My old boss was angry when she discovered that I had been secretly cherishing work-related unhappiness. Her anger might have been justified by the fact that I posted (what I thought was a veiled) passive-aggressive status on Facebook, which was almost immediately read and passed along to her by her assistant. “Why didn’t you just tell me what was wrong?” she asked, not unreasonably. Maybe because I thought she might get mad, or not like me, or fire me, or think I was unprofessional (because posting barely-disguised negative stuff about your job is thoroughly professional). Maybe because I want everybody to like me, and because I want to be protected, and rescued and held harmless when I make a mistake. Possibly it’s because I feel that I take the everyday jostling of life so very hard that I deserve a free pass from having to engage in confrontations that terrify me. People should just understand that I’m “delicate,” and not expect me to be able to participate in the rough and tumble of asserting myself and asking for what I need and want.
By nature, I am pacific, introverted and sensitive. In times of repose, the inside of my brain is the color of a Robin’s Egg crayon, and there are no hard edges or crunchy bits. I dislike multiple noise sources, aggression, drama, confrontation, devil’s advocacy, teasing and intellectual game playing. I am not attracted to the “hard-hitting” or the “gloves off.” I’m not saying those things are objectively bad, only that I personally find them to be agents of increased blood pressure, sleeplessness and sweating. I do not have much of a “fuck you” impulse even in traffic or in the midst of tense political debate. I have never really understood the satisfaction of getting even, of “setting someone straight,” or delivering to anyone their “just desserts.” It really never makes me feel better when someone is punished; I am horrified both by stories of tire-slashing exes and by the fact that capital punishment exists in the country I live in. I prefer the New Testament God to the Old, and Buddha to both.
I also know that I live in a world full of folks who are temperamentally different from me. Some are angry or bitter about life circumstances. If I had grown up in a family in which I had to struggle to be heard, I would undoubtedly be feistier. If I had been abused, repeatedly wronged or otherwise stomped on by the big boot of life, I am sure that I would have better armor and a sharper tongue. I understand that there are people for whom a level of self-protective vigilance is adaptive. There are also those who view drama and contrarianism as one might view table salt; it is the stuff that makes life taste good. Not content merely to tend to their own furious knitting, their charter requires them to criticize and mock anyone who avoids a good fight or appears “soft.” I have a harder time understanding that, and I am frankly terrified by it. Because my (preferred) inner landscape is calm and lavender-scented, I view all roiling, red anger, justified or otherwise, as a threat to be avoided at all costs.
Sometimes, though, no matter how much I’d rather hide, it’s necessary to speak up. I am always able to advocate on behalf of the people I love, and I passionately defended my clients when I practiced law. I can tell a teacher that my son is a human being and deserves to be treated like one, and I can say the same thing to a nursing home administrator who is upsetting my mother. There is no game playing in these skirmishes, and any personal antagonism is blessedly inappropriate. I fight for what I think is decent and just…for somebody else.
Today I had to agitate on my own behalf. First I wallowed; I wanted rescue – for my throbbing, raw center to be so obvious that my antagonists would collectively blanch and cry, “How could we have failed to understand about poor Annie?!” I thought longingly of running the passive-aggressive flag up the pole, but reminded myself of the inherent injustice, bitchiness and cowardice inherent in that choice. I had to step outside my pacific paradise, take a risk, and engage with the rough, real world that does not recognize me as the precious jewel in its navel. I bucked up, I spoke out, I was treated fairly, and maybe I grew up a little. It may be, that if one wants to live a life worth living, it’s necessary to enter the fray sometimes. In the meantime, if you need me I’ll be floating calmly on the still blue waters and humming soothingly to myself…….