mind the examples we set for our children or those whom we teach or mentor. Gossiping is a habit to be avoided – it’s as bad as smoking to our health and to the health of those around us. Be aware when conversations turn into dumping grounds for hurt feelings, petty jealousies, and moments of anger. It is during these times of heightened emotions when we find ourselves most vulnerable to sudden outbursts. Every time this occurs, the eyes of our children are watching – they’re always watching. And what they see from us, their guides through the murky waters of adolescence, they characterize as acceptable behaviour, when in fact it is not.

Were it possible to wind back the clock and swallow those words we wish we had never uttered, we would be able to relieve those feelings or guilt and remorse that linger after every misspeak. But that is not the way the world works. It is far easier to keep silent than it is to repair hurt feelings. Next time you feel like sharing an opinion or asking a probing question, think again.