The lesson of the broken vase

Jun 7, 2017 | 9 comments

I think I am up to writing another note – it’s about time, I tell myself.

I see in my January note that I was coming out of my funk but it took two months for the next note and now another three months have gone by. The thought and intent would pop up from time to time but would float away or be overcome by some new medical issue. Things must be better because here I am at my computer at 9 p.m. instead of being out to dinner or reading.

I saw my eye doctor (I’m not certain how to spell ophthalmologist so “eye doctor” is easier) and as before he assured me, “The eye is looking good and the retina is nicely attached”, but we need to wait three more months and be sure. So my failing memory has memorized my next appointment, August 18, when I hope to hear that we can proceed with the final procedure that will allow my eye to once again do its job.

One of the difficult transitions of living in the Spanish-speaking culture is getting used to the seeming lack of responsibility, i.e., it was 11:45 when my dentist showed up for my 11 ‘clock appointment, and then took a five minute phone call before beginning my teeth cleaning. No apology for being late, just the usual hug and a hearty “Hi, David, how are you?”

Then, in Spanish class, as I was trying to understand the unintentional pronoun I saw a connection between language and behavior. For example, in English we would say, “I dropped the vase,” hence, I am responsible for my action. The Spanish phrase, however, is “The vase fell out of my hand,” hence I’m not responsible, it just happened. Aha! The language is the driver for the behavior. That, of course, is a stretch but I have been wanting to understand the Spanish attitude of deferring blame, and this provided the insight. So I remind myself, “It’s Ecuador so don’t get upset.” This example launched a conversation with my teacher, Maria Elena.

My reaction to the “I dropped the vase” is that the holder of the vase will take responsibility for his actions by apologizing and offering recompense. The focus is on him and his actions, i.e., he is the one at fault, afterall.

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In “the vase fell” scenario the vase is lying on the floor in pieces. The owner cleans it up and the evening continues. Simple and straightforward. No recriminations, no discussion of whose fault it was, just a “Oh, there is broken glass on the floor, we need to clean it up.” The emphasis is on what happened, not who was responsible for it, i.e., no bad guy. There is no expectation on the part of the owner that he will be paid for the damage or an obligation on the part of the dropper to pay for or replace the vase.

When someone is late and that inconveniences you, getting angry and blaming them doesn’t change the situation, so why waste all that energy on recriminations?

Become a little bit Ecuadorian and more carefree.
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