From another site, an adoptee seemed to overgeneralize that adoptees become adept at smiling through pain. I addressed that one way here. And while I make an effort to not merely was autobiographical when I post, I have to say this “smiling through pain” business gets me in a very personal way, and it is more difficult for me to find the social value (not just the personal value for me) in exploring something in a public post.
Culturally, we tend to valorize the laughing one, the joyful one–the one who is funny. We also, to a lesser degree, embrace our trenchant, sarcastic critics, although it seems (in the US) that most of our great purveyors of that stuff are dead. There are plenty of people who are sarcastic, and many fewer who are sardonic, and the fact that people often don’t know the difference is a sign of what I’m talking about. But, though sardonic, at least these critics can make us laugh at cocktail parties. we also valorize the mellow ones who at least don’t get in the way of the first two.
Those who are more serious characters, however, the one’s for whom the false smile is accomplished, at the very best, awkwardly and unonvincingly, the one for whom all of the niceties of social conventions seem to have no purpose except to disingenuously ingratiate yourself to others, or–to put perhaps the most brutal and simplest word of all on it–the one who cannot bring themselves except by violence to themselves to submit to that social demand to be liars toward their fellow human beings in all of their public or social interactions, that person tends not to be popular. As the Joker relevantly asked, “Why so serious?”
It is vaguely disgusting to me that I feel I ought to point out: I laugh, I smile. If comedy is timing, the “problem” of modern life is we laugh at the wrong times–and the one who is serious is the party-pooper, the buzz-kill, the kill-joy. Empire is joyfully laughing as it crushes the faces of Africa into the dirt, and the kill-joy says, “That’s not funny.” The adoptive parents are wallowing in the largesse of their generosity, and the buzz-kill shits in their face. The white kids are having a dance party with pirated Motown music, and the party-pooper can’t keep her mouth shut about the sick irony of it.
But all of these examples are the “mature” fruits of what would have been called in the old days the melancholy temperament or personality or humour.
The temperaments are sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable–the laughing one), choleric (ambitious and leader-like–the sarcastic or sardonic one), melancholic (introverted and thoughtful–the kill-joy), and phlegmatic (relaxed and quiet–the mellow one).
Not to defend the melancholic type, though it needs it, what matters in the above visual representation (using emoticons) is that apparently the most socially recognized image of the melancholic is the sad face, but in fact, if the melancholic is fundamentally thoughtful, then a blank face might be just as appropriate. and because our faces aren’t easily read–or else only get read when we are “sad” and so get called bummers, kill-joys, buzz-kills–it seems like the “helplessly social” types mistrust the melancholic. The only type by habit helplessly reflective, we can’t be counted on not to notice something awful or stupid in our environment if you ask us about it, and there’s are party-pooping–or else we learn to say nothing or, more likely, just don’t go.
So, if nothing else of use can be extracted from this post, at least let it be neither that the experiences of all adoptees are different, which in a sense they are, nor that they are all the same, which in a sense they are. If I use the language of temperament, it might be that the poster of the article I’m responding to is a sanguine personality and that other sanguine personalities might find her “smiling through the pain” to be right on point. Or maybe she is an ambitious crusading type and her choleric biliousness may resonate with other such.
My hope for this post is to illustrate not only these large classes of experience amongst adoptees that seem particularly pertinent to me–the common ground shared by us between the point of unique specificity (of experience) and general similarity (of experience)–but especially that there is more than one such common ground. I can empathize (or at least try to) with someone whose dominant experience, when she describes it, resorts to descriptions like “smiling through the pain” but that organizing principle or detail of a life, which might have some role in my own adoption experience, was not my primary one. And what we place first (or what we discover in ourselves was always placed first there from the beginning) makes a difference, because everything else is related in terms of that dominant (at least for the duration that that dominant is dominant). This (to offer an illustration) is what makes patriarchy patriarchy: society is arranged according to the needs and values of males. This doesn’t mean women play no part in it, or can’t ever have power, but it means that whatever part they do play in it is is relation to males. Similarly, this is what makes colonization colonization: everything is arranged and framed according to the values and needs of the colonizer, which does not mean the colonized have no role in that, only that whatever role they do have is in light of that framing.
So also here. Whatever is fundamental in our personality–and that is a fundamental I’m suggesting that we share with other human beings, but only some of them–our lives, our values, whatever term is appropriate that we place here, becomes the dominant in light of which the rest stands in relation. To illustrate this plainly in the present context, if mine was an experience of invisibility, of being asked to disappear or of electing to disappear, then I would certainly never “smile through the pain” because I’d already not be there to smile at all.
Partly I feel a need to emphasize all of this because, perhaps though a misplaced empathy, I can easily imagine that the adoptees who committed suicide and are no longer here would have been the ones with a melancholic temperament. So if we are going to have any part in activism to reach those who are at increased risk for suicide (assuming my analysis has any relevance at all), then coming at it through the lens of the experience of ‘smiling through the pain” will be going wide of the mark. And I suggest this without ignoring there are many assumptions built into it.
I may have done a terrible job of creating a space in this for replies, but I find both similar differences and different similarities of the adoption experience to be something not much chewed upon in depth so far. At least for myself, and those who care about this, I’d be interested in more chewing.