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Forcing the Olive Branch

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 4.53.59 PMPreface: As a friend said to me recently, “Of course I want to be liked. Preferably by everyone.”

Some people are reactionary; urgently, compulsively reactionary. As Melody Beattie puts it:

“We keep ourselves in a crisis state, ready to react to emergencies that aren’t usually emergencies. Someone does something, so we must do something back. Someone feels a certain way, so we must feel a certain way. We jump into the first feeling that comes our way and then wallow in it…We are reacting without thinking – without honest thought about what we need to do, and how we want to handle the situation. We are indirectly allowing others to tell us what to do. That means we have lost control. When we react, we forfeit our personal power to think, feel, and behave in our best interests.”

While Beattie’s examples are extreme, they resonate with me. I’m reactionary, particularly when I have the distinct feeling someone is mad at me. Or knows their life is better off without me in it.

That feeling – or knowledge, as the case may be – washes the color out of me. I’m stripped to solid black lines and white space. No shadows, no depth. Then I’m shrinky-dink shrunk before being cleanly harpooned with a toothpick. I’m incapable of bleeding, but not incapable of pain.*

So, I react. I take a situation that metaphorically is dried-out, over-baked, crusted to the pan brownies and start slathering gobs of frosting on the situation. Said with less sugar, I start forcing an olive branch.

My reaction goes figuratively like this:

“Take this olive branch!” I say excitedly. “It’s so pretty! And ripe! And enthusiastically being handed to you in a really great package!”

If the olive branch is ignored, I’ll probably wave it again, like a rider flicking the crop in front of their Thoroughbred (terrible analogy, yet apt too – because isn’t this me trying to control people in a very co-dependent way?). “Still here! Best olive branch around. Just take it!”

And if it’s ignored still, I keep up with the cheer – sometimes to the point of simply imagining the branch has been accepted even when it hasn’t. This is usually weeks or months down the road, when it’s clear this person really doesn’t want anything to do with me – with zero acknowledgement of previously aforementioned branches. I’ll send occasional emails or birthday cards. Last year I even sent a Congratulations! to an ex when I heard of his nuptials.

Eventually, I stick the olive branch in the ground like Neil Armstrong’s flag on the moon, salute, and walk away, only to check back in on it once in awhile to see if it’s been picked up. I peek my head out from behind the flag like a creepy curious Cathy.

Rarely do I wonder if maybe that olive branch isn’t so wise for me after all.

Beattie gives numerous reasons why we react: “…because we’re anxious and afraid about what has happened or might happen; because we don’t feel good about ourselves; because most people react; because we think we have to react.”

I think I react because I want things to be okay. Yes, I want to be liked. But it’s more than that. My equilibrium feels off when someone who I think is smart and rad, and who I want the option to care about, is uncomfortable with the idea of me.**

I’m not convinced a forced olive branch reaction is the best though. Neither is Beattie, clearly:

“We don’t have to be so afraid of people. They are just people like us. We don’t have to forfeit our peace. It doesn’t help. We don’t have to take things so seriously. We blow things out of proportion – our feelings, thoughts, actions and mistakes. We tell ourselves things are awful, a tragedy, the end of the world…Give yourself and others room to move, to be who they are, to be human. give life a chance to happen.”

And oh, isn’t that so? The forced olive branch demands so much. It crowds. It’s more like a damn olive weed that people probably want to batter down with sticks. But when the weed comes back they grab a machete.

So where does that leave us? With an epilogue.

Epilogue: As a friend said…”I think we just have to accept what people are (or aren’t) offering us. For now. Things always change and I think there is always the possibility that someday everyone will get over everything and we can all be really OK friends. At least, that’s what I hope for.”

Well said, friend.

*And not to say I don’t get that this is a total first world problem. I keep thinking about the actual pain, torture and heinous crimes some people are enduring in the world and it makes me feel really silly for mentioning my feelings. Visceral as they are, they could be a lot worse.

**Blah blah blah – isn’t this really just all about me?

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