On being ... as it should be

By Ingrid Sapona

The summer of 1969 was a turbulent time: the Vietnam War was going on, the U.S. put a man on the moon, and my cousin Nick spent the summer with us. Nick’s visit was memorable for me and my sisters for many reasons. For starters, we weren’t used to having a boy around (if you can call a 16-year-old a “boy”). Also, the fact that Nick’s first language was Greek and my sisters’ and my only language was English made for lots of misunderstandings.

Though each of us has our own memories of our cousin’s visit, all of us have Nick to thank for a saying that has become an odd combination of inside joke and words to live by. The saying is: “hate is a big word”. Nick uttered these words as a retort to some protestation one of us made about how much we hated this or that. (With three girls in the house ranging in age from 9 to 16, I’m sure there was at least one object of hate du jour, so it’s no surprise none of us can remember what the object of hate was at that prompted the comment that first time.)

I can still picture the sly, satisfied smile on Nick’s face when came up with that little play on words. However clever the pun may have been, it didn’t go over well with my sisters and me because by that time we had had just about enough of Nick and his gratuitous comments about everything we said and did.(Mind you, we were a bit too young to appreciate the fact that dear Nick had probably had enough of us by then too, or to give him credit for being sophisticated enough linguistically to make a pun in a language that wasn’t his mother tongue.)

Despite our annoyance with Nick, the truth behind the point he was making resonated with us -- and stuck. The fact is, we did have a tendency to throw the word “hate” around. Of course, back then, our excessive use of the word could be chalked up to youthful hyperbole. Unfortunately, though we’ve matured and our use of language has become more refined, my sisters and I still occasionally, indiscriminately use the H word. But, to this day, if one of us happens to say it within earshot of a family member, there’s no doubt Nick’s saying will be invoked.

Actually, I’m to the point that if the word leaves my lips, a silent (yet loud, and oddly Greek-accented) voice inside my head reminds me that hate is a big word -- too big do throw around willy-nilly. And for this I will be forever grateful to cousin Nick. For you see, every time I catch myself I become aware of my thoughts and reactions and this helps me try to dial back whatever anger or frustration I was feeling that prompted me to use the word. Pretty neat behaviour modification technique, don’t you think?

The past few months I’ve had a bit of fun using a variation of this technique on a friend of mine, hoping to make her more aware of how many of her frustrations and disappointments are really nothing more than things not turning out quite as she thinks they will. Or, to put it in her words, that things don’t go as they “should”.

I’ll give you a simple example: once, when we were on the highway headed toward a far-away provincial park, I suggested we stop for gas because once we get off the main road there might not be many stations. Her response was, “No, we don’t need gas for awhile. Besides, there should be plenty of stations.” Well, when we were in the middle of nowhere and the light came on indicating we were almost out of gas, who suddenly became indignant? Me? No. I was just worried about how we’d describe our location to the auto club when we call to ask them to bring gas. She, on the other hand, got irritated that the world wasn’t unfolding as it “should”.

I don’t mind when my friend says this or that “should” happen -- I really don’t. But when she gets frustrated because things don’t go as she thought they should, I feel bad for her. So, thinking that maybe she’d benefit from becoming more aware of the role “should” plays in her vocabulary and her outlook, I decided that every time I catch her saying it, I would interject a hearty, confirmatory: “Yes, it should”. Nothing more, just the simple affirmation.

At first she didn’t notice when I did it. At some point, however, she began to and I suspect she thought I was mocking her, but she didn’t protest. Eventually she started realizing how much she uses the word and how it sets the stage for a fair bit of unnecessary anger and disappointment. (Granted, for the most they’re minor disappointments, but sometimes they’re enough to sour her otherwise sunny disposition.) Though I don’t think she’s yet to the point of catching herself when she uses “should”, the ironic smile she gives me every time I catch her tells me she’s getting there.

Wow. Where’d the evening go? When I started writing this column my ideas were pretty well formulated and I figured it should only take a couple hours to complete – but here it is well after 9 p.m.! Man, I hate it when I misjudge things.

© 2010 Ingrid Sapona


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