A Fine Line Between Social Etiquette and Telling Lies

Copyright – Nation of Change

You’re leaving a dinner party, and a friend needs a taxi ride. You offer to drop her off, but her house is in the opposite direction, and yet you insist on dropping her home. You do it in-spite of traffic, and that report waiting for you at home to finish. You end up arriving at home hours later and with frustration staying up to a crazy hour to finish your report. It throws off your entire week.  Why? because that’s what our culture teaches us!

We grow up as Arabs with the concept of putting others ahead. Whether or not it makes any sense. We insist on offering dinner guests food well beyond the point of reason.  In business we nod in agreement to terms we don’t intend to honor.  We go out of our way offering up support, advice, facilitating connections that we may not even have accessible to us.  It is so overdone and exaggerated by most that our intent for generosity and altruism begins to lose meaning.  And more so, takes a habitual form that cannot be maintained without it becoming disingenuous, and turns our lives into one big lie!

How often have you come across friends who complain about doing so much for others? They complain that they no longer have time for themselves or their families. Why? because they must “return” a dinner invitation, or they promised a neighbor to watch their children. They complain indirectly about the activities they volunteered to do. The favors they opted for.  And at times make unkind references to those they opted to serve. Yet if you question their logic for doing it, their answer is “It’s only proper!  It’s our culture! How can I not?”.

I was seated next to a colleague one afternoon when a mutual friend walked past.  We both greeted him; my colleague went out of his way to address him with warm terms of endearment and salutations.  As he moved away, my colleague exclaimed “oh my! he can be so annoying!”.   The look on my face showed my utter surprise to the insincerity of his actions; his response “Aren’t you Syrian?” So matter of fact, like I was to know this is rooted in our culture.  It is no wonder the Qur’an likened backbiting to the most vial actions. And yet everyone does it. Why? because we live in a social world where everyone overextends themselves to the point that it becomes unsustainable. That social etiquette overrides our genuine feelings and thoughts. And the only way to manage it, is by complaining about its impact on our overstretched lives or living a lie.

This behavior is so deeply engrained in our culture, that it would be difficult state to change. But there is hope. Hope that is found in the Muslim prophetic tradition, and in modern day self-help guides in bookstores worldwide.  “Say the truth or be silent”.  If you cannot be genuine and sincere, then its best not to speak, or act for that matter.


Changing times – Tala moves to the dorms

I read once that as working men and women, we risk defining ourselves by our jobs. When we lose a job, we lose sense of who we are.  I was very conscious of the fact, and held on to who I was despite positions I held over the years.  However, when it came to my “job” or role as a mother, the change took me by surprise.

Tala's move into her Freshman Dormroom

It did not occur to me that it would be so difficult when the change in role came about.  Here I was getting ready to send off my first born to University. I felt proud of her accomplishments, of what she has become as a balanced young adult, of how independent she has grown to be.  The day she moved into the dorms, it hit me, like a ton of bricks! We pulled up into the line of cars waiting to unload eager freshmen and all their belongings into their dorms; me, my brother Omar, Aboudi and Tala sat in the car waiting. I felt a lump in my throat, I couldn’t contribute to their light-hearted conversation. I was overcome with a heavy feeling, one that I couldn’t understand. It felt like years of holding back emotions. I felt overwhelmed, afraid, sad; a sense of loss that I couldn’t explain.  Here I should be happy for Tala entering a new chapter. Instead, all I could think of is, I’m alone..and I don’t know what I am to do or be next!

My life since I turned 23 has been defined by my two blessings, Tala & Aboudi.  I made career choices based on what was good for them at the time. My choice of where to live, who to befriend, our activities, travels, food, weekend pass times and so much more were selected by what the kids liked or what was good for them.  This was the case despite having to work extra hard to make these decisions and choices after Emad and I divorced, since he did what suited him, and one of us had to make certain sacrifices.

And so with Tala moving into her new life, and Aboudi getting ready to follow next year, I must move into mine. One that is defined by what I want to do. Do I know what I want to do? Do I know who I am aside from being a mom? If I chose to work in the UAE to be with the kids, does it make sense for me to remain there when they’re gone? Where would I want to live? Do I follow them everywhere they go? What if Aboudi chooses a University in a different city?

I am certain I’m not the only parent out there who is going through these feelings. The combination of being alone, without a partner, living in the UAE to bring the kids closer to their father, but having no real other reason to remain there, having lost the family hub in DC and spending my last 18 years arranging my life according to the children’s needs makes it seem a bit unique.