Fridge Magnet Message and Some 2-Cent Philosophy

March 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

While reorganizing some kitchen stuff, I consolidated our magnets. We have a small stack that we’re not using at the moment but want to keep around in case our fridge door hanging needs change. While at it, I grabbed some of our Finnish word magnets and made a small message for Mr. E, and he answered with one of his own. We’ve gone back and forth a few times now. This is his latest:

Fridge Magnet Message Life

In English, pitää tehdä sopiva elämä means roughly ‘have to create [a] suitable life’. The Finnish word sopiva is a little tough to translate exactly, but some of the meanings include ‘suitable’, ‘suited’, ‘appropriate’, ‘fit(ting)’, ‘right’, ‘opportune’ and ‘convenient’.

The message kinda stopped me in my tracks. It’s so apropos with regard to many things that have been on my mind in the past two years or so. (Long post warning from now on!)

I don’t believe in perfect lives – how would you even define such a many-faceted thing? I do, however, believe that everyday life, including those same-old-same-old, normal routines that we go through, are somewhat undervalued. I also believe that our lives are what we make of them. I do not mean the latter in the way of “I can be a super-duper movie star or a gazillionaire-media-mogul if I just work hard enough” (although that does happen for some people). I mean that our everyday choices affect our daily experiences in a multitude of smaller ways, and these experiences are the sum of our lives. For example, in the way of “I hate red, so I won’t paint my bedroom red”. Or “I have trouble motivating myself to hand-wash pots and I hate a full sink; I’ll invest in machine-washable ones”. Or “I want to look good naked, so I’ll start jogging” (to paraphrase Kevin Spacey’s character in the movie American Beauty). Or, more personally, “I’m an introvert, and working with a lot of people daily exhausts me, so I’d better find something that’s less intense for me”.

I also believe in consideration. We have to take care of ourselves and make choices that are good for us, but not at the expense of others. We all have some things we’d rather not have to deal with, but we must for some reason or another. We have legal obligations as well as social or customary ones – things that are required of us by society, by the neighborhood, by friends, by family. Some of these obligations are, indeed, a must if we don’t want to be jailed or if we want aunt Tamala to ever speak to us again, for example. Others only *seem* obligatory. For example, it may be typical to highlight your natural hair color, but there’s nothing inherently wrong in changing the color from time to time. It may be typical to marry in your late 20s, but there’s nothing inherently wrong about marrying later in life. It may be usual to start a family after marriage, but there’s nothing inherently wrong about choosing something else besides a house, two children and a dog in a suburb.

Some “obligations” are clearly products of a commercialised society where purchasing power is a factor in defining a person’s social status. For me, it’s easier to ignore these false obligations. Where is it written that you have to have, say, a dryer as well as a washing machine, if your routines don’t require one? (Sure, it may be helpful to have a dryer, and some families would not function without one, but the notion that *everyone* *must* have one is absurd.) That every bride has to have a diamond ring? Not to mention that the size of the diamond is an indication of your spouse’s love for you? (Bah, I say.)

Where things get especially tricky is when other people are involved. We are a social species, and our social interactions very easily create obligations or expectations of reciprocity. We probably all know people who use social ties to manipulate others for their own benefit, or seek to put others down to boost their own sense of worth. For me, it’s very difficult to deal with manipulative or abrasive situations, or to deal with extremely vocal people whose values I don’t share even when there’s no social machination involved. For me, managing both false and true social obligations is a constant balancing act between participating in normal life and protecting myself. Sometimes it’s very difficult to judge which are which, and I wish I had better answers than I do.

The double standard against women is especially hard to deal with. Women are socialised to accept disparaging attitudes as the way things are. Women are also socialised to be nice. It’s not “nice” to speak out, but we must, for our sakes, and for the sake of friends, family, and those who come after us. It’s very hard not to conform, to be different, or even worse, *the* different one. However, our lives are what *we* make of them, because if we don’t, no-one else will.

During my first decade in the U.S., I’ve now and then really pondered about my life and the choices that took me here. I’ve tried to evaluate how I’m doing and what kind of a scale I should use in my evaluation. It’s been hard. Part of the difficulty stems from having to start my work life essentially from scratch, and part stems from cultural differences (both between the U.S. and Finland, and between mainstream values and my geeky interests). After I turned 40, self-awareness and quality of life have been even more important for me than before. I’m more convinced, and more convinced that I am *allowed* to be convinced, that my judgement is valuable and should be valued. At the very minimum, my judgement should be respected as the considered opinion of a grownup.

Since I choose to share my life with Mr. E, and he chooses to share his with me, he is a huge part of how I / we shape our shared time. Apart from taking Mr. E into consideration, I will make the conscious effort to make my life and my routines into something that fits *me*. Really, truly suits me. Life is too precious to waste with things, routines or people that make you unhappy or your life difficult.

Pitää tehdä sopiva elämä. Indeed. :)

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