The Red SeeSaw

February 24, 2018 at 9:28 AM Leave a comment

On the playground of Durham Elementary School was a red seesaw. You could not do a thing with it by yourself. ANOTHER was required for seesawing. Here we have a basic metaphor of life. It is not to be lived alone. You’ll never get off the ground if you try to go it alone.

Ah, but the metaphors don’t stop there. If you were seesawing with someone heavier — read “pushier,” “more controlling,” “more opinionated,” “demanding,” “narcissistic,” “unwilling to negotiate or compromise” — in other words, HEAVIER — physically, emotionally, intellectually — you were going to spend your time up in the air, feet not touching the ground, flailing, feeling out of control, at the mercy of the “heavier” person. For most of us, this would create a lot of anxiety.

If you were seesawing with someone lighter, a light-weight, someone willing to let you be responsible for all the work, someone “along for the ride,” you were going to bump your butt on the ground continuously. It was going to be difficult to get anything “off the ground,” including “you,” and your view of the world was going to be about as interesting as that of the average snake. For most of us, this would create a fair amount of depression.

Unequal relationships are not much fun, whether the relationship is two partners, a parent/child relationship, two friends, two siblings or any other two people who live, work, or talk with each other, or love each other.

Just like on the seesaw, there has to be some similarity, some symmetry, some symbiosis, or the relationship will have no life or joy to it.  The similarity, of course, doesn’t have to be in body weight, as it need to be for the seesaw. We can have emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical commonality. But, in some way, we need to be kindred spirits. We need shared values, shared hobbies, shared passions, shared interests, or shared histories. But, we need something. Opposites attract, they say in sexual matters. Opposites also repel. Other than getting my car repaired, I don’t want to have too much to do with the guy at the garage who calls me, “The damn Yankee.”

Back to the seesaw. When we get on the seesaw with someone who is similar, we both go up in the air sometimes, we both land on the ground sometimes, and in between, we spend our time working on balance. Relationships are not static. They require constant rebalancing. Each member of the team needs time to shine in the sunshine and time to keep his or her feet on the ground, so the other team member can take a turn riding high.

Balance is the secret of a healthy relationship. I always have to smile when I see my daughters-in-law in the driver’s seat of the car. In my day, at least in my world, women didn’t drive if their husband was in the car. My mother would never have said to my father, “If we’re taking my car, I’m driving.” Neither of my grandmothers ever learned to drive. I also have to smile when one of my sons gets up from the table and starts doing the dishes. Equality and shared responsibilities around the house are much more prevalent than they were in past generations. But dominant/submissive relationships vastly outnumber healthy, balanced relationships. Imbalances of power are everywhere in the world, aren’t they? Unfortunately, power imbalances can only lead to tragedy.

Power imbalances result in the dominant, domineering person holding on to his or her power at any cost and by any means. The person with the lesser amount of power will grow resentful, secretive, cunning and devious to try to “unseat” the powerful. Revolution. History is full of them. Relationships collapse, divorces ensue, friendships die, families are estranged, and countries go to war. The pressure is on the person who has more than the fair share of power, and getting someone powerful to share the power is nigh onto impossible. When power is inequitable, it will be abused. The unempowered must be empowered. It happened for women through education. It has happened for racial and ethnic minorities through law.

Obviously, we are not going to change history or right the wrongs of the world. But, what can we do in our lives? When we are on a seesaw with someone, anyone, in any sort of fledgling or long-term relationship, what we can do is find the commonality which will lead to a balanced time on the seesaw.  My friend, Marsha, always makes it a point to call every clerk by name. “Thank you, Janine,” she’ll say. Or, “I really appreciate your help, Phil.” Its a small gesture which recognizes the shared humanity of clerk and patron. The calling of someone by name is a step toward a balance of power. I once saw my oldest son shake someone’s hand and say, “Isn’t that a Notre Dame ring?” and the stranger started right in as though he and Andy were long lost friends. When we step toward someone, show interest in someone we climb up on the seesaw with them.

The littlest look, smile, touch, acknowledgement can change a day or save a life. Literally, save a life. You’ve experienced it. You’ve been the giver and the receiver. Viva la balance!!!

Peaceful last days of February, my friends. Love, Susan


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