Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Burying It

Last week, I was talking to my friend and fellow Carl "the wombat stuffer" about a recent post on his blog, Carl's Kitchen. The stuffer's blog is about his food experiments and sometimes things don't go as hoped. I value his blog both because he writes in a very amusing style and because I believe that his is a rare food blog in that it's honest about everything in the cooking experience. Where other people showcase their best results and either fail to mention any of the recipe's shortcomings or gloss over them, he is completely upfront about what goes wrong and isn't afraid to show the unfortunate outcomes as well as the fortunate ones.

While discussing his most recent post about a recipe which was about a bit of a disaster (his loss is my gain since the post is funny), he mentioned that he expects to bury it by making another post soon. I'm sure he was joking about "burying it", but it reminded me of something that used to happen to me back when I was still reading my brother-in-law's blog.

As you know from one of my earliest posts on this blog, he had a hand in the death of my former blog. The whole truth is complicated and not something I'm prepared to air in its entirety right now, but he and I never got along very well. Part of the problem is that he's an opinionated, highly reactive person who reaches conclusions and spouts off about things that he doesn't know much about. Another part of the problem is that I'm an aggressive arguer who doesn't hold her tongue when someone spouts off about something which they don't know much about. The bottom line is that if he was wrong in my estimation, I pointed it out. I didn't do it in a nasty fashion, but I also didn't sugar-coat it or beat around the bush. I was forthright and I backed up what I said with facts and supporting arguments. It may be fair to say that I argue "like a man" in some ways as opposed to "like a woman" who may be more inclined (through socialization) to consider the other person's feelings first and hers second in such discussions.

The problem with this was that my brother-in-law doesn't like to be disagreed with. It's not just me that he dislikes providing counterpoints to his points and asserting that his conclusions aren't well-based. He doesn't like it from family either, but maybe he tolerates it better from them or they, knowing his character, are able to tiptoe around his hot buttons when they argue with him. I know that they argued with him enough about the imprudence of investing a large chunk of his life savings in one company that the mere mention of the topic from the CH and I was met with much arm waving and excited refusal to hear anything further on the topic from anyone. Clearly, even his family were capable of stepping over his (considerably short) limits on occasion.

At any rate, I'm no angel in the conflict with my brother-in-law. Even my saintly CH had problems dealing with the aggressiveness of my arguing style early on in our marriage. And when I say "aggressiveness", I'm talking about intensity and energy, not language. I don't insult or flat out say anyone is wrong (except in jest to break tension and generally only with the wombat stuffer or the CH), but I am a person with passion and that passion can't always be contained in a debate about an issue. That being said, I've learned a lot more control over the years and am a lot more reserved when I speak in such discussions. I am a lot less aggressive than before in my manner, though I still prefer not to be circumspect as it smacks of trying to avoid expressing true feelings.

I've changed a lot, but I'm pretty sure my brother-in-law hasn't noticed as his image of me is frozen at the person I was nearly two decades ago. I will note that seeing my CH and I as who we were instead of who we are is a problem we have with his family in general because they have so little contact with us (being in two different countries and all), but it's a lot less understandable with the CH's brother who lives in Japan. In fact, I suspect the fact that my brother-in-law has lived on and off in Japan (mostly on) since the age of 19 has a lot to do with his problems handling disagreement. He's not spent much time in a culture where people debate or quibble over points much. Japanese people tend to keep their opinions to themselves as that is the expectation in their culture. Though certainly that is not true of everyone by a long shot as I've met some very opinionated Japanese people (and have delighted in dealing with them by and large), it is usually the case, particularly with women.

Getting back to the point that I had started making at the beginning of this post about "burying" posts, I had no small number of experiences when I was reading my brother-in-law's blog where he clearly "buried" any comment that I made which pointed out how he was incorrect or that his conclusions weren't considering all the facts. He moderated comments and any time I agreed or offered a neutral aside, the comment was posted rapidly. Any time I disagreed or offered information that said he was reaching a hasty conclusion, he wouldn't post the comment for at least a day, and only then after he'd posted either one super long post or several short ones on top of the original post that I'd had an issue with. In other words, he buried such comments deep beneath his latest rant.

Another commenter of his once pointed out this tendency to bury dissenting voices to my brother-in-law and his excuse was that he was in Japan and time zones were different so there was a delay if they posted in the day-time for them and at night for him. Also, he said that he worked and didn't deal with comments for long periods of time if he was busy. The problem with this excuse was that it didn't apply to me since I'm in Japan and in the same time zone and I know for a fact that he has his notebook computer with him at all times. He'd also posted to his blog from work before and can send e-mail from there. It's a credible-sounding excuse, except when you know his habits, and there was too consistent a pattern between delayed and buried comments being of one particular type and promptly-posted ones being of another.

I often wonder why he didn't just decide not to post dissenting voices at all since they were so frustrating or embarrassing that he buried them. My guess is that a wish to believe he could handle disagreement wouldn't allow him to admit his ego couldn't take the dissent, but the desire to see himself as balanced and fair-minded didn't extend far enough to leave a comment expressing disagreement sitting there below a post at the top of the page.

At any rate, I have been endeavoring to put the whole situation behind me and lay the past to rest because I wasn't supposed to have any relationship with my brother-in-law anymore. A "truce" of sorts had been worked out through my father-in-law who suggested we essentially act as if there were a restraining order keeping us at least 500 yards apart at all times between us so that conflicts wouldn't arise. The truth was that, on my part, I only continued to have contact with him because there was concern that cutting off all contact would upset my mother-in-law and father-in-law. I was pretty happy when he suggested we not speak or read each other's blogs at all in order to keep the peace.

If you're wondering why this is on my mind again after this "truce" was worked out, it's only partially because the wombat stuffer joked about burying a post which he felt detailed a disaster. It's also because my brother-in-law called our apartment several weeks ago when only I was home. I don't know if his father didn't relay the message that I wasn't going to talk to him anymore in order to ensure peace or if the fact that he is holding a wedding reception in Japan and wants my CH to be present selfishly made him decide to just call and pretend he and I don't have an issue so he could get what he wanted.

If all of this sounds painfully petty and juvenile to you, well, I'd probably have to agree with you there. However, some personality types aren't a good mix and he and I are not. I can't stand having conflict hanging in the air with someone and not working through it, but he likes to just pretend there's no problem. I like to hash everything out and he likes to put up a defense and not talk about it. I will argue an intellectual point if I feel my argument is better grounded than someone else's and he's sure he's smarter than me. I'm a spiritually-minded person and he's an atheist who likes to mock all forms of spirituality.

We simply can't get along and I thought that was part of the test or the lesson for me in life is to accept that there are people who I'm not going to get along with and I have to be okay with that. Unfortunately, circumstances seem to be indicating that that was not the test. I'm starting to think that the real test is accepting not only that there are people I can't get along with, but also that I have no choice sometimes but to allow them into my life anyway.


Emsk said...

I'm with you with your very last comment. Sometimes you really do have scant little choice but to have these people in your life, even though there's this great mantra of 'you always have a choice'. Not always.

I've suffered my fair share of in-family verbals and it really is not a good place to be. Comsequently, I've worked out that if I see my father once in a blue moon for a limited period, it works. It's not that he's not a good person, but we clash and sometimes horribly, plus the fact that we were estranged until I turned 14, I think, has a lot to do with it. There's a fair bit of anger towards my mother's family about this - and rightly so, in a way, but they did what they thought was best by me and I don't like to hear them put down.

However, through him - and his second wife - I have a sister who I like spending time with very much, so for her sake some kind of peace really does need to be kept.

Roy said...

Hmmm...I sense a cliche coming...

What you see in others is what you see in yourself, both good and bad.

Well, I'm not one to talk as I have completely disassociated myself my from one of my siblings.

But I do truly believe that the most emotionally charged relationships we have (both good and bad) are the most important ones. Everything/Everyone is there to provide opportunity for growth and the level of emotion is there to tell you how important it is.

I was going to write a whole bunch more to this comment, but I think you already know what I would say.

So, I guess you will not be attending the wedding?


Roy said...

Actually, let me clarify what I meant in my comment above in context of your last paragraph.

What I meant was that the "test" may be more about learning to accept something about yourself rather than accepting something outside yourself as essentially the world is a reflection of yourself is it not?

Orchid64 said...

Emsk: I think I have a similar situation with my mother. I think she really is a good person, but she's so neurotic that she makes constant demands on everyone to make her happy (and no one can so we are always failing).

Roy: Not only am I not going, but I don't really think I was ever welcome in the first place. I think the invitation was proffered out of obligation (to me, not to the CH).

While I accept that hardship is there to make us grow, I also believe that too much hardship results in withdrawal. My life is complicated enough with a lot of suffering to learn from. My plate is full. I think too many "learning experiences" result in a sense of learned helplessness.

If anything, I think what I have to learn from this situation is that not everyone is going to like me and that's okay. I grew up believing that everyone had to like me and approve of me (because I have such low self-esteem) and my mother had this thing about popularity. She pushed my sister and I to have the popularity she never had in high school (as well as many other things she never achieved in life).

I think that it may be true that what one sees in others, one sees in oneself, but I see things I don't see in myself as well since I have far greater insight than the average person (and I did study psychology - after all, if I can see someone is paranoid and delusional, it doesn't mean I'm paranoid and delusional).

I can't agree that the world is a reflection of me though. I think it's possible to perceive the world in a manner other than an utterly narcissistic one.

Since you're being somewhat cryptic, I'm going to come right out and ask what you think I need to accept about myself which is being played out here.

Thanks to both of you for your comments!

Dateline Osaka said...

Jeeze, I realized that you had some trolls coming to make trouble on your old blog, but I didn't realize your family member had such a big part in why you don't post there anymore. I'm sorry to hear it.

In the last year, I've come to realize how malicious, cold-hearted and neurotic family can be. I'm only sorry I found it out when I needed them most, and not before. We could have avoided a lot of problems by trying to work out another plan (even though there really was no other option).

Orchid64 said...

Dateline: The trolls had nothing to do with my stopping. While they made stopping a little easier, they weren't the motivating factor. This whole in-law fiasco was the cheese in that case.

Though I have issues with my family (well, my mother, I get along well with my sister and my father has always been helpful but emotionally "shy" with his children), they would never turn us away nor do they regard the CH as anything less than welcome in their home. My in-laws have been less than supportive of the CH in I in a variety of ways, which was a contributing factor in us ending up in Japan. It's something that I continue to struggle to come to terms with even after a long time, but I know I really need to get past it.

Many thanks for commenting. :-)