When I learned to color, my mom taught me to outline the shape before carefully filling the interior with crayon. It was a slow process at first, drastically changing the way I previously scribbled colors haphazardly on the page. Little did I know at the time, but borders and boundaries would not only shape my life, but also the lives of those around me.
I flash forward to an exquisite visit with my two beautiful nieces. They, too, have boundaries. Whether it is the end of the driveway or wading level limit at the lake, they know just how far they can go. Like all children, they sometimes dance that line, skirt the edge and test their limits. They are constantly watching and absorbing the level of investment that adults charged with their care are taking. How far can they push, and at what point will there be an intervention? When does "no" really mean "no?" This is the natural order of learning our place and our purpose.
As a parent, one of the hardest things I've tried to do is to keep consistent boundaries through accountability. Having to follow up repetitively on the same un-done task can be exhausting and can provoke power struggles with the stubbornest of children. I have learned to choose my battles. Sometimes, I get tired of trying, and when I do, some things receive a higher priority than others. My line of divide gets blurry. I guess this is also human nature. In a perfect world, there would be a force field of respect that people understood and would not cross. Life doesn't work that way, and thus enters the reality of accountability, both for ourselves and others.
I am not a lover of conflict. So, when other people happen to step over the line and infringe upon my personal feelings, I tend to look the other way. I chalk it up to a mistake or accident and carry on. When that line repeatedly gets tread upon, it can get more difficult to speak up and defend one's self. A childhood neighbor, graciously nicknamed "Great Patty" was known to say, "If you are getting walked on, get off the floor! You are not a doormat." Yet, we sometimes have a stirring of guilt when telling others how to live their lives and how to treat others. In reality, we all need to know our limits. Sometimes a voice, even if meek and timid, is needed to make a difference.
In the case of someone who we suspect may be dealing with a mental illness, it can be difficult to set limits or challenge behavior. Just as children running past the end of the driveway into the road need guidance, so do all of us. Behaviors that we "get away with" can be even harder to change when finally confronted. Caring enough to confront shows the level of investment people have in the lives of others. Saying things like, "that wasn't OK and hurt my feelings" or "I see you are mad, do you need to talk?" can be pivotal when someone has a hard time coloring within the lines. We can respect the feelings of others while still honoring our feelings. To protect ourselves is a lesson for others. It shows that we are not willing to be a doormat, but are still invested and willing to lend a hand.
When we see an injustice, are we willing to speak up? Are we willing to confront a situation for the sake of the greater good? Most people, if not all, would be willing to stop a child from running into the street. Would we respond with the same assuredness to someone who either through word or action ignored the lines altogether? Do we speak our peace to hold people to a higher standard, or do we look away in pure exhaustion? When others call us out for our shortcomings, do we humbly acknowledge our wrongdoing or do we build a bigger wall? We teach others how to treat us by the things we tolerate. May we all have the courage to raise the bar for each other and care enough to confront.
Kelly Brevig is Suicide Educational Services Coordinator with Evergreen Youth and Family Services.