Learning to be a Badass!
This happened: I’m 12 having just got home from school, emptying my book bag and having a conversation with my mom that went something like this:
Me: “Where can I find a pen in this place?, Marrianne grabbed mine right of my hand today…grrrrr…”
Mom: “How’d that happen and why didn’t you get it back?”
Me: “you know Marianne, that mean girl I told you about, she needed a pen so she just took mine and made it quite clear I wasn’t getting it back. Had I tried to take it back, she’d have beat my head in. Besides, it’s just a pen.”
Mom (stopped flipping her fish sticks, or pork chops depending on what day of the week it was, and looked at me sternly): “Make sure you get it back tomorrow, even if you have to fight her for it.”
I found it unbelievable that my own mom thought I should go after the school bully over a measly pen. And my dad was no help, as by the end of that night, he was showing me how to block a punch to the face. I had gone to bed not sure if I was more shocked I had decided to confront THE Marianne, or by my parents’ mafia-esque training.
Petrified the next morning, I chose my least favourite clothes in case they’d be splattered in my blood. The optimum moment came later in the day when the lioness was at the water fountain away from the rest of her pride. With quivering legs, I tiptoed over and meekly told her I needed my pen back.
Despite my shaky voice, I somehow found the nerve (or survival instinct) to hold her gaze as she glared down at my audacity. She raised her hand, and just when I thought she was about to yank the hair off my head, she motioned me over to her desk. Like a timid sandpiper, I flitted over and gently retrieved my pen.
That was it…no Disney movie showdown.
“Marianne-type” run ins continue into our adult personal and work lives and while they may not be as bully-like (although sadly that exists too) they occur in the form of “#microaggressions”: or incidents that leave us with a knot in our stomach and we tend to hide behind phrases such as “I didn’t want to cause a scene”, “he’s the boss, nothing I could do”, “I don’t like to get politically involved”, “I don’t like to make waves” and “maybe she didn’t mean that”.
Perceptive coaches, parents, leaders and friends probe behind these statements and call us out when we say we’re keeping peace but what we’re really doing is avoiding confrontation and not speaking up for ourselves.
Defending or speaking up on what matters to us takes guts. Psychological and sociological reasons for this are numerous and have been hard wired into our minds even before we’re born and then conditioned into us throughout our lifetime.
Classic fears of #rejection and #publichumiliation are obvious ones but we also follow the #wolfpackmentality and have learnt not to challenge the informal or formal alpha dog, because it threatens the survival of the pack. We also live by #socialnorms that perpetuate behavioral conformity: think religions, cultures and political governance. Our work life can be especially challenging especially within an #industrialeconomy where mass production and maximum efficiencies encourage teamwork’s needs over individual and personal needs.
Throw on top of all that, the #pain/pleasure principle that says we’re more motivated to avoid pain than to go after a reward and we tend to choose the path of least of resistance to seek comfort.
All this to say it’s just plain easier for us to shut up.
But there’s a cost to silence.
Every time we stay silent we send a message to the brain that our personal values aren’t worthy of defending. Over time, we form a habit of adjusting ourselves internally instead of dealing with conflict externally and this weakens our sense of self and personal values.
Further, every time we’re silent it’s one less opportunity to learn how to “speak up”. A skill that takes tremendous practice and correlated to success in career advancement, leadership, healthy relationships, academic performance and societal governance.
Taking this further, when entire populations are quiet and let others speak on their behalf (taking path of least resistance and not differentiating values) then they risk blending into what’s popularly called the #silentmajority (citizens who neglect to share their political opinions).
Then, one day, we look up and someone who doesn’t represent our values is in control of our destiny.
The world is evil not because of evil people but because good people don’t stop them (Albert Einstein)
For most of my life, political demonstrations were alien to me, they happened in faraway lands over distant causes. The only collective cause I could relate to was cheering, rink side, for ringette and hockey teams. I thought world views & political opinions were for ‘other’ people who were in opposition to something, had more to lose, liked protesting things, or had more political background and rage.
I was wrong. With the recent marching closer to my address and my heart, I realize now that speaking up in the form of demonstrating isn’t always (if ever it even was) about raising hell but raising awareness of what’s important to us just like defending a position isn’t about fighting, but just being prepared to.
I’m still a weenie when dealing with conflict; I only think of great comeback lines 3 years later. Typically, I never deal with personal attacks at the time they happen and, now that I think about it, apply the same tactics I did when I was 12: “ahem, excuse me but….remember when you said…?” with one on one, non-confrontational and applying everything in my arsenal of weaponry to alleviate the knot in my stomach or for others (psychology, humour, data, logic, threats…kidding, sort of).
But here’s the thing, I have found (based on own experience and in supporting so many others) there is no “right” way to deal with conflict or speak up other than to recognize that the success lies not in directly changing others but in being clear on how we’ve been hurt or offended and why. Remembering that we don’t have to be fearless we just need to be sincere and it usually works out.
Being authentic with our selves takes practice; discussing personal values within the context of social topics with our kids over dinner or using Facebook as a platform to like and share opinions that reflect the changes we want to see in the world is a great start to validating our beliefs.
I used to think my neutrality on Facebook was a good thing but now I’m changing that and learning to “speak up” on there. I truly admire my Facebook friends who weigh in on things that threaten our social values.
There are many heroes on Facebook showing us how to step out of the silent majority and making a difference like young Becca Schofield who had every reason to take the path of least resistance and literally stay in bed #beccatoldmeto and all of the bravery I see from #globalcitizen.
If for the only reason, I am a citizen on this planet, I’m working on speaking up through writing. Taking back my pen had more significance than I thought.