“You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” ~ Timothy Leary.
My life changed drastically when I was less than eight years old. Not in a bad way, it wasn’t that I had to face tragic loss, or come to terms with a drastic reduction in circumstances. I recognize even as I write this, that for me my life changed magically, in a way that changed the trajectory of my future, my prospective children and grandchildren forever. My family moved from the UK to live in the center of rural Jamaica.
There are many who read my Friday Morning Messages who know me, who already know my story, but since my blog can also be read in far-flung parts of the world, (last week I had a reader in Azerbaijan!) sometimes it bears repeating. I found myself removed from a city dwelling life to a rural one; from a cool and rainy climate to a steamy tropical one (with deliciously cool nights, thanks to a home in the hills of Central Clarendon in Jamaica); and embarked upon a journey of discovery and learning about how to grow up as a Jamaican.
The most obvious way to learn to fit in when you are easily identifiable as an outsider by the color of your skin, is to learn to talk like a Jamaican. Immigrants everywhere do this. Jamaicans go to the UK and before long they are ‘twanging’, throwing in Cockney terms if they live in London; talking like a ‘Yankee’ if they move to the US. To those who don’t know, the term Yankee when used by Jamaicans, means Black Americans, not those from up North, as other Americans use the term. In other words, those who fought for the North in the Civil War. For me the transition was a little harder than learning an accent. It meant studying a whole foreign language. If you don’t believe Jamaican Patois (patwah!) is a foreign language, try listening to a conversation between two men in a Jamaican rum bar. Laugh when they laugh, but you will not know why! I had some patient teachers (I still remember Carmen working hard with me, making me repeat phrases, stretching my vocabulary). I remember trying out a sentence on an unsuspecting local man (Country, the deaf bell-ringer, for those who come from Chapelton). He had asked me how I was doing (Wha a gwan?) and I replied: “Me a nyam yam!” (I am eating yam!).
There were so many things I learnt over the years. Some were pure joy, learning to dance the ska, then the rock steady, then the reggae. I even learned to do the cha-cha-cha! (One, two, cha-cha-cha!). I learned how to eat the food (and eventually how to cook it); I learned how people treat each other (like family, always). And if you want to know if I perfected the language, in my high school yearbook, the caption under my name said I was a ‘walking-talking English-Patois dictionary’!
When you are eight years old it is possible to adapt, and change, and experience life fully. It was only recently that I learned that for my sister who was five years older than me, her experience was quite different. She stopped answering questions in class for a while, since every time she spoke in her English accent it either prompted laughter or had people asking her to say it again for their amusement.
The older we get, the harder it is to change to the environment, or to change our personal responses to life’s challenges. For some reason I grew up a people pleaser, which is not healthy in relationships, or in the work environment, especially in the US. In corporate America, if you aim to please you will be rewarded with more work, heavier assignments, and less respect than your co-workers who stand up for themselves and learn to say no. In a marriage you may end up bitter and resentful, waiting for a partner to realize that they are taking advantage of your kind (passive) nature.
I recently received the same message from two completely different places. In one case it was the title of a book at a friend’s house. In another it was a TED talk, sent to me by a friend. The point of each of these instructive messages, was to help people learn how not to care about many of the things that annoy us on a daily basis. The titles both contain a profanity, how not to give a f**k. I glanced through the book, and listened to the TED talk, but essentially it is about identifying which activities or events are meaningful to you, that you should spend time doing, and how to stop being made to feel guilty about the rest.
It is easier said than done. But it is a quote from Viktor Frankl that frequently comes to mind. “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Too often we get frustrated with the people around us, about things that are totally out of our control. I know several people who are constantly disappointed by the way they are treated. They will often say ‘I would never do that to a person’, or something similar, somehow expecting others to operate out of the same set of values as them. And because we are generally good people, we will be hurt by their treatment of us.
But, operating on the advice of the two people above, perhaps we should join the club, and do it by repeating their simply profane mantra. For a long time when I was unhappy with my marriage (mostly because I recognized that I had not been assertive enough to stand up for myself), I would hear a Phil Collins song echoing in my brain: ‘I don’t care any more’. It is not that you don’t care, it is that you need to preserve your emotional energy for healthier things. When you spend your time being hurt by the behavior of others, it is healthier not to care. You can’t change their behavior, but you can choose the way you react to it.
On this Friday morning, I hope you are finding ways to free your mind and your life of the clutter of other people’s opinions, and start doing the things that bring you joy. And if you can’t change the people around you, smile and wish them well, and feel your blood pressure descend ten points!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!