Get Back

Recently, I watched someone leave, knowing I’d never see her again, and I thought, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see the back of someone in my entire life.” I wanted to dance around. I wanted to sing, “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead.” (Oh hell, I’ll admit it. I actually did.)

It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way, and it probably won’t be the last. Unfortunately, there are a lot of toxic people in this world. It’s amazing how much their poison ripples outward, splashing all over those who are unfortunate enough to reside within their realm of influence.

I’ve also seen more than one person walk away forever, knowing I’d miss them very, very much. There are a few that I still occasionally cry over. People leave for a variety of reasons. Everyone has a different path to take in this world, and sometimes two paths can run parallel for a time, and then completely diverge. It’s part of life. That doesn’t mean I have to like it.

This got me thinking about backs in general. Turning your back can actually be aggressively rude, as was demonstrated to me quite recently by someone who wanted to make a point of telling the world that she did not want to acknowledge my existence. It came off as awfully childish and dysfunctional, but to each her own.

And then there’s the fact that no one can be as intimately familiar with one’s own back as others are. I have no idea what the back of my head really looks like. I mean, I’ve seen pictures, and have looked at mirrors aimed at mirrors, but it’s not the same. I don’t know what I look like when I walk away. I don’t think I’d recognize myself in a crowd if my back were turned.

The bottom line is that backs can be warm and cuddly, vulnerable, hostile, regal, defeated, strong, heartbreaking, excruciatingly painful, or a blessed, blessed relief. Maybe I should stop griping about the aches and pains mine gives me, and appreciate its complexity a bit more.

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I Don’t Have to Respond

It’s really weird when it suddenly occurs to you that you’ve been operating under a self-imposed rule. Because, just like that, you realize that if you were the one making the rule in the first place, then, hey, you don’t have to follow it anymore, do you? Ah, the freedom!

For example, if you live alone, you don’t have to make the bed if you don’t want to! Woo hoo! If you’re the only one who ever sees the back yard, you only have to mow it when you feel like it. Sweet!

I had one of those epiphanies just the other day. Here it is: I don’t have to respond to everything. That’s huge.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in common courtesy. I make it a point to say thank you and excuse me. That’s the type of lubrication that’s required to keep a civilized society running smoothly.

But I don’t have to respond to unsolicited advice. I don’t have to correct rude behavior (unless I’m looking for closure). I don’t have to explain myself or justify anything. (But I still believe in doing the right thing.)

Just because someone asks an idiotic question, that doesn’t mean I’m obliged to answer. Not every comment requires my input. Not every insult needs to be avenged.

There’s also really no point in carrying your side of an argument if, when all is said and done, it’s not going to change a thing. Your energy is limited. Save it for the positive stuff.

Sometimes it’s okay to let the other person have the last, stupid, selfish word. Whoa. What a concept.

Boy, oh boy, am I about to save myself a heck of a lot of time!

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Do You Know What Your Problem Is?

Tell me: when a conversation starts that way, is there any chance of it going well? And can a person who is that tactless and cruel really think that he or she has all the answers? It beggars the imagination.

The way I see it, we are all like icebergs. Only the very tip of who we are is on view. There is a whole lot beneath the surface. Anyone who is looking at just the visible parts of you and then passing judgment is not dealing with a full deck.

Honestly, isn’t it hard enough to solve your own problems without attempting to tackle the problems of the rest of the world? I mean, criminy sakes, get focused. If you actually have the gall to talk like that to people, then you clearly have a lot of interior work to do.

The next time I’m asked that question, I hope I have the presence of mind to say, “Here’s my problem: I have been putting up with people who think they could live my life more effectively than I do.”

Boom.

iceberg

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Ghosting

Every once in a while, I think about the many people I’ve met on the internet who have come to be good friends. It’s a different world. As a young adult, before the internet, I could not have conceived that these types of connections were even possible. But children today are growing up taking these long distance relationships for granted. (With adequate supervision, I fervently hope.)

I’ve met several of these people face to face, and we are friends to this day. I’m going camping with one of them this summer. (Waving hello to Martin.)

But for all the good friends I’ve made, in the virtual world of Second Life, or via my blog, or on Facebook, there have been at least as many who have taken a piece of my heart and disappeared with it with no explanation whatsoever. Lorraine, Steve, John, Vicki, Brian… yeah, I’m talking to all of you.

I don’t have a problem with them not being in my life anymore. The choice is entirely theirs. Some friendships are annual, others are perennial. I get that. What I have a problem with is the lack of closure. For all I know, they’re dead. That’s a horrible feeling. It’s cruel to make someone grieve when grieving may not be the appropriate response.

There’s something about being able to hide in cyberspace that brings out the worst in people. I strongly suspect that none of them would be this rude face to face. And yeah, explaining why you’re ending a relationship is never fun. It would be tempting to skip that step entirely. It’s understandable to want to avoid the awkward stuff. But people have a right to their closure. They have a right to understand why. They have a right to learn from their experiences.

Depriving people of such rights without so much as a by your leave reveals something rather ugly about you. Just sayin’.

Ghosting

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Actually, No.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I was raised to be a good girl. My default position is to respect authority. Be cooperative. Don’t make waves. Accommodate others. And above all, always, always be polite.

Well, you know what? Fuck that. All those values are great if everyone is playing by the golden rule. But it’s been my experience that most people do not. As a result, I’ve been bullied and taken advantage of my entire life.

I’ve had it up to here. (No, not there. Much higher than that. Here.)

I’m over it. I’m done. I will not be pushed around anymore. Not by strangers, not by loved ones, and definitely not by politicians. I am establishing the sharp boundaries that I’ve always allowed to remain fuzzy at best. This far, and no further.

I’m not planning to become a bully. I’m not going to be gratuitously rude or selfish. But I won’t be passively stepped on. I am learning to stick up for myself. I’m learning that I have a right to say no. It’s frustrating that it’s taken me so long to figure this stuff out.

We need to teach our children to be respectful, yes, but also not to take any crap. Because as the world becomes more crowded, there will be plenty of crap to go around. And then some.

It is possible to be kind and strong at the same time. It’s okay, and very necessary, to stand in your power. It may take practice to reach that acceptable balance. But it can be done.

kindness

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“No, it’s because you’re a jerk.”

A few years ago, I was downtown in a large crowd of people, anticipating a huge fireworks display. The weather was mild, and everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. One guy was a little too festive. Extremely intoxicated, he started screaming and cursing at his family. And this was a big guy. Everyone was intimidated by him.

There were no cops in sight. His horrible behavior was putting a damper on everyone’s spirits. It was as if someone had poured toxic waste into an otherwise crystal clear pond. People actually started moving away from this guy, even though there was very little space left.

The matriarch of his rather large family finally said to him, “You are embarrassing us.” And the guy looked around at the staring crowd and paused. But full of liquid courage and liquid stupidity, he shouted, “What? You got a problem with me? It’s because I’m _________, isn’t it?”

I am intentionally leaving that space blank because I’ve seen this play out before, and any word would fit. Young, old, black, white, male, female, Lithuanian, Laotian, Christian, Islamic, short, fat, ugly, straight, gay, left-handed, French speaking… it could have been anything. It would have been just as stupid.

We all have qualities that set us apart from the people around us. Sometimes when people react negatively toward you, it’s not because of those characteristics. It’s because you’re acting like a fool. Unfortunately, bad behavior transcends race, creed, religion, gender and orientation.

So next time people look at you with disdain, before you go there, ask yourself if you’re in fact being a jerk. Yes, prejudice exists in the world, and it’s wrong. But often the most simple answer is the correct one. There’s every possibility that you’re just an a**, plain and simple.

[Image credit: liquidmatrix.org]
[Image credit: liquidmatrix.org]

A Real Stand-Up Guy

I know this guy with severe ADHD who is extremely socially awkward. In fact, most people consider him rather weird. He doesn’t pick up on social cues. He doesn’t get when he takes a joke too far. He doesn’t see when he’s making people uncomfortable. And he can’t tell when people are embarrassed for him.

He has this really strange view of women. I think in his mind we all wear gloves and pillbox hats and are so fragile that we must be wrapped in gauze padding in order to function. He means well, but it puts people off.

Because of this, people stand him up all the time. A bunch of people even stood him up at his own wedding. How rude is that? (Fortunately the bride showed up.)

I could go on and on about how heartless and cruel people can be, and how it’s a horrible thing when you take advantage of someone who is socially weaker than you are. But the fact is that he’s an adult and needs to take responsibility for his own life. So my advice to him (which he won’t take) is to stop considering people his friends when they treat him like crap. Even he can see when that happens. He just doesn’t think he deserves better. What a shame. What a waste.

The bottom line is that water rises to its own level. In other words, if you allow people to treat you like shit, a lot of them will do so. Set boundaries. Certain behavior should be a deal-breaker when it comes to friendships. Go for quality, not quantity. You’ll be much happier.

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“We Accept the Love We Think We Deserve”

That is one of the main messages in the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it really hits home for me.

My whole life, I’ve had a problem with boundaries, or, actually, a lack of boundaries. In essence, I’ve allowed people to step all over me because I was obsessed with being a nice person. Even if someone was unspeakably rude to me, I was never rude back, and I certainly didn’t call them on their behavior. I’ve allowed myself to be ripped off, stepped on, and emotionally abused. As a child in school, when I was bullied or beaten up, I never fought back. I’ve always found it amazingly difficult to say, “No,” “Go away,” “Leave me alone,” or “F*** off.” In short, I’ve taken massive amounts of crap in my lifetime because if people see an opportunity to take advantage, they will do so, and I practically had “WELCOME” tattooed on my forehead.

This lack of boundaries goes hand in glove with accepting the love we think we deserve, because when your borders are kind of fuzzy, you begin to think you deserve the intrusions you suffer as a result.

Ah, but the universe is a wonderful teacher, is it not? It often seems as though the very type of person who needs to be put in your path so that you might learn and grow will be dropped there like an obstructive boulder, and you will be forced to go over, under, around or through that person to get to the other side.

I have to say that being in a relationship with someone with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be brutal and devastating, but it can also be an opportunity for growth like no other. When someone in your life knows how to push your buttons and doesn’t hesitate to do so, you learn exactly what your buttons are, and that gives you the opportunity to explore the reason behind those buttons. That can be quite useful.

When you are essentially living with a big old bully, you either learn to stick up for yourself or you cave in under the pressure. I decided to stick up for myself. And now, I must say, I don’t take crap from anyone. I am a woman of steel.

At first I was a little militant about it, a little rigid. I can see how it would have been easy to become a bully myself. But with time I learned to tone it down, and now I don’t push, but neither do I allow intrusions on my boundaries. I’m not afraid to establish my very reasonable rules, and if someone doesn’t like those rules, well, there are plenty of other people out there to play the game with.

The other day one of my coworkers said that she needed me to go through all our grocery bags that we use for trash bags and throw out the ones that had holes. Five years ago I might have done it. I’d have resented it, but I’d probably have done it. On this day, though, I just looked her square in the eye and said, “Uh…no. If you have a problem with bags with holes in them, simply throw them out when you come across one.” And that was that. It was a little thing, but for me it was a triumph, and a hard-won triumph at that.

But all this boundary drawing has had a delightful effect. Many of the people I love are actually behaving much more courteously, and it actually seems like it’s a relief not only to me, but to them as well. People actually like to know where the limits are. It makes it that much easier to travel through life without bumping into stuff. And having boundaries of your own teaches you to respect those of others as well.

So the trick is to determine the kind of love you want, and better yet, the love you don’t want, and then apply the restrictions accordingly, and you’ll be amazed how well your personal frontiers will be respected.

Peace in the kingdom. Maybe it’s not that hard after all.

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Bully for You, Maybe, but not for Me

Brace yourself, dear reader, for I am in a foul mood.

I am gratified to see that there are now many campaigns out there designed to stop bullying in our schools. Three very good ones, but by no means the only ones, are www.stopbullying.gov/, www.stopbullyingnowfoundation.org/‎, and www.meanstinks.com/‎ .

I wish there had been programs like these when I was growing up. I was the smallest kid. I wore glasses. And I was often the extreme minority in schools located in very rough neighborhoods. I learned to curl up into a ball and let them beat on me until they got bored and walked away, the whole time praying that my kidneys would emerge from the fracas intact.

And except for one brief shining moment when I snapped and beat the living crap out of a girl who had been beating me up for months, the passive route has been mine, either literally or figuratively, my entire life. If stuffing one’s anger were an Olympic sport, I’d definitely have a chest full of gold medals.

Always be polite. Don’t make waves. Pick your battles. Take the high road. Do unto others.

But this morning I woke up furious and thought, dammit, WHY? Why should I just take it and take it and take it?

I am beginning to see a clear pattern, and it has me outraged. Bullying, you see, takes on many, many forms, and it’s not simply reserved for childhood. It’s not as if people suddenly start treating you decently once you graduate.

Have you ever experienced one of these types of bullying?

  • Being picked on or manipulated by a sibling,
  • humiliated or beaten up by a schoolmate,
  • beaten by another adult,
  • harassed by a coworker,
  • intimidated by someone,
  • treated like crap by a supervisor,
  • or raped (and yes, in my opinion this falls under the bullying umbrella because it’s a form of violence and aggression in the extreme)?
  • Have you been on the receiving end of road rage,
  • treated rudely by a stranger,
  • or treated rudely by a loved one on such a regular basis that you begin to think you deserve it?
  • Has anyone ever tried to make you feel crazy for feeling the way you feel,
  • or tried to make you feel stupid or silly for not sharing their opinion?
  • Has anyone ever robbed you,
  • cheated you out of money,
  • lied to you in order to get an advantage,
  • or manipulated you to make you do something you didn’t want to do?
  • Has anyone put you at risk and expected you to keep quiet about it?
  • Has anyone gossiped about you to damage your reputation,
  • gone out of their way to ruin an experience that you were enjoying,
  • or gotten drunk or drugged to have an “excuse” for their unacceptable behavior?
  • Has someone you loved or trusted told you to just sit back and take outrageous behavior so that they themselves don’t have to deal with the drama?
  • Have you ever been a victim of a troll on Facebook or your blog?
  • Has someone ever hidden behind their internet anonymity to behave obnoxiously when they wouldn’t have the courage to do so otherwise?
  • Has anyone ever cut in front of you in line?
  • Has someone scammed you out of your hard earned money? (For my personal experience with that, see “Andy Johnson, SHAME on You!!!“)

I have experienced all of these things at one time or another. And I’ve made excuses for people, looked the other way, maintained my dignity, done the right thing, taken one for the team, or thought, “Okay, maybe I deserved that,” my whole freakin’ life. At one point or another I have been a welcome mat for every douche bag within a 50 mile radius.

I have also spent an inordinate amount of time sticking up for the underdogs of this world, never truly recognizing that I was one of them and that I should put as much energy into sticking up for myself as I do for others.

Maybe all of this is coming to the surface for me now because I have been catching it from all directions recently. Maybe it’s because I feel like we, as a nation, are being bullied by our politicians. Maybe it’s just that at age 48, the scales have finally fallen from my eyes.

Whatever it is, I think people may start seeing a side of me that they have never seen before. I’m done with expecting respect and being sadly mistaken. Now it’s time to demand it, require it, and accept nothing less.

I am done with curling up in a ball. Now is the time to realize that not only do I deserve respect, but also that those who do not give me respect do not deserve to be a part of my life.

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“It’s Because I’m Black!”

One time I was at the front of the line at my grocery store, making my week’s purchases. Next in line was a lady with a small child, and she had a full cart as well. Behind her stood a lady with just two items. That lady said to me, “Excuse me, would you mind if I went ahead of you?

Normally I would say yes. No problem at all. I do that all the time. I even suggest it to people who don’t ask. But in this situation I would be speaking not only for myself, but for lady number two. For all I knew her child was sick or she was in a hurry, or a whole host of other possible scenarios. I tried to catch her eye to see if it was okay with her, but she would not look up. Awkward.

Before I could say even one word, lady number three sensed my hesitation and completely lost it. She started shouting in the middle of the store. “She’s only doing this because I’m black! There is no justice! It’s not right!” And she threw her two items on the ground and stormed out.

I was stunned. And I have to admit, overflowing with righteous indignation. Anyone who knows me at all would know that her race wasn’t even remotely a part of my hesitation. How dare she even think that? She didn’t even know me!

Since that day I’ve had several thoughts about that incident:

  • That was one of the few times in my life I’ve been on the receiving end of blatantly aggressive prejudice, and it did not feel good at all.
  • I can’t imagine what it must be like to experience that sort of foolishness on a daily basis throughout one’s life.
  • Because that woman had probably experienced that kind of prejudice herself all too frequently, perhaps I should cut her just the tiniest bit of slack.

But on my most colorblind days what I really think, to be honest, is that that lady had a rather severe personality disorder, and was rude and extremely hostile. So if I ever were to run into her under similar circumstances, I’m afraid my generous nature would probably take a holiday and I’d make her obnoxious butt wait her turn just like everyone else. Silly cow.

I’m quite sure her mother did not teach her to behave like that. And I’m even more sure that discourteous and aggressive behavior is not acceptable no matter who you are and what you’ve experienced in life.

Sorry, but sometimes having a genuine lack of bias can also be demonstrated by not bending over backwards for someone simply to avoid being viewed as a racist. True equality comes when the world expects you to suck it up and deal with the ugly bits of life just like the people who are standing with you in the very same line.

We are all in this together.

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(Photo credit: lehighvalleylive.com)