Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Lesson in Frail Gray

Once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.

“So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein” —HarperChildrens.

Yeah. I could have written that review once.

Hardly a person I know hasn’t at least heard of “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein, and most who’ve read it, male and female, seem to like it. (Wikipedia summary)

I used to love that book. I used to give copies away.

Then I hired a crayon whose color was Frail Gray. Frail Gray was a victim. She was always suffering a catastrophe. Every dark cloud followed her. She always needed nurturing. Nothing ever seemed to be her fault.

Frail Gray had a baby boy. She loved him dearly. She was still breastfeeding him when he was four years old. He’d get sick. She’d get sick. He’d get sick some more. We’d lose about two weeks work while they were taking turns. Yet nothing would be said, because being sick was not her fault. She was just the victim.

“Oh poor Frail,” people would say. “She’s sick again. Poor thing.” No one pointed out the cause was that she’d never weaned her half-grown child. That was inappropriate. It was personal—not our business. Besides the first to say something would then become the villain. That was Frail’s secret weapon. Cross her plans of victimhood and you’d become the villain.

The more I watched this crayon work, the more I saw her get her way. She took control and did her thing and made people feel like they were helping. My favorite was “My husband’s professor’s daughter was involved in last night’s robbery. I can’t possibly come to work today. I must sit with them at their house, and I'm bringing them a rhubarb pie.”

I had no point of reference from which to analyze this statement. My sanity fought my humanity. My thought processes were muddled, and my head was in a twist. I couldn’t tell her to be unkind. The concept of reverse manipulation was amazing.

Watching Frail Gray is when my inner dialogue on "The Giving Tree" began. Is the tree truly benevolent or some kind of cloying victim? After all, the boy never does say, “Thank you,” to the tree. Did I want my son to read a book that carried this subtext? He could end up a doormat or worse, turn a shade of Frail Gray.

The answer has to lie inside the mind of the giver. Because the act of giving up yourself cannot make you a victim. Mandela proved that giving can be a noble thing. Still not all who seem to suffer have the heart of a Mandela. A friend said, "Every act of giving really goes both ways." Maybe the reverse is true as well. “Any act that goes but one way probably is taking.”

Frail Gray was not a victim, but a taker.

What Frail Gray took was my belief in ‘The Giving Tree.”

You could say I was the victim of a victim.
—me strauss Letting me be


mojo shivers said...

Wow, never read the book since my tastes skipped right to young adult/coming-of-age stuff, but now I definitely don't want to be lumped into the Frail Gray class.

ME Strauss said...

Hey Mojo,
You made me laugh out loud. I hadn't even pinged the story yet and there you were. It's not exactly a coming of age book--it's only 32 pages I think.

But there's not a worry that you're Frail Gray.


Mark Daniels said...

Great job...isn't it wonderful how great minds run on the same tracks?

Ned said...

Ah, the feeble people.. those weak and undeserving victims of just about everything. They never live up to obligations, everything is someone else's fault. It takes a while to overcome your compassion and see them for what they really are and it does shave a bit off your formerly intact conscience but you gotta do it, gotta shake em loose.

The four year old thing though? I would definitely have said something, that is just too freaky and someone should have informed child services. Even Dr. Spock would have been aghast.

ME Strauss said...

Hello Mark,
Yes and thank you. After all withou our discussion at you site I would not have thought about talking about this idea here.


ME Strauss said...

I knew I could count on you to see what I was also seeing. The problem was that my VP was also a female and the "nurturing" type so I didn't have much room to move. I actually thought it was bordering on child abuse.


Cheryl said...

Frail grey can't exist without a worrying white and a bullying black. The helper and the harmer who both say 'yes you are a victim'.
Its so true that all three can be either fooled or fooler.
Lovely analogy - I will have to go and see if they sell the Tree book in the UK, now.

garnet david said...

I'm good friends with someone who believed in long term nursing, and her son weaned himself, though late, age 6. She's a single mother with a single child. He's 9 now and is more secure and comfortable and precocious than most. (Though he still manipulates her too much, but we're working on that too.)

The victim users often have complex patterns underlieing their behavior. I think most can be cured with lots of attention and tough love. But it's more time than most have, so they continue their sad tornado of suffering, sucking in anyone who gets too close.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Cheryl,
I think this Frail Gray made up her victimness for her own benefit. But you're right about how others contribute to such things. I'm sure you'll find the book in the UK. It's very famous.

ME Strauss said...

Hey Glittermuse,
I know that some can wean their children later with good results, but not all use that as an excuse to get their own way on things.

What a great description of how to deal with a Frail Gray. I think I know who to go to when I face a problem like this again.


Janus said...

Until recently I worked with a person that was the victim type, he didn't get fired but he changed after he found out that everyone else around him had plenty to complain about but still were able to function.
First time I ever saw someone snap out of it, most people I know that are victims enjoy being martyrs- but when it starts affecting others, thats when it becomes my problem.
Very good reading Liz, and sorry you have to deal with that one.

ME Strauss said...

Thank you. You can be sure I look out for crayons of that color now.

It must have been amazing to see someone change that way. It give hope to hear for you to tell about it..