Padding is an interesting thing, and for the most part I don’t like its application today.

When you are likely to keep banging into the side of a cabinet (as I am prone to do at work), one of the responses is to pad the surface, so it doesn’t hurt so much. It’s not as effective as actually not walking into things, and most folks stop when they walk into something enough times.  That isn’t me, but that’s because, even at 29, I have not mastered the concept of how wide my shoulders are.  I’m sure my shoulders are a bit tougher than average because of it.
Sometimes I feel like life is too padded.  Don’t say x, because that might bother people for whom x is an issue.  Don’t talk about religion/politics because you’ll just piss someone off. It’s a bit ridiculous, because how do I understand something if I don’t talk about it?  I learn by tossing ideas around, and playing catch by myself is no fun at all (I throw the ball and it just sits over there… totally unfulfilling).

You remember A Christmas Story, right? (If you don’t, then go see it, even if it’s an old movie.) Think of poor Randy going to school every day, crying that he can’t put his arms down once his mom bundles him up, or how when the bullies come after the boys and he gets pushed down in the snow he “lay there, like a slug.  It was his only defense.”

That’s exactly the problem. When there’s too much padding around life then there’s no room to move, and there’s nowhere to go. That’s the cultural stuff of ignoring horrible things that happen, or denying their existence, just so we can all be happy.  I want happiness in my life, but I want a real life. I don’t want to be ignorant of what’s going on around me, or be unable to discuss a problem with people.

I also don’t want to live in fear of offending people, so I don’t.  There’s pretty much no way to get around that one, so I don’t worry about it.

The padding part is what worries me. I am fairly certain that I will seek to strip down padding wherever I can.  I find it ineffective and usually a mask for a greater problem.  Fine. I think that a lot of people are growing up in a world of nothing but padding. Heck, I spent a lot of my developmental time in a highly padded world and fought with the conflict between the pain and joy outside, and the stifling but safe padding inside.

If you bundle a girl up so that no harm ever comes to her, so that she never experiences anything bad, then the first time she does there are a few possibilities. She may lose her sensitivity if it hurts too much. She may shut down emotionally. She might be fine. She might get angry and feel betrayed for not being shown the way things really are.  She may just ignore it, unable to deal with the possibility of being hurt. She may then drive herself to be hurt by everything possible. She might be so hurt as to balk at the idea of trying anything else. I’m sure there are more possibilities, but I’ll just leave that here for now.

Generally speaking, padding handicaps a person emotionally, and the aftermath is anyone’s guess.

I understand the need to make the world safe for people, all people.  What I don’t understand is how padding the world a person grows up in “helps” them interact with the world. There’s little room to understand “other” in a padded world.  We need to grow and understand what the world is like, not isolate ourselves from the world.
I think about this in two contexts in one story: Superman.  Bear with me.

Here we have someone with amazing gifts, who is padded and nurtured in all kinds of ways growing up.  He figures out that he’s different, but he’s nurtured and padded in ways that allow him to function in society.  Yay, right?

I’m not so sure if I think this is the best route when looking at the aftermath.  I’m not going to get deep into the story, but let’s just say that if you’re leading a life where you have two personalities in order to function, and you can’t cope with the woman you love because you feel like she doesn’t love a whole important side of who you are, then I don’t believe the padding did much good developmentally.

And yes, I understand that’s why Superman is so attractive as a story.

That should not be our approach to raising young people to be a part of the world, but I feel like that’s what is happening when we shut people up about anything that causes real pain in their lives and when we prevent all possibility for failure. I have no more desire than the next person to see someone depressed and hurting, but I don’t think that person is going to find a happier healthier place by ignoring it altogether.

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