Acknowledging Humanity and Love

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“Love is not a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” – Fred Rogers

Mr Fred Rogers on love

Mr Fred Rogers on love

It’s no secret that I am a hater. Or at least a surface hater. That is, I am impatient, don’t like crowds, don’t like slow drivers, don’t like the people at the store who block the entire aisle or wait until their huge cartload of groceries is fully checked before getting out their debit card, or people who treat motorway onramps like that is the best possible place for viewing the scenery (i.e., going slow and not accelerating to the speed at which they need to go to merge). I don’t know why I am in such a hurry – but I just can’t fathom why other people are so myopic and inconsiderate – they go slowly (fine) but do so it seems largely because they think they are the only people in the store, on the road, in the world. Thus, I go through life a wee bit irritated, and I cope with this by making my little hate lists, or ranting briefly but not very seriously, about my annoyance. And then it’s done.

(I have never really met anyone who understood this – but when I did, I knew I met my match.)

Apart from this, I tried very hard today to keep things off the hate list. It was the most gorgeous day – warm, sunny, really indicative of why I live here. I had to go out to do a lot of errands, and I am not the biggest fan of Sunday driving in the country, particularly when the weather turns nice, Norwegians come to Sweden in droves – and worse yet, Germans and Dutch will soon arrive. But I kept my cool for the most part. I almost got mad in the grocery store because an old man kept getting in my way. But, despite not interacting with him, I tried to view him in a different light. He seemed to have gone to the store just to get out for a while – and in the end selected carefully and bought himself a bag of loose candy (which all Scandinavians seem to live for). Then he drove himself away at a snail’s pace in an old, original VW Bug. I had passed by the car in the parking lot wondering to whom it belonged (I was parked across the parking lot and had to put my groceries in the car and return my cart and somehow still ended up finishing before this old man got to the car). Once I saw him drive away – slower than slow – it was impossible for me to hate him. He probably owned that car since it was brand new (or at least that is how I like to imagine it). Imagining that he fired up the old car just to go get candy on a Sunday!

This shift in perspective was quite conscious – and although we did not, as I said, interact, acknowledging his humanity made a difference. When I got home, I stumbled on an article that reinforced the same underlying themes. We all follow unspoken social rules and don’t generally make eye contact or strike up conversations with strangers – and I must say unequivocally that this is almost an absolute in Sweden. This article, however, examines some evidence gathered by behavioral scientists who contend that interactions with strangers improve our mood – maybe first by forcing us into a “pretend friendly” mode – but usually by the end of the encounter, the pleasantries and positive interaction has created genuine positive feelings.

“One of the perks of being a behavioral scientist is that when your partner does something annoying, you can bring dozens of couples into the laboratory and get to the bottom of it. When Liz tested her hypothesis in a lab experiment, she discovered that most people showed the “Benjamin Effect”: They acted more cheerful around someone they had just met than around their own romantic partner, leaving them happier than they expected.

Many of us assume, however, that our well-being depends on our closest ties, and not on the minor characters in our daily lives. To investigate the validity of this assumption, our student Gillian M. Sandstrom asked people to keep a running tally of their social interactions.”

Another point is hard to gauge in my current environment; I just had a conversation about this with a colleague the other day. The seeming social taboo of acknowledging strangers you pass in the street (here in Sweden). (I have encountered exceptions but it is usually because something happens requiring conversation, and then you can’t get them to shut up.)

“Simply acknowledging strangers on the street may alleviate their existential angst; and being acknowledged by others might do the same for us.”

When I lived in the US, it was common courtesy to acknowledge someone passing you on the street while walking past. Maybe not in a big city but certainly in small to mid-sized towns. I never liked it much, but I made eye contact, said hello. It was so ingrained despite my dislike for it that I continued to do it after I moved to Iceland – but quickly learned to stop because I was looked at as though I had said something deeply offensive or threatened the other person. I have comfortably filed right into the sheep herd here in non-confrontational Scandinavia – sometimes it’s sad but it’s how I have always been (as a shy person). I have always relied on other people (and you could always rely on Americans – or even other members of my family, who fall far afield of anything resembling shyness) to make the first move.

Whatever the case, the casual can be difficult to deal with but I am actually a pretty sensitive, shy and loving person somewhere underneath. And when I do love I really love – whether that is a love for my friends, a partner or a cause. I become fiercely protective of those people and things. And, like the Mr Rogers quote above explains, I love actively – it is a constant state of accepting – I may not accept or like everything someone does, but that does not change that the love I feel is unconditional. I also love myself unconditionally, and sometimes that means that even if I do love someone, it is healthiest to move them out of my life – but even that won’t put conditions on how I feel about them. Their role just shifts.

It is all very complex but at the same time strikes me as very simple – whether it is accepting and even embracing the idiosyncracies of strangers in public places and seeing them as more human or loving and accepting those closest unconditionally.

Fear and Love” – Morcheeba

Fear can stop you loving/love can stop your fear – but it’s not always that clear.

Influential relations: Always take the stairs

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I hate crowds of strangers enough that I decided – on the worst day possible – to give up public transportation in favor of my own two feet. Gothenburg is a completely walkable city, so even though I generally stay somewhere in the city center and work outside of it, it’s not a big deal to walk – even though the mounds of uncleared snow seemed insurmountable this morning. It felt slightly reminiscent of the training montage (minus the grunting!) in Rocky IV when Rocky has to work out in the snow, sawing and carrying logs, running through icy rivers and helping a man with a horse and carriage stuck in snow (?) and stuff. It being the Soviet era, a bunch of the scenes of Dolph Lundgren as machine-like nemesis Ivan Drago are all red, as if he works out in a bright Soviet-red room. Then again, it was the 80s – that’s how it always looked. And it was the 80s, so everyone looks a bit coked out. (Thanks again, Grace Jones, for delivering Dolph Lundgren to the world. Just realizing that I have written about Dolph and Rocky IV too many times already.)

I am not sure why it took me until now to decide this (walking, not comparing my life to scenes from Rocky IV) was a good course of action – a few too many times getting slapped in the arm by overzealous tram riders gesticulating wildly while talking on the phone, a few too many broken-down trams, a few too many long waits (I am a wee bit impatient), a few too many scenes I just don’t want to be party to or relive. And I love walking. And I love the cold. Why not choose the one day of the year that snow falls and really stays to start? Walk!

Walking after midnight – Patsy Cline for SD, my beautiful firewall.

Walking everywhere – and then realizing that I never take elevators anymore if I can avoid them – makes me think of how influential people in our lives can be in the most imperceptible ways. Little things that change how we do things. One ex-boyfriend always walked and never took the elevator, and eventually that shifted my take on how I get around and … how I ascend (haha) in buildings. (It didn’t help my confidence in elevators that the one in our building was always breaking down.) Another ex-boyfriend insisted that I add color to my wardrobe – I resisted, but long after we split up – right up until today (and that split was, what… 15 years ago?) – I still wear colors and never returned to the all-black wardrobe I donned back then.

It’s funny recounting relationships how we are more prone to cite the landmark things – like how someone’s influence changed your whole feeling about love, made you want to be a better version of yourself, turned you against marriage, made you want to have children or even something like suddenly made you realize the merits of living in a big city versus the suburbs. But in reality the impact in day to day life is evident but almost unacknowledged – whether subtly adopting a word or phrase that that person used frequently, or always taking the stairs.

“Naked Girl Falling Down the Stairs” – The Cramps: An apt tune. Always take the stairs, even if you’re a clumsy one like me, likely to fall down. Naked or not. (Check the awesome picture from when I fell flat on my face on one of Stockholm‘s main streets!)

The Cramps – Naked Girl Falling Down The Stairs

Yes, I fell and fell hard! Bruised and cut-up chin

Yes, I fell and fell hard! Bruised and cut-up chin