There’s a delicate balancing act between taking care of ourselves and being a self-centered twerp who needs a good dope-slapping, and then there’s a greater danger of being so other-centered that people take advantage of us and treat us like the doormat at a farm house. Most people err to one side or the other depending on their personal idiom. I tend to err toward being other-centered.
In a perfect world, that wouldn’t be a problem. If everyone put the needs of others ahead of themselves, we’d take care of each other, giving and taking as needed. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, and there are plenty of twerps who are so self-focused that they end up leaving an emotional trail of carnage in their wake. Some are oblivious to the damage they do, but others revel in putting people down. I actually feel sorry for those who have so little going for themselves that they can only feel good when hurting someone else.
So, how do you show real, actual love for others without becoming a target for their abuse?
“Knock it off.”
Set boundaries. We do not have to tolerate bad treatment. This doesn’t mean we get to be twerps ourselves, but we do need to speak up for ourselves. I find it remarkably difficult to tell someone they’re being offensive, rude, crude, or socially unacceptable. Yes, people get to have their own opinions and get to make their own choices, but that doesn’t mean we have to listen to them or put up with their shenanigans.
When a coworker was giving me what-for over an issue and wouldn’t let me get a word in crosswise, I waited for her to take a breath and informed her that I’d heard her out and it was my turn to speak without interruption now. Did it work? For a little while. I actually got to say my piece without being interrupted, which was nice.
When a parent cussed me out for giving her kid a less than stellar grade for an improperly done assignment, I informed the parent that I don’t talk to her like that, and since we’re both adults, I would not tolerate being talked to like that. The parent was more civil for the rest of the conversation … then went to the principal to protest my grading policies.
Does it always work? No, it sure doesn’t, but when the person won’t be reasonable, there’s often the next option.
Sometimes the best thing to do is extricate ourselves from the situation. When I was in an abusive relationship, I tried everything conceivable from individual counseling to couple counseling to going along with demands to apologizing to putting my foot down and setting a boundary. Nothing worked. In fact, the abuse got worse over time. In one discussion, I said I was having a real tough time with his temper. He told me to deal with it or leave. I chose Option B.
There comes a point when there’s no “getting along” with someone who doesn’t want to get along. At that point, go.
It’s okay to say “No.” Really. If we have too much on our plates already, rather than keep piling up stuff, say, “no.” (I haven’t learned this lesson fully, either, but I’m working on it). When I was teaching, I often volunteered to take the lead on special projects or required initiatives. Did I have time for that? Nope. All I really ended up doing was pushing myself to catastrophic burnout faster.
Right now, things are piling up for me again, and I may have to duck out of an anthology because I can’t find time to write the tale, what with novel edits (mine and someone else’s) and day job and other stuff going on.
“Not My Circus.”
Realize that it’s not up to us to fix everything around us. Now and then I fall into a trap of trying to make everything right. When I see something not working, I want to step in and fix it, but that’s not always feasible. I may not really understand what’s going on. The other party may not be interested in my interference. Sometimes we need to discern when something is none of our concern. That can be tricky.
Once I’d had a few years of teaching under my belt, I was a team leader with a relatively new-to-teaching team. One coworker’s class was being a real pain in his rear end, and he wasn’t having much joy getting them under control in the hallway one day. I made a rookie error of stepping in and getting them under control. Later, I realized that by doing that, I had actually undermined his authority. I apologized to him and instead tried the next trick so he could take care of it himself next time.
“Lemme Show You”
Instead of doing stuff for people, teach them how to do it. Then they can do it without you. Independence can be a grand thing.
I taught 4th grade. For the most part, the kids in my classes could tie their own shoes before they reached me, but with the advent of Velcro, some parents had decided to forgo laces and just make sure everything had Velcro … until a cool brand name tennis shoe came out that no cool kid could possibly be without.
Then suddenly, I had a kid who wanted me to tie his shoes. Every day. Several times because he was a fidgeter and one of his favorite fidgets was to untie his shoes.
So, at restroom break one day, I walked him through how to tie his shoes about a dozen times. Next time he asked me to tie his shoes, I told him he knew how to do it himself. Of course, he insisted he was clueless. I refused to come to his rescue and talked him through it. By the end of the week, he was doing it himself.
The teacher who couldn’t get his class under control in the hallway? We talked about strategies he could use if that happened again. He also consulted some other experienced teachers and picked a strategy that fit with his personal idiom. Crisis solved.
On the other side of the coin, we should be generous with our time, talents, and resources. Although there are plenty of twerps who will take advantage of our generosity given half a chance and a third of an excuse, there are also plenty of legitimate needs out there. There are people who can’t do something without help. A little kindness goes a long way.
Sometimes these kindnesses are little things, like when a guy on crutches needed help carrying his lunch tray at a mall’s food court.
Sometimes they’re bigger things, like giving up stuff, funds, or time to make someone’s life a little less dreary.
Doing good for others helps us feel better about ourselves, too.
There’s a bit of a juggling act involved in taking care of our emotional selves. Some people expect someone to do everything short of chew their food for them, but other people have legitimate needs we can help them meet. Discerning the difference can be tough, but we can be generous without becoming a doormat for the gooberheads out there.