I was about eleven years old when I heard a friend of my father use two different words in conversation. The young me heard those words, and as was my usual, was curious about the new words, their meaning, and their context in usage. The two words were ‘patronising’ and ‘condescending’. For some reason I don’t quite remember, I kept spelling patronising as ‘patron-icing’. (not blaming it on my love for cakes, though).
It was only after my father used the famous ‘condescending con descending’ joke to explain the meaning and spelling, and then telling me about patronising in clear terms, that I understood what those words meant. The full impact of those never hit me until I was a decade older than I was then. But even back then, the definition of the words had come with a life lesson. Never be these, to anyone in your life, no matter what your stature is, and no matter what their position is.
Simple enough. In theory.
Those who have pets will best understand the emotions that follow. You love the pet, sometimes to the point of adoration. You admire it and are dependent on it to a certain extent. The love for your pet is genuine, even. The pet is a huge part of your life, and you are protective of it. But somewhere, deep down, there is a superiority that comes because you are a ‘hooman’ and the pet is an ‘animal’. This does not diminish the love or the adoration, but there is always an underlying sense that says, ‘I am the whole world for this animal. I am responsible for the pet’s happiness.’
If the same attitude extends to a fellow human?
The main assumption that any one person is capable of single-handedly being the reason of some other person’s happiness is the peak of narcissism. The over inflated sense of self-importance that leads to this callous assumption will ultimately lead to an irreconcilable fallout between two people. There is a huge load of difference between making someone happy, being the reason they are happy, and being the reason for their happiness.
The crucial differences underlying these three words would best define what human narcissism is capable of. Making someone happy is the easiest, and requires the simplest of caring gestures. Being the reason someone is happy is an idealistic feeling, a rarity that often goes underappreciated in most cases, or overly noticed by the giver than the receiver. But the uncalled for assumption that any single person has the ability to be the whole reason for someone else’s happiness, as a state of being, is not only way off the mark, but also a disgrace to the symbiosis in all relationships.
Any human relationship is symbiotic in nature, except maybe the one between parents and children. The familial bonds that are formed by birth are probably decided by destiny, but usually sustained by individual choice. The bonds of friendship, the ones that are chosen by self are the ones that come without preconceived notions. The strongest of friendships built on mutual likes could disintegrate with impending certainty if one of the two people involved become complacent.
When I was taught the meaning of the word patronising, I was also taught that it was an undesirable quality and an attitude I should never take up towards anyone. The converse applies, too. While it is important for children to be taught not to be patronising, it is also essential that they are effectively taught to identify it when it is being done to them. Any relationship is valuable only until it keeps giving reasons to be so. Past glory shall only sustain as long as the battery life of a smart phone.
Showing patronising superiority, and assuming unnecessary self-importance should not become a norm because a deviation or two is indulged out of love (and sometimes past glory). The evident narcissism in the delusion that any single person is capable of influencing the life of a loved one to a large extent – either the zenith or the nadir – is appalling, and quite unappealing.
Human relationships survive on gossamer threads of belief, that are strong as steel when faced with an external breaking force, but are incredibly fragile to the internal forces that break it apart. The condescension need not always be a conscious reaction, but rather an acquired quality of superiority that develops with time, and the counterpart’s acceptance of increasing levels of carefully concealed disdain in the name of affection.
Any relationship is fruitful only as long as the connection is mutual, and the respect is natural. Being at the receiving end of unintentional patronising cuts ties faster than outright dislike. Happiness is an individual choice that must be respected, and making people happy is an option that must be utilised – without the condescending attitude that the person is totally dependent on something as transitory and fragile as a human relationship!
Let patron-icing not be a norm! 😀