Monday, July 19, 2010

Defending My Character The Not-So-Good Way

It is said that character is much easier kept than recovered. Maybe that's why I pounced on my friend the other day when she said something about me I thought was untrue.

But it was like attacking a mouse with a nuclear bomb. There are gentler ways to fend off possibly harmful things--which cause less damage to the mouse and to myself.

What this friend did, actually, was try to pay me a compliment. Well, she thought it was a compliment. I didn't. She said I said something two years ago that encouraged her to make a positive change in herself.

She couldn't remember exactly what I said or what it was that she changed, but from what she could recall, I had begun by confessing one of my shortcomings in front of our weekly luncheon group. And then--and this is what got my ire up--she said I said, "Someone else here has the same shortcoming."

I was stunned. "I would never say that!" I said--or shrieked. I'm not sure which.

Now, the reason I believed I would never say such a thing was because I try to live my life in a manner that will cause me the least guilt and the most serenity. For that reason, I try to say what I mean, mean what I say and not say it mean--in other words, communicate my feelings clearly but gently.

Publicly accusing some anonymous person of having a shortcoming is not clear and gentle communication--even if it does lead to good consequences. It's miscommunicating and it's mean. Besides, other people's behavior is not my business. My only business, as they say, is what's inside my own Hula-hoop.

Unfortunately, before I knew better I did miscommunicate. A lot. That's what can happen when you're afraid to express how you feel or you don't know how you feel--you speak vaguely and aren't aware of your motives, and it can sometimes be hurtful.

Years ago, if someone disagreed with something I said, instead of telling them I felt hurt or judged or attacked, I sometimes retaliated by criticizing their own belief or behavior. It was an aggressive, unfiltered, defensive response, which only created a circle of anger.

But getting back to my friend's comment. I knew she was trying to compliment, not hurt me. It felt so untrue, though, and I felt so powerless against my other friends believing her that I'm sure smoke would have been puffing out of my ears had I been a cartoon character.

After she left, I was still so upset that I turned to another friend at the table and asked, "How would you feel if someone said you said something you were 100 percent certain you didn't say?"

My friend smiled at my pathetically contorted question and then replied, “Well...I guess I couldn't be 100 percent certain."

It was definitely not what I wanted her to tell me, and it took a couple of hours for me to squelch my pride and admit it, but I knew she was right. No human--and yes, that included me--was perfect.

Even if my mind is thinking one thing, my mouth can be saying something else. Not purposely, but because I don't function at 100 percent capacity. No human does.

No matter how carefully I try to communicate clearly, I may not. The words may come out wrong or other people may not receive them as I intend. Even friends.

The only thing I can do is try not to hurt people while I'm being less than perfect. And for starters, that would mean improving my delivery the next time I think I need to stick up for myself.

"If I did say that, I wish I hadn't" or "I didn't mean to" would have been a lot more truthful and less confrontational than all guns firing at my friend.

As soon as I got home, I called and apologized and she accepted.

Let's hope the next time I consider speaking up for myself I at least have more humility--and a cork handy.

QUESTION: When you speak up for yourself, do you do it gently, with a humble mind and, if not, why?

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