I’d guess I was thirteen years old the first time I heard myself described as laid back. I was in Sunday school class, and we were doing some sort of exercise that involved identifying what type of car our classmates would be if they were, you know, cars. (I don’t recall how this exercise was intended to reinforce Christian principles.) My classmates identified me as the cream BMW with tan leather interior because it seemed like a smooth car for my laid back personality. Huh?
I remember being really surprised at how others perceived me – laid back – compared to how I perceived myself. I identified myself as a truck – working hard to push through to my destination – though I acknowledged I had a tendency to go with the flow. The main point is, I don’t get riled up too easily (unless college football is involved, but that is an entirely different essay altogether).
I felt a lot of resistance within myself when I first considered blogging. I really wanted to write, but I feared creating something self-indulgent. The last thing I wanted to do was end up with an online diary where an ordinary girl pretended to be an extraordinary superstar. But it’s been a while since I just wrote – no recipe involved – so today I indulge in a story all about me.
It was a week ago Monday that I had my first…experience, and this time a different BMW was involved. As I sat in my car at a red light (the intersection of Colony and Sharon for any Charlotte readers), I began to notice a great deal of honking. I looked in my rearview mirror, and I saw hands gesturing wildly out the driver-side window of the car (the aforementioned BMW) behind me. Then I heard shouts of, “move up – move up!” coming from driver of the car. Holy moly, this dude was honking, gesturing and shouting at me!
The intersection had two lanes of traffic set to move forward, and I was the first car in the right lane. The dude behind me was carrying on like he wanted to turn right, but he could not get around my car unless I pulled forward. I had stopped at the white line in front of the pedestrian crosswalk, and I wasn’t all that motivated to pull forward into the crosswalk. The direction in which the dude desperately wanted to travel was going away from the hospitals, so I was fairly certain no one was dying or being born. In addition, a steady stream of traffic was passing through the intersection, so the dude couldn’t have turned right without causing an accident anyway.
Regardless, the incessant honking, gesturing and shouting continued. When the traffic finally let up, I pulled forward (which ended up being quite a bit in front of the crosswalk) until the dude could turn right and quit making an ass of himself.
So to that dude I now say: There was no right-turn only lane that I blocked to impede your progress. As a licensed driver and tax-payer, I am fairly certain I enjoy the same privilege to use the roads as you. After all that carrying on, you saved yourself less than 30 seconds until the light turned green. And dude, you have a very identifiable license plate. If it didn’t feel so downright vengeful, I’d tell everyone what to look for right here. I truly hope you someday learn how to chill out and relax; you might find you like it.
A mind too active is no mind at all.
As I have grown older, I am grateful for having grown. Over the past six or seven years, I very slowly realized I had a tendency to allow myself to be pushed around simply because I failed to be assertive. I had to learn that being nice and saying “no” are not mutually exclusive. I had to learn to believe that I am still a decent human being even when people get angry with me for no reason other than they need to be angry at someone. I had to get over the discomfort of what it feels like not to be liked.
When I really did the work to examine these things, I realized what people may have perceived as laid back and easy going might have been a symptom of a lack of assertiveness. And while I can usually shrug off the anger others direct towards me, I simply can not accept it when people act downright rude.
It was just last Saturday that I had my second experience. As I stood in line at a grocery store, I noticed a lady in the line to my right trying to get the attention of the lady who stood in line in front of me. I didn’t really pay much attention to this until the lady from the right line was suddenly standing in front of me. Hmmm…
I could tell the ladies were friends, so I thought perhaps they intended to purchase their items together. One transaction is one transaction, so I didn’t say anything at that point. But when the cashier asked if they were together and they said no, I spoke up. “That is really rude,” I said in a firm, yet calm, tone. And as I anticipated it would, that statement triggered quite the shit-storm.
“Well we are together. I only have three little things. Oh, you know what? Fine, I’ll get in the other line.” These statements rained out of the lady-from-the right’s mouth like machine-gun fire. When she was finished hollering and getting ready to huff away, I told her that I didn’t mind if she stayed, but I would have appreciated it she would have asked not only me, but the two people behind me, if she could purchase her items first. But she left the line anyway, going on and on about how she was with the lady-in-front-of-me. She didn’t answer when I asked why she was in the other line if she was with the lady-in-front-of-me.
I thought that was the end of it. Oh, silly me. The lady-in-front-of-me then decides to tell me, “You’re going to have a heart attack!” I was stunned stupid, like an animal blinded by a light in the dark. I’m going to have a heart attack…what?
As the lady-in-front-of-me is going on and on to the cashier and then to me and then back to the cashier about how I am going to have a heart attack for getting upset over her friend who wanted to pay for “three little things” in front of me, I hear the lady-from-the-right telling everyone in the next line she joined about how I made her go over there to pay and how I’m going to have a heart attack. In all this carrying on, I’m not saying a word, yet I’m supposedly the one who is going to have a heart attack. Okie dokie.
I eventually paid for my item, apologized to the cashier for causing a scene (he was just a high school kid and looked more frightened than bemused), and left the twilight zone I unwittingly found myself in.
So to the lady-from-the right I now say: I had one item to purchase, so the logic that you should go in front of me (and the two people behind me) because you had only three items to purchase is lost on me. And I assure you, I have no power. I did not make you do anything like leave the line; you did that yourself.
To the lady-in-front-of-me I now say: A heart attack? Really? Probably not. Yes, I bake a lot. But I give the majority of what I bake away, and I recently made a commitment to eat a more plant-based diet (vegan baking coming to the blog soon). I’m also out jogging (okay fine, I’m out jogging/walking) or practicing yoga five to six days a week. A heart attack is possible given my family history, but unless there is some sort of genetic flaw with my heart, I’m probably not going to have a heart attack.
To both ladies: I find it really interesting that you knew exactly what I was talking about when I uttered a pretty vague statement. The “that” in “That is really rude” could have referred to a lot of things, yet you both knew I was talking about cutting in line. If you weren’t doing something you shouldn’t have been doing, then I doubt you would have felt the need to get defensive.
I would not waste my life in friction when it could be turned into momentum.
- Frances Willard
So Universe, did you present me with the Saturday situation to see if I would practice being assertive after I let myself be bullied into pulling into an intersection on Monday? As uncomfortable as the Saturday experience made me feel, I know I would have been really disappointed with myself if I had remained silent. And I have to admit, I chuckled throughout the day when I imagined those ladies telling all of their friends about the girl who is going to have a heart attack.
Shortly after I resolved to begin a yoga practice, I attended a class where the teacher started our practice with a parable. I have little faith I will be able to retell the parable as eloquently as she, but it went something like this.
There once was a snake that lived in a village. The snake behaved in truly terrible ways and terrified the villagers all the live-long day. One day, a monk stopped in the village to rest from his travels. Seeing what was going on between the snake and the villagers, the monk decided to have a chat with the snake. The monk told the snake it was not necessary to terrify people, and he suggested the snake practice a life of non-violence. The monk went on his way and left the snake to consider what he had said.
Many months later, the monk passed through the village again. He was surprised to find the snake had become very thin and was visibly beat up. When the monk asked the snake what had happened, the snake told the monk that he started to be nice, but now the villagers were no longer afraid. The village children threw rocks at the snake, and the snake was too afraid of getting hurt to leave his hole in order to hunt. The monk looked at the snake and shook his head. “I told you to practice kindness, but I never said not to hiss!”
I hissed a little last week, and some people hissed back in response. So how do you avoid letting all that hissing get in the way? When something crappy happens, like it did on the road and in the store, I give myself permission to think about it for a limited time, and then I don’t get to think about it anymore. Don’t get me wrong, the thoughts still creep in from time to time, but I simply acknowledge them and then let them go. On the road, I thought about the Dude until I arrived at my destination, and then he was gone until I sat down to write this post. In the store, I thought about the Ladies until I walked through my front door, and then they were gone.
A former colleague once told me that she dealt with things she did not agree with by simply refusing to give them meaning. When crap started spewing from someone’s mouth, she visualized she wore wrist guards like Wonder Woman, and she simply knocked those words away with a flick of her wrist. I always kind of liked that. It’s amazing how something can lose its power over you if you simply refuse to assign it meaning. Suddenly, you start to feel very free.
Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.
- Robert J. Sawyer, in Calculating God
This is what I propose. Since we are all in this together, each one of us brought into this world as a result of two other people’s decisions, let’s try to get along. I’m not saying you have to like everyone you meet, but I am saying you should try to be courteous. Personally, I have always found it takes a lot more energy to maintain my anger than it does to act only minimally decent.
I am by no means perfect. In addition to not letting the junk other people carry around ruin my day, I fully acknowledge it is a good idea for me to start paying attention to the junk I try to put on others. In the figurative sense, I am a recovering cat-kicker. (Note, I have never harmed a real cat). “Kicking the cat” occurs when you take something out on someone who had nothing to do with it. For example, if I have a bad day at work and then I yell at the first person I see when I get home, I’ve just “kicked the cat.”
That’s all the Love I have for you today. Tomorrow, it’s back to the Flour.
Compassion is the chief law of human existence.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky