First comes annoyance
So Golf, my husband, attended a parent meeting yesterday at the Thai temple for Aidan’s summer school to discuss safety issues and schedule some upcoming events. It was supposed to be from 12-1PM, after which he would return home to do some work before I take a friend with me to our local meditation center.
Expecting him home by 1:30, he was an hour late and as suspected, the meeting never started til 12:30.
Typical Thai, I thought, because when I was living in Thailand, people were constantly late, which became known as “Thai time”. Expats, you know what I’m talking about, as is common in hot, tropical countries.
I was stressed that he might not be able to watch Aidan so I could fulfill my obligation of taking my friend for meditation a few hours later. And the lateness annoyed me. Then he told me about some weekend dates Aidan would be scheduled to practice for a play they are putting on later. And how Sport Day would be on a Saturday at Berkeley Marina, but the crowded kite festival is on the same date. Then there was an upcoming Buddhist holiday where Aidan would have to be there at 9 AM and it always gets so crowded because the temple serves Thai food to the public every Sunday. I don’t like big crowds very much. And 9 AM – they are always late! I’m going to be sitting around doing nothing for hours!
I was already rolling my eyes and sighing heavily. So much stuff we have to do outside of school days!!! I was bristling with resentment. Poor me, right?
Why such a strong reaction? Well, the adults at this school participate heavily in gossip and there are a couple of boys there who are trouble makers and bullies but the mom is chummy with the school leader. So I greatly dislike the mother and the dad acts like a dried prune.
Golf would come home with some of the news of the latest drama unfolding. I want no part and so I found myself withdrawing a little bit. I felt glad that my Thai wasn’t so good I could keep up with all the gossip.
Back to the conversation about the parent meeting: Golf stopped me short and said, “Just a minute, Sport Day is going to be the same day, just a different location, not at the same place as the kite festival!” Then he went on to say I need to wait and let him finish and not jump to conclusions, that the other parents and school leaders are just trying to create a community for us as best they can.
And that caused me to pause at my reactionary attitude and contemplate what he said.
Individuality vs. community
In the USA, we have individuality ingrained into us deeply to a fault. I remember when I lived in Thailand I could not understand why the other Thai teachers looked forward to after school meetings we’d have occasionally, or a weekend-long getaway with all our colleagues! It just is not done here. Work time/personal time completely separate.
In Asia it is not looked at like that at all. They are big on community building, and they look forward to these gatherings with family, colleagues, sangha groups, you name it. Where as here in the United States, we are so isolated it causes people to die early. Do any of you even know or talk to your neighbors?
I’ve been living back in the US for eight years now and the culture has rubbed back onto me. My patience with the Thai way has faded a bit. In Thailand I simply surrendered to their way of doing things as I wanted that part of the experience of living there. But here in America, we don’t keep organizing school activities on weekends, dammit! Not that I had anything else planned anyway.
Community has positives and negatives
And thus it began, my contemplation of how those of us caught in the trap of isolated individuality who long for more connection and community amongst others recoil when it doesn’t happen MY way on MY time.
That’s the rub: community means a gathering of people around a common goal, neighborhood, religion, club, interest, the list goes on. But it also means that within this group, there will likely be difficult people, like the ditzy mom with her two awful boys and the dad who could use some lessons on being more personable. While we can choose our friends wisely and seek to connect with others of a like mind, we can’t always choose each person we must interact with.
So I’m choosing to let go. I feel badly that my reaction was so reflexive and not mindful when Golf was telling me about the parent meeting. But I opened myself to hearing him advise me to calm down and listen. The contemplation taught me this lesson.
I’m going to have to seek some guidance on dealing with difficult people mindfully and with compassion and also be patient when people run late. I can sit and practice being present or bring a good book to read instead of getting all bent out of shape for having “no respect for my time.” That is just my ego puffing out her chest and I need to let it go.
What do you think about my theory of individualism and community? Especially if you’re an American where we have this distorted WAY out of proportion to the rest of the world? Have your say in the comments.