Re: Consent

I’ve had close-up visits from my grandchildren recently. Three dimensional interaction is so healthy and healing for all ages, especially after Covid19 quarantines. I loved being climbed upon and snuggled with, as I read stories or played with models of dinosaurs. It’s a treat for a grandparent to see how the next generational family dispenses their rules of engagement. I am always curious. I practise reserving judgement. I know when to keep my thoughts to myself.

Both Family and Societal laws are developed on a consensual basis. Before my first marriage I asked for my father-in-law’s consent to wed his daughter. I once nervously stood before city council to get a building permit. As a group we determine the answers to yes/no questions. It’s the maybes that give us the most trouble. Sometimes the shades of grey can only be worked out in court. Even then the verdict will be definitive and a side will be chosen. With a precedent set, we then try to get on with our lives.

Similarly it is with families; the heart of any society. When I was a child I didn’t have to look hard for direction on how to behave. My parents modelled respectful manners and I generally didn’t need admonishment. My sister was the rebel in the family, so I watched her for clues on what not to do. My father was non committal. I learned to avoid asking for consent because I generally didn’t get it from a mother who would rather be someone else.

I heard my grandson shout, “You made me do it!” He was being truthful. He felt coerced. Sometimes someone can manipulate you to do something. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our personal autonomy does not remain inviolate. Becoming consenting adults takes a lot of negotiation, within ourselves and with others. Permission, when granted, can also be taken away. Some previously held rules of space and time may need to change as we travel through the gnarliest of intersections. Concessions may be required.

I think of a traffic light. People struggle with complexity. Life can be simpler for people when they know clearly when to stop or go. Societies navigate more easily if a red or green light is showing. But I’ve learned we also need the amber signal of Maybe. In that light, we must be cautious to proceed. Individually, we still seek safety, social acceptance, privacy, personal comfort, etc. That amber beacon slyly suggests we have choice as individuals to negotiate consent. A risk analysis may be required before we can carry on. Still we must pause to consider the pro and con of any situation. Certainly if another is travelling with us then there are matters of mutual consensus to be considered. Others must always be respected.

Teaching moments can present themselves if we are watchful. Observing my grandchildren provides me with a back-to school experience. Their proximity gives me an opportunity to search my life for those memorable intersections. They allow me to amend my map.