Friday, May 26, 2006


I guess in some respects ‘generic’ products are a good thing. These are the products that deal with the reality of individuals with depressed incomes. Individuals that find brand name medicines and foods too costly. So, in that respect, generic products are good.

But more and more society is using generic products for emotional matters. And although generic products might be a bargain when it comes to medicine or food, they are a shoddy substitute when it comes to relationships. Affection has to be real. Mimicry won’t do.

So I am so discouraged when I see a growing dependence on generic affection. When I see the philosophy of generics sneaking up on us so silently, so stealthily, so insidiously, that we don’t even know it is happening. And then, before we realize it, this attitude of economizing begins to overlap where it doesn’t belong. And soon, whether as self-protectionism, or whether out of ignorance, we stroll through life economizing emotional participation in our personal relationships. Reducing direct involvement until all we give to one another is a generic substitute for the real thing.

Now I am retired, and not well-heeled, so I oft find myself examining those cheaper yellow-label products. But I tend to shy away from them. From experience, I know that brand-name chicken broth is made from that which a chicken was dipped in, and generic chicken broth is made from the foot-wash of a crow. Real cheese is made from real milk, but I suspect that generic cheese is made from plastic, water, unpronounceable chemicals, and perhaps a bit of whey. And generic whipped cream offers the texture of raw-egg meringue and a soapy aftertaste rather than the sweet, decadent, ecstasy of real whipped cream. So like I so often say to Hub, “If the cost is prohibitive, I’ll eat less, but I want my food to be real.”

And so, when it comes to emotional stuff, my philosophy is similar. Don’t pander to me if that pandering is not the real thing. If what you feel for me is not genuine affection, then leave off treating me like a queen with a generic affectation that is meant to do the job, but doesn’t really come from the soul.

So now lets explore these thoughts a bit more. We all know that affection comes in various forms – empathy, understanding, generosity, nurturing. And so it probably won’t do us any harm to analyze the generic representations of these forms compared to the genuine thing starting with ‘empathy’.

‘Empathy’, when genuine, side-steps our own needs in order to find a ‘hit’ on what another is feeling. In moments of conflict it forbids the burying of our hearts and minds in a fury over what the other should be doing or isn’t doing. Empathy doesn’t require equalization payments. No careful auditing of who does more and who does less. Instead, genuine empathy, instead of pointing the finger, demands that we ask ourselves a really tough question. “What can I do to make things better?”

Next is ‘understanding’. Genuine understanding is a time-consuming bit of business. It takes patience and a whole lot of undivided attention to milk other’s thoughts about the things that are troubling them, particularly if the problems are intimate or shameful. Generic understanding is so much quicker. It compacts stuff into a two-minute interchange summed up in one short sentence, “I was once young/sick/anxious/stressed/broken-hearted, etc. so I know how you feel.” And just to make generic understanding more palatable, we might offer a material healer to the distressed party. Perhaps a new outfit, a trip, a spa-treatment, or some other gratuity. And why not? Generic and genuine closely mimic one another. So by offering yellow-labeled understanding, one doesn’t have to engage in the hard work and patience needed to get to the root of the matter.

Now we come to ‘generosity’. Genuine generosity is pretty straightforward. It is gifts from the heart rather than gifts from the wallet. Reverse this sentence and you have generic generosity. But when reversed, we find the two are not as closely related as we might like to believe.

And finally, there is ‘nurturing’. This is the category that bothers me the most. I have a big problem with society’s interpretation of nurturing when it comes to children, young people, wives or husbands, elders, and the sick and infirm. Genuine nurturing is much more than food, a bed, a roof, and well-laid-out plans for the future. And for children, even with the addition of the latest gizmos, games, educational toys, and extra-curricular activities, it is still generic. And for significant others, even with the addition of roses, dinners out, and exotic vacations, it is still generic. And with respect to the elderly, all that concern about euthanasia or quality of life just makes it more generic. Surprisingly, all that attention to detail doesn’t come close to genuine nurturing, because genuine nurturing is so much more than that.

Genuine nurturing is something probably considered impractical by a practical society. It is a cool cloth on a fevered brow, a comforting touch, a hug when it is needed most, a pleasant thought and the presence of another at a bedside, albeit in silent communion. It is a forgiving act, a gift of time, or a spontaneous expression of appreciation.

So go ahead. Stock the kitchen or medicine cabinet with Generic Products as much as you feel compelled to. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t let this kind of economizing touch the essence of your affection for those whose love and care you are entrusted with.


Blogger PEA said...

I love reading your posts Roberta, so well written! After reading this one, it made me really think of how I feel about others that are in my life. You often hear the saying "if you love someone, you'd die for him/her" or "you'd take a bullet for him/her"...that has to be the upmost love to give your life for another. So many people walk around with just the generic emotions...what ever happened to the "real" emotions. Like you, when it comes to generic food, I'd rather have the real thing...the same goes for the emotional part!

5:31 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Thanks for the comment, pea, that really says it all.

12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anne said...

Honestly Roberta, so far, generic affection is pretty much all i find. Hurts so much when your own affection has no artificial fillers.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Esther said...

Very enlightening. I sometimes find, I even use generic emotions for myself. I want to be rightously angry, and say how I feel but instead I'm passive agressive and say nothing at all. Or I am excited and joyful and pretend to be politely happy. I think the best example of genuine emotions comes from children who have not yet learned how to filter how they feel.

8:09 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

anne, you have hit on something that I didn't give enough thought to. The fact that even in real life, generic emotional stuff is more fulfilling than a big empty space.

And of course, I want approval as much as any other human being, so I guess I accept generic stuff more than I know from all the people who I don't care if they really love me, but I do care if they "LIKE" me!

esther, such words of wisdom. We do need to observe the children if we're going to get and give affection with all truth and integrity.

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Sandy said...

Good evening, Roberta. I found you via Anne of Your comment on her 5.31.06 post touched me, and so I came to find you. Keep writing!

7:00 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi sandy, pleased to welcome you to my blog. Hope you enjoyed the read and that you'll continue to visit.

1:48 AM  
Anonymous naomi dagen bloom said...

loved reading this and the perfect title. that's what caught my notice in a snippet on Blogher conference...Denise identified yours as one of Elderbloggers she enjoys. my wonder: how do we hold onto the authentic with so little support from the culture? curiously, blogging seems often to turn upside down the remoteness spawned by this technology.

6:50 AM  
Blogger Roberta said...

Hi, Little Red Hen. Thanks for popping in. Your comment leaves much to be contemplated about elder culture and how it can touch or is touched by current culture. My hope is, maybe if we use the wisdom of broad life experiences, we can add a small dash of authentic seasoning to the present-day generic ways of thinking. Current society is willing to acknowledge that we are seniors but unwilling to acknowledge our wisdom unless WE rally. So let's rally with bran muffins for a constitutional movement and blog posts for a cultural movement.

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How well put--and thought provoking. Real is so much better, isn't it...

susan @ spinning

2:27 PM  
Blogger Roberta said...

I am totally flattered that you took the time to comment, susan @ spinning. I'm glad too that you found a thought to ponder. I always enjoy your perspectives on Literature and the art of writing and various other things - your blog is a great place to stop for a breath of fresh air.

8:48 PM  

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