Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tough love (Saying it like it is... or not)

"My friends are my "estate." Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them"  Emily Dickinson

I love my family and friends. I have a well-diversified portfolio of them. They range from those who pamper and support when necessary to those whose names can be written in the dictionary as a definition for brutal honesty, or as a synonym for tough love. I wouldn't trade any of them for all the tea in China nor all the rubies in India. And yes, one of them taught me that.

I know who to go to when I need the truth served with love, when I need love because the truth is glaring and when I just need cold, hard facts and difficult-to-give advice. There are some I love because I love the me I am when I'm with them and others I adore because they appreciate the me I am but wont settle for that and push me to become the me I could be if I gave it my all.Yes, I am blessed and hope they are too :) 

Take my little younger brother, I was talking to my mum one time and she was giving me the usual be careful of boys because they can break your heart and destroy your life talk. He walks in on us and says 'Nah, this is not fair! My sister doesn't need this unfair advantage. It's rather the boys out there who need to be warned 'Beware!'  I asked why and he said, 'look at you, who can break your heart?'  I knew he wasn't talking looks. So I said, 'I'm human o, Kwabena.' 'Nah, you're my sister' he said.

I took it to be a really sweet 'brotherly' compliment until some time later when I was caught crying by my mum. She asked me what was wrong and I said' you'll insult me if I told you' She then gave me this heartwarming speech about how as my mother anything I care about enough to make me cry was important to her to and... 'I have a broken heart' I said. She stopped in mid-sentence, shook her head and walked out of the room, resuming her search for whatever she was looking for when she discovered me weeping. I looked after her, stunned, about to ask if she no longer cared about my tears; but the tears had been shocked into stopping. Apparently, she had taken notes from my brother

When my brother came in, she told him I was crying of a broken heart in the room and that I appeared to have nothing better to do. He came in, and said 'You have a broken what?' 'It's true, Kwabena...' I started. He nodded and I took a deep breath, tears welling in my eyes at the story I was about to recount. I started to speak and realized he had his earphones in. He had been nodding to the music, not my words. 

The tears disappeared and suffice it to say that I never had a broken heart at home again. Whenever I was hurt, I'd remember my mum and brother in whose opinions no one was worth my tears and be strong. It's worked 80% of the time. After all, that saying that no one is worth your tears because anyone truly worthy of them wouldn't make you cry has some truth in it, 80% of the time in my case.

When it comes to friends, I remember telling a friend how worried I was about a project I was going to travel for and how I feared a lose-lose situation because I felt the project was going to flop and the time I was going to lose whilst at the project site would also cost me in my upcoming exam. He looked at me, seemingly unconcerned and I asked if he wasn't going to say anything. He mentioned my name and asked 'Who sent you to sign up for this project? Did you ask my opinion before taking on the responsibility? You got involved because you liked it. You've made your bed, lie in it!' All true... What could I say? I lay in my bed and enjoyed it. I was given no choice, remember?

The latest such experience with a friend was just last two weeks when I was telling one of my best female friends about one of my regrets that haunt me. I had run away from someone because I was scared  and never stopped asking myself what if... I told her about it and she asked how far back it was, etc.; all the right questions. 

She then pointed out how silly I was being. How many relationships that began then that I knew about were still going strong? We've both evolved with time and even if I hadn't run and we'd been together? For how long would we have been together? I had to defer to her wisdom. I was pretty young then. I had no idea what I wanted back then. I guess it's a classic case of the 'cheri raté' syndrome. So I took an objective look at the two of us and that regret has all but disappeared. We probably wouldn't have lasted anyway.

So yeah, surrounded by such people, I understand and agree that sometimes, the best helping hand you can give a loved one, is a firm kick in the backside. However, to qualify as tough love and not verbal/emotional abuse, revenge, malice, etc. Such gestures have to be motivated by the sincerest of loves.

Lately, though, I have heard some things being said and wondered if there was any love behind the 'toughness'. Friends don't enjoy tearing each other down in the name of love and there are somethings you should not be able to say or do to someone if you truly loved the person, no matter the context. There are some things 'I'm telling you this for your own good' wont make okay.
As Mignon McLaughlin said; 'Nobody wants constructive criticism. It's all we can do to put up with constructive praise'. So before you launch 'so-called' constructive criticism at your loved one (or at least someone who you are supposed to love), question your motive, and check your excitement level. If you're enjoying it and it's more about showing how right and smart you are than helping the person, please, do us all a favour and keep it to yourself. And no, it's not your fault how sensitive the person is to what you say because they care more about you than you ever did or will about them*yes, sarcasm*; just remember that sticks and stones may break bones, but words will never hurt them (only crush their dreams).

I'm not saying baby your friends. Many would not grow otherwise. I'm just saying what was best illustrated by Dr. Mensa Otabil with this picture; corn is food for chickens. It's good for them and it helps them grow. But if I walk into a chicken coop and start throwing corn at them, they will run away from it and will not venture to eat it, seeing it as something bad. (paraphrase mine). 


  1. I think it's always a question about balancing tough love with compassion :)

  2. You are so sweet even
    though you 'be' acting tough.

    Yeah, friends do not tear each other down, that is not the definition of friendship...

  3. @ Unforgettable, yup! and not using the guise of friendship to tear people down. I feel like 'keep your friends close but your enemies closer' has led to many people who are actually fiends who do not care one bit getting close enough to hurt and being capable of the most atrocious hurt because the cloak of 'friendship' covers all.

    @Okeoghene: thanks *blushes purple*

    @Tisha: You cannot tell anyone this secret you uncovered :) Yeah, exactly. They shouldn't.

  4. I think that it is untrue that no one is worth crying about. In fact, I believe that a broken heart is the human condition as seen closest to the eyes of God. We have to cut our losses and quit crying, but God, being omnipotent and able to stand up under it, does not. There is a lot of truth in a broken heart; we just have to shelve that truth and leave it alone (or, better, in God's hands) for self-preservation sooner or later, yet, we shouldn't deny its truth. That isn't a good, true way to live.

    Etoile, I can't tell whether you live in Ghana or America or somewhere else in the "west."
    Here in America we have a little too much so-called tough love. In fact, they have pretty much left the love behind but kept the "tough." For all the times that tough love is called for, a tough cold response not motivated by any love comes forth at least 4-5 times more often, probably more than that. Lots of good, swift kicks in the backside; lots of slaps in the face of cold "truth." I have gotten more than my share, and I know that they are more often than not motivated by a selfish desire to dismiss my claims of justice, my broken heart, or just me. So I learn to leave those people alone who do not care what is in my heart or care to be inconvenienced by my trials. Now, do they like the "tough truth" of that? As they say over here, "oh, hell no!" Tough criticism is for them to dish out and for others, people like me who are somehow always wrong, to receive; a hard slap to the wise is supposed to be sufficient, but is it really wise to kowtow to the assumptions they live under? If it requires deep sixing the truth of your experience, it can't be. We are, as a people, a long way down the road of lovers of money, lovers of self, fierce, implacable; the love of most who call themselves Christians has long been cold, if they ever believed they should have any. Christians are to be tenderhearted one toward another, and to unbelievers, too, and we really ought to never deliver anything tough (or even anything kind) without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He alone really knows the situation and what is required.

  5. Thanks so much for sharing your views. I couldn't agree with you more on <<...In fact, they have pretty much left the love behind but kept the 'tough'>> And your summary really sums it up beautifully... As you can tell, I have nothing to add cos you said it all :)