These are random musings of my life journey, the people, animals, places, and events which have woven, and continue to weave, a tapestry that is me. We all know there is no real destination, only the ongoing experiences which blend together, creating the trail. Each step gives a glimpse of what is to come, without allowing me to see the end result. It is exciting. I have a home base that is mine, that gives me a place to rest. This is it. This is where my heart is, no matter where I journey...................

Monday, July 10, 2006

Life's Experiences

I've been responding to comments to earlier posts, and several thoughts crossed my mind.

Thinking about the explosion it occurred to me that Caroline's response and mine were very different. Caroline was seriously shaken, while I was startled and concerned about what and why, but not really alarmed. Part if it is our different personalities. Part is the fact that I am nearly twice her age and my life experiences have either prepared me for things, or jaded me, perhaps, to the point of nonchalance. My younger years, those which correlate with Caroline's were not as protected as much of hers were. Don't get me wrong, I didn't have a childhood full of bad things at all. I'm just saying that our perspectives might be different because of what experiences we had.

During my first marriage, in my late 20s, a man was shot in the street near our home, and at midnight he came to our door to seek help. His injuries were actually fairly minor, but he had bird shot wounds all over his face and neck, and there was a lot of blood. He wasn't a big, bad criminal, just a guy trying to coerce his teenaged girlfriend to climb out the window, and he was caught in the act by her father who thought the bird shot would scare the guy off and sting him without serious damage. Unfortunately the boyfriend turned just as the gun was fired.

I was seriously frightened. I couldn't sleep through the night for several days. I jumped at small sounds, and I was extremely protective of my children for a long time. I was afraid for them to go outside, to the complete dismay of my 6 year old son. I just couldn't let them out of my sight. It took me a long time to get past that. I didn't have lots of experiences like that one, but I'm using it as an example to explain that I've learned that I'm less likely to jump until I see the blood. I've also raised kids. Don't panic until you see the blood! I lived in a nice neighborhood, working class and quiet. But stuff happens.

So . . . Did Caroline over react? No. Did I under react? I don't think so. My life experiences have just prepared me for a different response. One of the best parts of this is that it demonstrates why we have friends and family in our lives. I believe we learn from each other, enabling us to have a wide range of knowledge and emotional awareness than if we could only grow by our own experiences. That, folks, is empathy. The ability to release the expectations formed by individual experiences in order to allow ourselves to take in and understand how others feel or have experienced situations.

It is why we are able to support each other in crisis. It is how a therapist, who may have a different set of experiences in his own experiential library, is able to help us through situations, without having walked in our moccasins. It's how the chemical abuse counsellor can do the work without having been into drugs him/herself. It's how your friend in a seemingly perfect marriage can be there for you and give feedback when your marriage is crumbling, even though she hadn't gone through what you are. It how we experience the joy of an olympic athlete, even though our ample tuchies are parked squarely (or is that roundly?) on the couch. And it's why our hearts burst with the birth of a friend's baby, or in response to the delighted grins of special needs children when they accomplish a new task.


Think about this ... a baby who is too young to talk begins crying, frightened by, let's say a clown. I'm not afraid of clowns, but I am very much afraid of people who jump out of hiding and scares me. I may not know what frightened the baby, but I do understand his fear. If he is a little older and says he is scared by the clown, I can't experience that, but empathy allows me to recognize that I am afraid of being startled; I can equate, without conscious thought on most occasions, my fear as being something like what that little kiddo is going through. We generalize experiences so that we can help each other and so we may be better people.

We are here for each other. We do not do well in seclusion. I know there is an Uncle Joe out there for some of you, who lives a solitary life. Yes, there are always exceptions. I don't want to be anyone's Uncle Joe. I want to know more because people like Caroline (and you) share with me, broadening my knowledge, letting me live vicariously, perhaps. Through that I grow intellectually and emotionally. I want every bit of that I can get. Even if I reject your views, I grown by hearing them, by experiencing them through you.

So, now that I've bent you over the screen of your computer for sooo long, I thank you for reading it. If nothing else, I've shared a little of me with each of you. I've already gained by reading some of your blog posts or emails that we've shared. I look forward to more of it. I'm greater for having Caroline's experience. I'm more at peace with myself and my path to travel because of conversation shared with Laura. You are all my "sounding boards" and the ones that, I hope, get helpful reflection from my ramblings.

Isn't it a wonderful day?

5 comments:

  1. Very good post. I like how you have put how we experienced Saturday night. Yes, our reactions were very different and I think I didn't understand why you and Laura reacted the way you did. Now I do. Just different life experiences along the way.

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  2. c - here is more fodder for the grist mill. A friend read the blog and didn't comment there nut emailed me: "I read the blog and I think your response was less the perspective of age and more the result of 20 years of social service experience. Dealing with the fears of others until our own become blurred. I see it (his wife, also a SW) also, after so much time spent dealing with other people lives what happens in her own seem trivial."

    I've rolled this around in my head this afternoon, and I really think it is a combination of the two things. I think I do well at keeping the professional separate from the personal, but each must affect the other. At the same time, some of the experiences came from my daily life before I became a social worker. Either way, I think it behooves us to remember that we must consider our professional training in our personal lives and vice versa. I must say that my life will never be the same since I began studying SW. Fortunately, I like the change and I'm proud of who I am in both parts of my life.

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  3. I noticed a typo that is funny. I should have said: "A friend read the blog and didn't comment there BUT emailed me . . ." He's not a nut. Well, yes he is but not in that context!

    Also, for those who don't know it, my life experiences before becoming a Clinical Social Worker does not mean my teenaged years. I went to college from about age 38 to 44. Not a traditional student. I had already raised 4 children (son Scott, #4 of 5 kids, graduated when I did with our bachelors degrees). There really was a lot of experience already under the belt.

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  4. I read your blog, then the comments associated with them. Hmmm... I understood both of your reactions, and the analysis following, and would have offered the same analysis and conclusions about the reactions. (totaly bereft of your eloquence)That being said, I lack any SW time, and have only the wisdom of time and experience from which to frame such thoughts and therefore conclude personality and experience must play a tremendous part.-S

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  5. st - I think you're saying the same thing, just in your own words. i believe that experience makes us who we are. The SW training helps to fine tune some of that but it isn't the primary factor in response to a stimulus. We can be retrained; however, unless a change of response becomes the *new normal*, that first response will be essentially the same. It would then be necessary to sort out what's new and what is old.

    A baseline was not established here, of course. It seems to me that most of who I am was established before formal training. Same with caroline. Thus my assumption is that my exposure to stimuli is assumedly roughly twice her exposure. I've been conditioned by all life experience, not just those is SW.

    This could look quite different, of course, if Caroline had grown up in a situation in which she was exposed to violence (stimulus) frequently in her short life. She might well have been the one that jumped, then said to herself, "OK, no one is screaming, probable false alarm."

    I've never looked at myself as a lab rat before!! What fun!

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If you have something to say about it, just stick out your thumb, and I'll slow down so you can hop aboard! But hang on, 'cause I'm movin' on down the road!!! No time to waste!!!