I am not one for confrontation–and now that I think of it, most people would probably say this is true for them, too.
I am, by nature, a people pleaser. I don’t like to start friction and I really don’t like letting people down.
But the reality is: I don’t live in a Utopia where communication is always perfect and misunderstandings don’t happen. Sometimes I offend people, unintentionally upset them with my words or actions, or somehow make them feel uncomfortable.
It’s inevitable, it happens to us all at one time or another. Even to that perfectly coiffed Facebook couple taking hipster-inspired, heavily filtered photos wearing vintage clothing and boxy eyeglasses. YES! Even they come to disagree with each other and may have it out while making french press coffee and gluten-free, dairy-free flapjacks (because “pancakes” are too mainstream).
I used to spends days, nights, weeks feeling guilty for causing someone else discomfort or stress, even when I didn’t intentionally lob it onto them. I would apologize profusely and get bent out of shape, myself. I would be more mindful of my words in the future and things would mostly just get awkward with the person I had slighted.
But then I had a revelation, and it came from a really unusual place.
When Kate Winslet won the Academy Award for Best Actress for “The Reader” I was psyched. For years, Kate had been one of my absolute favorite actresses and I still love to re-watch her acceptance speech.
If you haven’t seen the movie, without spoilers, I can tell you that Kate’s character is an SS Guard at a Nazi concentration camp. She didn’t do any of the murdering, but she was a part of the operation and is put on trial during the Nuremberg Trials. When you watch, you may find yourself having a strange sense of empathy, if not sympathy, for her character (which is SHOCKING considering she plays a Nazi–or at least someone who worked for the Nazis).
After she delivered her speech, she was shuttled to the press room and a member of the media asked Kate if she felt guilty for having people feel either of those emotions toward a Nazi. Her response was something like, “I can’t be responsible for the way people react to what I do.”
That hit me hard, not just as an actress, but as a human being. All you can do is live your life as truthfully as possible and realize that you aren’t responsible for how people react.
Sure, if you carjack someone or purposely smash their very expensive Ming vase, you’re on the hook for what can only be their negative reaction.
But when it comes to the day to day, when it comes to interacting on the most basic level, and when it comes to staying true to yourself and your needs–
you are not responsible for the way people react.
The people pleaser in me wants my oversized ego to capitulate to the other person, but if you do that too often and with too much abandon, you start to become a martyr. You start to resent the other party and you resent your inability to prioritize your feelings and needs. If you’re already being careful and intentional with your words, it really doesn’t matter how anyone else reacts.
This blog just got incredibly philosophical, which is rarely my intention. But I wanted to just put this out there into the interwebs in case someone else needs reminding from time to time.
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