Friday, December 11, 2015

"Taking no shit" in our Third Thirds

Every now and then, you get an insight into yourself. Or you see yourself in a certain light, and it’s really glaring. A couple of things happened recently where I became aware that my reactions were different from other people’s. Now I’m wondering if they’re part of my character or part of reaching my Third Third.

The first one happened with my sister. She’s in what I consider an intolerable work situation: unreasonable organizational demands with zero institutional support and a malevolent boss on top of all that. Even just writing that, my blood boils. Maybe it’s because this is my youngest sister whom I love and she should not be subjected to that, but mostly I think no one has to take shit like that. To my sister I said, “Life is short. Get out.” (I admit, I also said, “Tell her off.”)

The second one happened with someone I gave time and attention to, and he didn’t acknowledge me. I told him he didn’t, that I noticed, and that expressing thanks would get him further in the world. He’s a terrific guy. He got the message and thanked me, saying he was glad I “told it like it is.”

Then the third one was a conversation I was part of: did I like the window or aisle seats on an airplane? On red-eyes, I like the window, even though there’s less space, so I can lean against the wall. “But,” another woman said, “then you can’t go to the restroom when you need to” (or something similar). Things like that mystify me: not be able to go to the bathroom? If I have to go to the bathroom, I simply tell middle and aisle seats that I’m getting up. I either climb over them or they get up to let me out. Am I supposed to squirm for hours??
I don’t think I’m a steamroller, mowing down people in my path – I hope not! – but it is sort of vigilante behavior. I don’t think I was always like this. I remember being downright timid in college, intimidated by professors, too nervous to go to their office hours.

But somewhere along the line, I spoke up or got out. When graduate school turned out to be a torture chamber of power and bullying, I left. When friends started dying of AIDS in my 20s in San Francisco, I learned that life is short. I read about a study that researched why some people with AIDS lived for years and others died sooner. They concluded that the survivors were VERY QUICK to remove negative influences from their lives, whether they were jobs, relationships, whatever. That stuck with me. And then, when I was fired from a job after an election replaced the administration, I knew that jobs didn’t keep you warm at night and institutions don’t come with loyalty.

So you see what I’m getting at? By the time we reach our Third Thirds, have we simply learned to “take no shit” or was it part of us to begin with and I just have an extra dose of brash? Will I become one of those old people who push to get to the front of the line? When does healthy assertiveness become “old curmudgeon”?
Yikes, just look at the stereotypes in that last paragraph!

I found myself in a conversation with Connie and Elizabeth: were we “nice” women? When younger, Connie always tried – unsuccessfully – to be quiet. I made New Year’s resolutions to be “demure.” It was never a take. Now, in our Third Thirds, are we claiming our right to be heard … but still feel the pull of being nice? Is this the particular social context our Second and Third Thirds were/are in, where women emerged from old gender expectations?

So maybe this is a nature vs. nurture question. I’m just so curious whether this is learned, whether I bring to my Third Third the benefit of realizing that life is too short to put up with malevolence, discourtesy, ridiculous conventions. Or whether by the time we reach our Third Third we simply have the confidence to express ourselves.

Or whether I’m just not as polite as other people.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, I have never known you to be rude.

    Now, are we becoming more assertive as we move through our Third Thirds? For myself, I would answer "Yes, definitely." I am better now at identifying bullying and I am less willing to put up with it. I am better at knowing when to stand my ground and when to walk away. I think I learned a lot of this.

    I also think the US is a much ruder place than it was 30 or 40 or 50 years ago. (I could write a book about that, but I won't.) Perhaps part of what you are experiencing as a greater unwillingness to take shit is a reaction to all the bad behavior that is out there nowadays.


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