If you were to ask me, I'd tell you that I tend to say things other people dare not say. I speak my mind. I don't always coat my words with a generous dollop of ass kissing.
Many people consider averted eyes, swallowed words, and sugar coating their due. Skipping this is perceived as disrespectful.
It never quite got me to bite my tongue, though, even at times I perhaps should have. I was bold, arrogant, and defensive about this, as the youth often are about their immaturity.
But as I entered my mid-thirties and beyond, I began noticing a disturbing pattern: a tendency to swallow my words and sugarcoat.
Was this maturity? Wisdom? Or was it a desire to please? Was I tired and worn down?
I sat down and looked backwards---Russo-style, through the opposite end of the telescope---and tried to figure out if I'd ever been as bold out loud as I was in my mind.
Was I? Had I been? Could I be? Should I?
I believe I was.
Perhaps I should have spoken sooner, more diplomatically, more wisely, with better technique, or less judgment, and so forth. It may not always have been done well or on time, but when it needed to be done, quite often, I did speak up.
My current loathing and avoidance of speaking up is understandable, I allowed. It has cost me, at times dearly. Speaking up is rarely well-received. People do not often like differences of opinions, being called on their prevarication, or having to confront critical thinking.
The child who called out that the Emperor was naked never won any popularity contests, not to mention, he was merely a walk-on character in that play. I ought to know; when we did it in my youth, that play, I was Fishwife. The little boy walked in front of me to deliver his line. You might think this an odd placement of characters: a small boy delivering a single crucial line in front of a fishwife, known for her loudness. And yet? Was I loud? No. I was an ironically silent fishwife.
Let's not dissect the potential layers of meaning in that casting.
I consider myself like that child--the one who called it like it was---more so than any other character in that story, at least in my wishful thinking. The truth is, though, that the casting was spot on: I'm really, generally, actually the largely silent fishwife, only occasionally shrieking.
But at least I shriek occasionally, and at least I'm getting better about the when and the how.
So, with a gut reaction of "take it on babe!" and a lifetime of feedback that screams "no, no, never confront! passive aggressive at most! really! swallow it down! get ulcers! die in a graceful swoon on a divan, suffocated under the weight of Words Never Said! but never. ever. take it on!" what do I do with the scenarios I offered up to you?
Scenario 1: People make plans in front of me that exclude me.
If I were a sort of person who actually deserved a name like Julie, I might offer a snappy yet friendly and chipper comeback such as, "And me? Shall I bring the clown or the balloons? Because even though I seem to have missed out on the invitation, I can be there with bells on!" or whatever it is that actual chipper people with charisma say that others find so endlessly amusing and appealing.
Instead, to be honest, I hold my tongue. I walk away and analyze it to death, then I revive it and analyze it some more. I dissect it until I can't stand the sight or smell of it any longer and the sound of my own thoughts makes me want to take a vacation from me.
I will likely decide I have failed.
In a egoistic flailing of massive overestimation of self power and importance, I will assume it is all my fault: I haven't been outgoing enough, friendly enough, called and chatted on the phone often enough, extended enough invitations, and so forth. I'll wallow in self-loathing and sense of failure. Finally, I'll decide I am making too much of it.
Then, I'll do a banner job of convincing myself this is a tempest in a teapot, a momentary aberration (hopefully) that doesn't cancel out the good side. I'll excuse it, convince myself that, while it's annoying, saying anything will only make it worse. Least said, soonest mended, I'll remind myself.
Then some tiny and quiet shard of sense will become larger and louder, "But they were RUDE and you didn't want to go ANYWAY so what's the BFD here? Let's go have us a Weight Watchers One Point Chocolate Mint Patty and watch some American Idol. Now THERE'S a good time."
Later, when trapped in a car with my good friend on this thing that is allegedly a highway called the Gulf Freeway but that, by all appearances, is actually really simply a large, pollution inducing parking lot, she and I will indulge our mutual bad habits of this together and will decide we are each FINE and it is the rest of the world that is SCREWED UP.
Thus reassured by our own hubris, we'll sing "Come On Eileen" and "Our House" and will trade silly stories, trying to one up each other's horror show as moms.
Scenario 2: In our clubhouse, No Boys Are Allowed
I'd assert my opinion. I would! My opinion would be: let the dad in. I might deliver it seriously, a la, "You know, it's really the good thing to do to include him. Imagine how isolated he must feel. We should try to balance, maybe include a few dads." I might deliver is humorously, "A little injection of testosterone might be just what this estrogen laden coop needs."
However. If the majority expressed a discomfort with it, I'd bow to that. I'd swallow my own discomfort with that stance, and work hard to rationalize how it is okay. I'd delve through understanding their points of view, and remind myself that they are nice, and my friends. I'd do this because I'd likely want to remain a part of the group.
Still, it's hard for me to imagine remaining close with a group for the long-run that would deliberately exclude, especially on the basis of something so tied to discrimination.
Lonely can be hard, but self-loathing by virtue of being part of a "mean" group is worse.
Luckily, I haven't been in this position. I am a member of a mom's club and we have attempted to include or entice dads (and anyone) to join. Amazingly enough, despite bold words to the contrary in their youth, most men do not actually fantasize about being the only male in a group of females. Our group talks now and again about how to make the group more palatable for all parents.
Scenario 3: Slacker Maids
This is tough. I've gotten skeevy about confronting service providers until I have an ace (or alternative) up my sleeve. This is because I've found they can be nastily defensive and tend to offer you walking papers if you don't take them as they come. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. And I don't mean that in any kind of good way. I am stunned these last few years by how pitiful customer service has become. I am shocked by how pathetically grateful I am when any customer service situation ends up pleasant, with a good resolution that is win-win.
Current customer service technique seems to be: never let the customer win.
With a new baby, sleep deprivation, and so forth, I'd probably spin so well I'd nearly convince myself there wasn't a problem that needed solving.
Then I'd feel horribly guilty for not making sure my mother got her money's worth.
I'd berate myself with a long string of "should dos" such as confront the service, alert my mother, and so forth. I'd anticipate potential reactions until I made it so huge that I shut down from being overwhelmed and anxious about what would happen, such as losing the service (and I bet I'd think some service was better than none).
I'd like to think that I would trust the people around me to handle the truth, told nonchalantly, "Hey, Mom, you know? That service doesn't seem to be doing all they should. Should we call them? You? me? Together? What do you think?"
But I'm afraid I'd instead worry overmuch about burdening my generous mother and about dealing with an annoying service that might taunt me into Rash Action Born of Flashpan Anger.
And those of you who have tempers? You know what Flashpan Anger is and what can come of it.
I've spent a lot of years tempering the temper.
Scenario 4: Bad service provider
This scene torques my sense of justice (or injustice). I'd be constitutionally incapable of letting it slide. I'd write---on paper, in drafts, or in my head---24 responses and scenes in which Comeuppance Happened. Then I'd realize we are in the real world where people still think denying wrongdoing mitigates culpability. And I'd delete them all, then ponder the diplomatic way to go forward.
May I digress for a moment?
I pseudo-ghostwrote (did get writer credit...inside, small print, copyright page) a book once predicated entirely on the proof positive postulation that 'fessing up and saying sorry decreases lawsuits. Seriously! Here's what happened. A fellow editor and I were chatting one day. "Isn't this amazing, Julie," he said to me, "Look at this: saying I'm sorry decreases lawsuits by X (I forget) percentage. Isn't that incredible? Imagine what we could do for the medical profession if someone wrote a book explaining this to them." Hmm. So we did. Of course we needed Big Names on the cover (other than our own, which were, you know, a big who cares) and some helpful forewords from attorneys, who were really nice to work with. We didn't simply explain the "I'm Sorry" phenomenon, we created an entire procedure that taught medical professionals and providers how to do it, legally.
The point of this story is to emphasize the amazing power and positive results of a well-deployed, "I'm sorry."
It usually is a "get out of jail free" card when sincerely offered after a faux pas; we've all felt regretful after a thoughtless, clueless, or mannerless act.
It can save. It can make friends. It can strengthen all sorts of relationships, from business to personal.
Defensive posturing, denial of responsibility, and refocusing blame on the complainant usually does not. That probably makes enemies, whether you know it or not at the time.
I believe in this strongly. If you can't respect our equal roles in this business relationship, you aren't someone I can work with long-term. Trust will be a major issue.
That said, I also believe strongly in allowing sympathy, understanding, and most importantly, the ability to save face. I let go of this only when I deem a situation a hopeless cause, and/or lose the battle with my Flashpan Anger.
I will extend my hand, with this understanding and opportunity to repair and save face.
People who take it up? Our partnership remains.
People who don't? Not so much.
So in the end...
Is it funny that I allow so much gray and complexity into personal relationships and am so straightforward and confident about business?
What did you say about how you use your words? (Remember, this week, as an incentive...I'll draw a name from the participants and the winner of the drawing can choose between an 8x10 art print or editing help on a post.)
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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