Sunday, February 21, 2010

Not Taking Things Personally

Not taking things personally. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, because it is one of the many things I tend to do that doesn't serve me at all. I waste so much time and energy spinning my wheels wondering if so-and-so directed that comment at me, or if so-and-so's criticism of me is valid--and oh god, if everybody thinks that and I never knew it!--and, most frustratingly, how do I tell the difference between a criticism that doesn't reflect on me at all or if somebody's criticism is actually something I should pay attention to?

I'm one of those persons who cares too damn much about what other people think. Chelle, my wife, isn't like that at all. Somebody could walk right up to her and tell her point-blank she's an arrogant, bossy, controlling shit of a human being, and she would say, "Yeah, so what?" and get on with her day. Not me. Something like that would bother me all day, all night, and into the next day until somebody else said something that bothered me. I'd be wondering what I ever did that made this person think I was arrogant, and when was I ever bossy, and why on earth would anybody think a passive person like me is controlling, and how could somebody misunderstand me so much? And then I'd reach for the bottle and drink until I was pacing the house, having an entire imaginary conversation with this person in which I told them, not quite so politely, to go suck an egg.

And this is on my mind because yesterday I learned about a friend who was wounded by the words of another friend, and yet I feel absolutely sure the person speaking the words had no malicious intent at all. They're simply two different people coming at a situation from two entirely different angles.

So this is what I've come to think--or, more accurately, what I've come to have to think if I don't want to drink myself to death! Taking it personally is a choice. It all depends on whether the criticism is something you really care about and whether the person doing the criticizing is someone whose opinion you value. To give an example, if somebody told me my jacket was ugly, I really wouldn't care. (This is actually true; it happened the other day. She didn't say "ugly," but that was the gist. And she knows I still love her to pieces.) I didn't care because my jacket is warm, it was a gift from my wife, and things like clothing are frivolous matters to me. That judgment said more about her than it did about me. (Like, fashion is important to her.) So I shrugged it off, but now I have a new tool as well. In this situation, I didn't care if my jacket was ugly, but since I do value her opinion, if I were ever dressing up for a fancy occasion, I would certainly seek out her input, because I know for a fact she'd tell me if I looked like Geek Gone Wild.

Or the opposite--suppose somebody called me a horrible teacher. Ouch! I care very much about being effective in the classroom. But if that person is somebody I don't know or who has never set foot in my classroom or whose ideas about effective teaching differ vastly from mine (like, maybe they think insulting students in class is a good way to beat 'em into shape), then I don't give a steaming hot piss what they think. And I will continue to think I do a pretty good job in the classroom.

The point is, it's really up to each of us to make a choice about whether to take something personally. If whatever it is happens to be hurtful to you, set it down. Walk away. You have the power to do that. Don't let this shit rock your foundation.

Peace out

No comments: