This morning, someone I don’t know was standing outside my window. He waved and asked me a question.
Do you know Suzy?
Okay , he said, and ambled down the sidewalk.
When I left the house 20 minutes later, he was still there.
Is the address here XXXX?
Nope, that’s a block off.
And yet he was still there when I got home from the school drop-off, another fifteen minutes later.
Yeah, she must have fallen asleep, he said. I just need to come inside the building so I can knock on her door.
I smiled. But this is the wrong address, I said nicely.
And then I was in the building, the door was shut, and he was saying, Oh, okay. Also nicely.
Now for the record, he might be a perfectly benign man who has trouble with addresses. (Though yes, we called the authorities just in case.)
But this encounter made me deeply, deeply happy.
Because like many women, I have firmly ingrained cultural urges that compel me to be nice to everyone, all the time, no matter what.
Maybe you have this too, the inner admonishment “just be kind, don’t be a bitch.”
This urge gets thousands of women killed and hurt every year.
If you watch how we talk to our kids on the playground, it’s easy to understand where this conditioning comes from. Our job as parents is to teach our children how to get along well with others, and truly this is important and also sometimes difficult. But here are some of the phrases you might hear on any given playground in America:
- Well maybe you could give her a turn.
- Maybe he’s having a hard time.
- I can’t talk to you if you’re yelling.
- We don’t hurt people, no matter how angry we feel.
- Calm down and use your words.
- Try to understand how she feels.
- Go on, give him a hug.
- If you can’t get along, we’re going home.
I myself have uttered most of these, and they’re often totally appropriate. But canny kids quickly pick up the underlying message: being nice is the most important thing. Being nice is how you get through the world.
Maybe you, like me, layered this basic cultural conditioning with messages from a religion that told you that if someone hits you, you should turn the other cheek. (Thanks, Jesus, on behalf of battered women everywhere. I’m still pissed about that one.)
And then you went to school where you learned that the way to get approval, praise, and promotion was to cooperate, follow directions, and please the people who were bigger than you.
And then maybe you went to college where you realized that you were so privileged, so insanely lucky, that you had to bend over backward in order to make up for it.
None of these are bad messages. But taken together, they predispose many women to be nice, nice, nice– even if something inside of them is telling them to run, yell, or just say Sorry, I can’t help you.
So the reason I was happy this morning about this encounter was because at no point did I consider– not even for a moment– letting this man into my building. More importantly, I didn’t even slow down to apologize or try to chat with him.
Boy am I a bitch or what?!?!? How rude! This perfectly nice man was just asking for directions! What a rude, entitled, judgmental, snobby reaction.
Yessss!!!! I am SO PROUD of myself for having that reaction.
It means that I’ve rerouted some pretty basic wiring. It means that my trust in my own instincts has gotten stronger than my desire not to make a faux pas. I’d rather yell, cause a scene, be rude, and piss someone off than feel that nauseating feeling we get when we ignore our own inner knowing.
This email isn’t about safety, or taking a self-defense course, although I want every woman in the world to read The Gift of Fear and take a class where you practice yelling and fighting.
It’s about getting so lined up inside yourself that your own inner compass leads you more strongly than anything outside you. It’s about being grounded enough in your own body to be able to hear the little pings of information that your senses will send you. It’s about being strong enough to withstand other people getting upset, angry, or disappointed with you while staying soft, peaceful, and loving toward yourself. It’s about being magical enough to be very, very loving– and very, very fierce.
Our fierceness is one of our potent resources. When we tamp it down, we lose access to great wisdom and great power. And I want you to walk in the world with deep tenderness…and like a total bad-ass.
If you own fierceness could rise up and give you some advice, what would she say to you today?
Write it down. Ponder on it. And welcome her to your side as a powerful ally.