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Op-Ed

Time for tenderness

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By EMN Updated: May 02, 2014 11:45 pm
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MULLINGS

Easterine Kire

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen are we going to find time to say tender words to each other? To our family members and to our friends? It is not in our culture to display tenderness to others. But it is most certainly in our nature to feel tenderly. I think the closest we come to showing that we care is when we put a hand on the other person’s shoulder and gruffly mutter, “Take care of yourself.” There is a fine tension between the two: what culture teaches us and what nature brings up in us. As I get older, there are times when I feel very acutely that I should tell a niece or nephew or a young friend that I care. And sometimes I do it, sometimes I let the moment pass and it never returns.Why is it so difficult to say I care? It’s a hard lesson to learn. I don’t know if it’s because we have had a warrior past where the men were expected to be tough, and the women had to be even tougher, and keep a tight rein on their emotions. I distinctly remember seeing a certain family display affection for each other in public, and the elders frowning on it. “It’s not good for the children,” they concluded. How wrong that conclusion was. Today, those children are grown up and they know how to give compassion to other people without any self-consciousness.
Being affectionate to children teaches them that tenderness is natural and to be desired. I lost my nephew on Sunday. I had not told him enough that I cared. If you don’t have a problem telling your loved ones that you care for them, count yourself truly blessed. Those of us who struggle with that have much to learn. It creates regret and regret is so destructive. Perhaps everything should be measured against the yardstick of temporal life on earth here. Because it reminds us that life is so very short and many things are unnecessary. For example, harsh words that need not be said if we could foresee how little time we have together here. At the same time, it’s amazing how we let slip those times when we could have picked up the phone and said, “I care.” I think we need to regularly remember that if we don’t do it now, the next time may not happen. There truly may be no next time.
Why do we struggle with what should be second nature to us? I don’t know. It is sad that one has to learn this lesson late in life. It is also a fact that it is even more difficult within dysfunctional families to be caring. Do we have unrealistic expectations of each other? As parents, do we withhold affection from children until they perform better at school? Are we waiting for them to improve themselves so they can earn our affection? Are we waiting for one member to stop drinking before we can tell him we care? Do they have to stop using drugs before we can love them? How ridiculous that sounds even as I type it out. Consider God’s love when he says he loves us unconditionally, loves us as we are. Who are we then to withhold love until a child or a family member fulfils certain criteria for us to love them? These are just questions I mull around with, while trying to understand how to create more times of tenderness.
Perhaps there will be no occasion to manufacture tenderness. Perhaps you have to deliberately, by an act of will, make the choice to be tender every day, every moment. If it does not come naturally, would it feel fake? But I am sure it will come as our will gets aligned with our goal. While we are still waiting for it to happen, we can practice it by not saying that harsh word. We can wait actively, keeping ourselves preoccupied in the waiting period by, for example changing age old habits of criticising each other, and instead looking for good points in the other. And tenderness will happen before we know it: our hearts will know love.

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By EMN Updated: May 02, 2014 11:45:32 pm