Apples (Far From the Tree Reflections, Part 1)

This week I have been intellectually, emotionally, and physically challenged. Not beaten up. Not overwhelmed.  Challenged. The challenges were stimulating, engaging, and made me feel like I accomplished great work that I could be proud of. Being a work in progress is very satisfying sometimes!

I read a part of a book called “Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon. I’ll be blogging about this book for weeks to come–it’s got SO many gems in it to think about, wrestle with, question, discover, discuss….so please-I’m-begging-you, leave your comments! It’s only so much fun to let these things tumble around in my own head so I’d love to play a game of catch, and toss these things back and forth to one another 🙂

One of the first things in the book that blew my mind was the idea that we have children because we like to see ourselves live forever. This sounds a little narcissistic…I know. I thought about it and realized that this idea actually applies in many relationships in my life. I do not have kids of my own but I can see the similarities in my view of my family, friends, and acquaintances. It is easy to want to get to know someone because we are alike, because we share so many interests, because we act, think, or look the same way. I think this is a natural affinity. We gravitate towards people that are like ourselves. We bond with those that remind us of ourselves; it’s easy because we get it, we know ourselves and it’s easy to see ourselves in others. The conflict and tension comes into play when we discover something that contrasts with what we identify in ourselves. These differences are like foreign objects that our self-preservation attacks like a virus. We ignore them, avoid them, fight them, bash them, manipulate them, or pretend they don’t exist. How can we celebrate people as unique, special, important, and separate beings?

The author of the book calls these differences in attributes and values horizontal and vertical identities. Vertical identities are passed down. The way we are raised and the parenting choices made for our lives give us certain beliefs that we adopt as “ours.” Cultural norms, religion, and language are a few examples. Horizontal identities are the traits that we claim from our peer groups, in other words….something that is foreign to how we were brought up.

Since this book alludes to the common phrase, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”…it got me thinking about apples. There’s another idiom we often hear, mostly in an expression of love or fondness: “you are the apple of my eye.” I was curious where this phrase came from so I did a tiny bit of research. Of course, my man, Billy Shakes used it. Along with a few other English writers and one book dedicated to a king in AD 885 (who I did not know the names of). Common to Shakespeare, his phrases often have their origins in the canonical scripture of the Bible. So, I took this cute little phrase and looked it up in the original Hebrew. It is literally translated as “Little Man of the Eye.” In other words, there is an element of reflection involved. We see a reflection of small proportion in another’s pupils. I wonder if this is a representation of the vertical identity we claim when we interact with others; that tiny reflection of ourselves is precious. However, the key word in that sentence is that it is ‘tiny.’

As family members, our self absorption in our own battles sacrifices the potential to form a tight belief in trusting one another. We may not see eye to eye through our differences. We don’t see our reflection or maybe we see too much of our reflection. We need to try to understand each other and see the larger scope….the whole eye, per se. That means acknowledging how we are separate individuals. Otherwise, we just keep cementing brick after brick into a wall we cannot meet through. And this is an ugly, solid, negative, destructive wall.

As friends, it cuts deep when we react to these horizontal identities by choosing words that pierce like a sword, rather than bring healing. If we could celebrate the fact that one of us values tango and the other flat out disagrees (pick your polar opposites here, you can fill in the blanks..this is an easy example), what an amazing relationship to share and learn from.

“Difference unites us. While each of these experiences can isolate those who are affected, together they compose an aggregate of millions whose struggles connect them profoundly……Vertical identities are usually respected as identities; horizontal ones are often treated as flaws.”–Andrew Solomon

What do You, as a noun–your own noun–, a smart, kind, important individual, think about this?

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