Micro-acts of equality (aka: “Respect, bitches”)

Graffiti about respect

Source: Flickr.com; some rights reserved.

It’s only been about three years since I realized how ingrained it is for me to minimize myself in deference to others. What I’ve always thought of as courtesy and reasonable humility is actually a little debasing. And I’m doing it to myself.

It’s ridiculous to be this way, because I’m perfectly capable of being assertive or even aggressive when necessary. But some old ways of thinking die hard.

For example: In my job, I interact with a lot of high-ranking officials. In the past, I would always use their job titles or Mr./Mrs. when addressing them. When I started this job in December 2013, however, I reminded myself that I’m in my 50s for God’s sake and a professional myself, so I forced myself to start calling them by their first names when they did so for me. I had to keep telling myself, “Equal footing. We’re peers. Equal footing. Equal footing, damn it.” But it was hard.

Also, when I walk into any place that I visit often (the office, a regular meeting I attend, etc.), it’s always been my habit to not intrude if colleagues or other familiar faces are already in a conversation. Why should my wish to say “Good morning” interrupt their conversation, right? That would be presumptuous of me. Or at least that’s what I’ve always thought. I’m trying to change that. I will at least catch an eye or wave or just say a breezy “Good morning!” as I walk past. I’ve learned that it gives the impression of haughtiness if I don’t.

Those are two small ways in which I’ve sabotaged myself because I’ve thought of myself as somehow “less than.”

I’ve also allowed others to leave a few footprints on my back as they walk all over me. My greatest effort in dealing with this is to respond in a measured way, not permitting the abuse but also not totally smiting the offender.

Here’s an example. My mother had the habit of treating a conversation like a trip to the bowling alley: You were one of the pins, and she was the hurled bowling ball. When she let me talk, she always, always, always interrupted me and threw me off my rhythm, sending the conversation skittering off in another direction. Talking with her was a race, with constant jostling and jockeying for position. It was difficult to get a word in sometimes, and it was *impossible* to hold onto the conversational lead for more than a few moments, even when pouring my heart out about something.

How I respond is complicated and highly dependent on the situation.

  • I’ve learned with friendly folks who drone on and on and on to say, “I need to stop you for a moment so I can help you/clarify/redirect [whatever].” Or simply hold up a hand with a smile and say, “Wait. My turn.”
  • With less friendly people, I’ve simply started talking at the first opening (let them complain about it, and I will explain with a tiny bit of frost that this is a participatory conversation, not a monologue with me as the grateful recipient).
  • People who try to talk over me are the ones who really make me bristle. One response — if I’m pissed — is for me to stop talking, listen with smile of icy tolerance that doesn’t reach my eyes, then pick right back up where they interrupted.
  • Or I will calmly just keep talking while they attempt to talk over me. (Just because they choose to interrupt doesn’t mean I have to acquiesce.)
  • If the other person is truly hostile, I have ended the conversation, inviting them to take it up again when they have better control of themselves. (Funny story: A work acquaintance tried this with me over the phone when he was trying to do a dump-and-run with one of his projects and I wasn’t allowing it. So just as I’d warned him earlier as he got pushier and pushier and started swearing at me, I hung up gently. He called back, confused, and said, “We must have been disconnected,” and I said, “Oh, no. I hung up like I said I would do because you were rude. Weren’t you paying attention?” He was so verklempt he broke off the call before he called me back again, quieter and very abashed. Felt like victory. I was careful not to rub it in.)

Now how can the same woman with the balls to pull that shit off be too timid to say “hi” some mornings at work? Do I only have self-esteem and act in self-respect when I’m being stomped on?

I need to get a soundtrack of R-E-S-P-E-C-T playing in my head. Full volumn.

Quote about self-respect

Source: Flickr.com; some rights reserved.

  2 comments for “Micro-acts of equality (aka: “Respect, bitches”)

  1. Annie
    September 8, 2016 at 7:00 PM

    I have this habit of stepping aside when I’m walking down an aisle or hallway and coming face to face with somebody else. It doesn’t matter whether the person is younger, older, dressed in a suit or sloppy sweats. I always step aside and let them pass. Automatically. Evidently I have the notion that everybody else is more important than I am and that I am invisible.

    • Effie
      September 15, 2016 at 10:58 AM

      Oh, Annie — that mindset is SO familiar to me! But it’s good that you’re aware of it; you can think of new ways to respond. (That’s my inner Pollyanna speaking. But I know it’s incredibly difficult to change this.) I have been in crowded places before, like malls, and I’m the one always turning sideways, detouring, stopping to let someone pass, etc. A few times I’ve felt ornery enough that I didn’t step out of someone’s way, and people are so startled when I don’t step aside and we brush shoulders or purses. It’s like they are thinking, “What is that? Where did she come from? I thought there was just meaningless space there.” Sometimes I think that middle-aged women (and people who are depressed and/or co-dependent) are invisible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.