My son had some difficulties with his car. Apparently a plastic bag got stuck in the locking mechanism and the trunk wouldn’t close. Right before school, it kept popping up--crap! He called me and I called my parents. I asked them to go and check it out. They graciously went. They had to get the keys to the car but all was resolved. In the end, their take on the problem was that he had tried to close the trunk when the car was locked. That’s never been a problem before—he thinks the mechanism was tripped by that darn, plastic bag.
All right, so why is this blog about a car lock and a plastic bag? Well, here is the main reason. After all of the finagling of getting the keys, checking the lock and fixing the lock, the keys were returned to the front desk at my son’s school. When he went to get the keys, he was greeted with a response that was basically, if you don’t know how to lock and unlock your car, you don’t deserve to have it.
My son left me an irate voicemail. Luckily, I forgot my phone at home and didn’t have to listen to the message. But if I had listened, I would have still sympathized with him. And I would have described what I am writing here. Basically, why should he really care about what was said?
We all come up against individuals in our lives who think that they need to comment on something that we are doing, the way we are doing it or what we haven’t done. The question is—how much should we really care? We will always face negative comments in our lives, but, “what are we going to do with them?” Sometimes we need to listen to feedback. If I talk with my kids or students or patients about an important point, I don’t want them to blow me off. But if I make an offhanded remark that bothers them, I would want them to say, “Dr. Levine (or Mom), I have a slight issue with that.” I am willing to listen.
And if I come up against someone who wants to try and make me feel small because I made a mistake? Well, I have been there, done that and I’m not willing to do that anymore. Life is too short and too precious to try and feel that we need to bend over backwards for everyone around us. So someone honks at me because they are impatient, well, too bad, I will move, but I won’t freak out! If someone thinks that I should have known something—sorry, I do the best I can. If you think it is important, then tell me. I am willing to listen. I am just not willing to be shamed.
- What cracks or comments have you faced in life that you are still carrying with you? What effect is it having on you? Can you write about it? Let lose some of its power? Often people make comments or bad jokes because they are feeling insecure. Did you end up taking on their negative feelings? Can you let them go? Write about the remark. What did you think or feel? What did you want to say back? Why do you think they said it?
- I told you that I was going to a poetry retreat. One of my poems included a remark made when I was younger. It was—“It we want to exterminate the house, we have Martha sing.” All right, how would you feel about that? Now, it hurt, I will admit, for a long time. The poem I wrote was about the effort it has taken me to move past the remark. But I am past it. I don’t sing well, but I have done karaoke on a cruise ship, I sing along with the radio and if you put Queen on, I am singing for sure. I am not going to be Lady Gaga, but I can still be a unique individual. So am going to buy into this crack and feel bad or am I going to belt out songs off-key and then work to find a more useful way to express myself? The second. Yes, I am probably going to write instead of sing, but I’ll still have fun. You can help yourself by writing a poem about comments or cracks or whatever has been tossed your way.
- Write a play about the comment. Instead of staying silent—have you character say exactly what you wanted to say. You don’t have to do anything more with this than just write it down. But say what you want to say—the next time you might be able to find your voice more easily.
- Journal about your heroes. Can you walk the higher road? What would Jesus do? What would Buddha do? Pick your spiritual or heroic figure and journal about how they would have responded. Can you channel their strength?
- And then if you need to, journal a Godfather moment. If you are mad, be mad for a moment. In the Godfather, a horse’s head was delivered to make a point. Now let’s not get violent, let’s try to find a way to turn this into the silly amusement that it needs to be. So if someone makes a ridiculous jab, then imagine how you might retaliate. Do you want to send 100 penguins? A box of goat chow? Lion droppings? I don’t know. Be silly, be creative, but let your anger go.
So, go, Write On!
Martha Peaslee Levine, MD