When Polite Becomes a Problem
I’ve spoken about Manners before, about what kind of behavior I expect from you and what kind of boy I want you to be, but I feel the need to tell you that there will be times when getting caught up in manners or “being polite” can hold you back, disappoint you or even put you in awkward or unsafe situations and, at those times, I give you full permission to courteously put your well being above your social graces. There is such a thing as being too nice. Bosses will pile work on you. People will take advantage of you. You’ll stay in relationships too long or miss opportunities waiting for someone to give you the go ahead. Though remembering you’re part of a bigger human picture and acting accordingly is key (the world is not all about you), you must also be aware that no one will look out for you better than yourself. You are your own champion, protector and catalyst. It’s up to you to take care of you. In the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo the villain talks at length about how frequently people put themselves in danger rather than risk being impolite. He questions why people don’t trust their instincts and allow their fear of offending to outweigh any other concerns. Statistically I’m sure women do this more than men as we’re predisposed to be perceived as “nice” and more readily inclined to be “pleasers”, but you should be aware this kind of situation could also happen to you. I often wonder how many people are victims of crimes when they were just trying to be nice? How many people put themselves in uncomfortable situations rather than chance insulting someone? How many of us put up with things we hate just to appear agreeable? Look, nice is wonderful, it’s a lovely, hopeful way to behave, but be mindful it has a flip side that can allow people to take advantage of you and that goes from everything from violent crimes to crappy hotel rooms.
Felonies aside, I want you to be aware of the possibly negative results when you put “nice” and “polite” above all. Having and using courtesy is something I’ll always encourage but your well being takes precedence over other people’s “feelings”. It’s not impolite to respect yourself enough to speak up for what you need. It’s not rude to put your safety and well being first. The difference between being nice and being taken advantage of is measured by how you feel. Do you feel good about yourself, respected and well liked, or do you feel put upon, overlooked and marginalized? Paying the check for your friends is nice. Being expected to do it every time is insulting. If you’re confident in your worth you won’t allow yourself to be undersold.
I recently tried out a new acupuncturist. She was a Chinese national and didn’t speak much English but, unlike with customer service operators, I was ok with that. Plus, she took my insurance so I was willing to give her a go. As she read my intake form I started to get the impression she was in over her head. I have a pretty rare disease even for someone with a medical degree and English as a first language but, I didn’t want to discredit or undermine what could be her vast array of skills, so I waited while she read. After a short while she seemed to realize I was still there so she strapped a blood pressure cuff to me as she continued reading. Now, I’ve had my blood pressure taken a lot, both at my doctor’s office and at home, so I’m extremely familiar with the procedure. I know how it feels, how much time it takes, how tight it gets. This machine however was taking an extraordinarily long time and only continued to get tighter. As the pressure went from uncomfortable to painful I kept thinking it was going to stop. That it would hit the sweet spot, register and loosen up. It was hurting me but I didn’t want to say anything. I suppose I didn’t want to bother her. As it moved from painful to alarming, my desire to be perceived favorably was superseded by my unequivocal need to get the horrible thing off. The scene played out a little like this:
Tighter, look at her for guidance.
Tighter, (to self) Suck it up. Suck it up. It’s almost over.
Tighter, “Ow, ow, ow!”
Tighter, (actively ripping the cuff off my arm) “OW! OW!”
When I finally got the Velcro undone I found a whole chunk of skin had been pulled through the metal loop of the cuff. It was just sticking out as if it was extra waiting to be cut off. I actually had to physically extricate my arm from the cuff by manually pushing my now obviously bruised skin back through the loop. It was horrible and I was furious, but instead of getting up and storming out like I wanted, saying something like “This isn’t going to work. Sorry.” (I hardly wanted someone sticking pins into me who couldn’t use a blood pressure cuff), I just sat there sore and sad.
I may as well have left because 10 minutes later when she asked “How do you know you’re actually sick? Because a doctor told you so…” with a skepticism that implied I might somehow be working with western medicine to create an imaginary issue, I ended up walking out anyway. It was too much. I had tried to be polite, but I couldn’t take it and my need to protect usurped my need to ingratiate.
I’ve had to advocate for myself more than most because as a sick person you quickly find if you aren’t looking out for your best interest few will. Too many things of too high an importance can fall through the cracks if you aren’t paying attention. Over the past five years I’ve learned to ask the questions, get the second opinion, double check the concerns and I’ve found that nothing is insignificant. Even the most minutia of details, like people who seem unsure when they’re about to draw my blood, matter and I’m not embarrassed to ask for someone else. I’ve become adamant about finding “‘the absolute best person for putting in a central line” because I’ve had too many hideous experiences to go through another one unnecessarily. Not everyone in the medical community is created equal and as my mother always says, “They didn’t all graduate top of their class”. If you don’t ask you’re just as likely to have a grossly swollen arm than a comfortable port. I realize people need to train on someone. I’ve just been around the block too many times to let it be me.
As parents we’re great advocates for our children. If they aren’t getting enough time on the soccer field or we feel they’re being passed over for opportunities in school, we’re in there trying to sort it out, but if a similar oversight happens to us, all too often we’ll suck it up rather than risk being perceived as jerks or, heaven forbid, high maintenance. You must understand, it’s not high maintenance to know what you want and ask for it, it’s proactive, and more people should do it unapologetically. Speaking up for yourself does not equal rude. When I was younger I remember traumatizing my friends by letting waiters know something wasn’t right. They were always “soooo embarrassed” but I saw no issue with expressing myself. There’s complaining for the sake of complaining, sending meals back and generally just being churlish and snotty and then there’s replacing your recommended wine because you hate it or sending back a margarita because the bartender rimmed it in celery salt like a Bloody Mary. It’s perfectly reasonable to have things sorted out. It makes a tremendous difference to your enjoyment and I’m confident it’s completely acceptable behavior provided you handle the situation with class and civility. Putting up with something subpar just to avoid making waves doesn’t make you polite it makes you wussy. You may as well get what you want. Just be sure to acknowledge the effort in both tip and attitude.
I kicked myself recently for not taking my own advice. Your Dad and I went to restaurant and our meals were so unpleasant we could barely get them down. If I’d made that chicken at home it would have been tossed but, aside from letting our waiter know we were disappointed, we continued to pick at our meals and ended up leaving the annoyed. It’s incredibly irritating to pay a fortune for dinner just to go home and eat cereal. The restaurant offered us a free dessert for our “troubles” but we didn’t take them up on it. It wasn’t about getting something we didn’t want for free, it was about getting what we wanted correct and we should have dealt with that. Ultimately, we just wrote off the restaurant and that’s unfortunate. We always liked it there and I’m sure they would have preferred making us new dinners over losing long term customers, but now we’ll never know.
It’s too easy to be taken advantage of these days. You can’t just assume the right thing will happen. Often, you have to insist on it. Sadly we live in a time where you also have to protect yourself more. Where your manners take a backseat to your safety. Your Dad and I sell a lot of stuff on Craigslist but with the recent situation of the husband and father who was killed when he took two men for a test drive of the truck he was selling on Kijiji, you can’t just assume people have good intentions anymore. In certain situations being distrustful and coming off cold is preferable to allowing friendly or trusting behavior get you in trouble. This isn’t to say you should walk around being an a*#hole and calling it protection, just that awareness is key.
Look, being a nice person is wonderful. People should think you’re nice. You should be nice. I’m not saying don’t take the time to help old people across the street or go through life distrustful of everyone, only looking out for “number one”, I’m simply reminding you to use common sense and good judgement, aware of the world you live in and it’s possibilities. Be courteous and respectful, making sure your sense of self worth doesn’t become a sense of entitlement, but don’t forget the only way you’ll ever really get what you want is if you’re ok asking for it. Sometimes the right thing to do, is the right thing for you.
The goal is to be polite, not a patsy.
I love you.
xo your mom