I must, because so many people do it to me, whether it's a clothing choice, or a life decision, or my music, or my non-profit - people just can't seem to get the hang of saying, "Good job," or "Nice work," or "Love what you've done with the place."
While I know that none of these judgments should affect me or my choices in any way, the words and actions directed toward me do hurt, especially when they come from people who claim to care about me and my well being.
Here's an example: Years ago a close family member was visiting our new house. We were so excited, happily showing him around, gleefully pointing out this or that, and then about halfway through the tour he looks up at wall, shakes his head and exclaims, "I've never seen so many pictures in one house! Why are there so many pictures?" (He's talking about photographs of loved ones, not painted art.) After letting the indignation at trying to steal my joy settle down, I responded this way, "Well, people fill their houses with what they like to look at, so that's what I like to look at." He didn't say anything, but just kept on shaking his head in disgust.
Here's what I wanted to say:
"Do you live here? Is it any of your business what I care to put into it?"
"Did you pay for this house? (No.) So what do you care what I hang on the walls?"
"Just because your house has absolutely no photos in it, or anything remotely personal at all, and it's cold and impersonal and looks like a show home at all times even though you've lived there for 40 years doesn't mean that that's the only right way to do it!"
"Don't you have any manners? Don't you know that even if you are thinking something unkind the polite thing to do is to keep it to yourself?!!"
Of course I said none of these things but every time he visits now I brace myself for the rude, unsolicited comments about my inappropriate decorating choices.
So annoying and uncalled for.
Another example: About 13 years ago we had house guests staying with us for a few days. We showed them around the city, provided several meals for them, and prior to them arriving we cleaned and prepared the house for their arrival and stay. (Quick backstory: at this time I was working on Sunday mornings and I had this thing about how I liked to be the one who got first crack at the Sunday paper. I didn't get upset if I didn't, but it was just one of those little things in life that brought me joy. So my husband would always leave the complete untouched paper for me out on the table for when I got home and I would get the chance to open it up myself. It was actually a very sweet and romantic gesture because there were times when he would carefully pull the comics out, read them, and then refold them and put them back exactly where they were so I could have my little bit of fun. I realize this all sounds perfectly silly and inconsequential, but it was our thing and we enjoyed it.) So I got home on Sunday around noon, greeted everyone (they were just sitting around reading and relaxing contentedly), sat down at the dining room table with my full, unmarred Sunday paper, and started happily pulling out my favorite sections: the puzzles, the comics, Parade magazine, Life and Arts, the coupons, etc. and put the rest of the paper aside. One of our guests got up from the couch, came over, watched what I was doing and asked, "Is that all you're going to read?" I looked up, realized that this might have been considered rude, so I held out the removed sections and said, "Oh I'm sorry, did you want to read these? You can have them." He looked down at me disgustedly and said, "No. Is that ALL you're going to read?" I looked at the sections in my hand, then at the pile of the rest of the paper, then up at him and said, "Umm...yes, for now." He shook his head like he was terribly offended and asked again, "That's IT?" I looked down at my paper and suddenly waves of shame started washing over me. Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked out of the room, continuing to shake his head like he was appalled by even the sight of me.
Seems like a ridiculous little exchange doesn't it? But the truth is, even though this happened more than 13 years ago, nearly every time I riffle through my intact Sunday paper, I feel a little pang of pain, remembering what he said and how much it hurt my feelings. I know that I should not let this person's opinion of me affect anything I do in my daily life whatsoever, but unfortunately it has stayed with me to this day. I still hear his judgmental voice and see the shaking of his head, both stealing away my joy and replacing it with my all too familiar self-reproach.
Again, why did this person, who claims to be my friend and care about me, give a horse's behind about what sections of the Sunday paper I chose to read? Was it offensive to him in particular that I wasn't devouring Op-Eds or Real Estate? Why did he care so much about my bad (in his mind) choices that he had to speak up in front of everyone to point them out? Why was it more important to him to make sure I knew just how exasperated he was with me than to even consider for a moment how it might make me feel.
What I wanted to say:
"You're welcome for all of the meals I've made, for all of the time I've taken to show you around, and for allowing you to stay with us in the first place."
"You're welcome for all of the time and effort it took to get the guest room and bathroom clean and ready for your arrival."
"You're welcome for all of the times that I held my tongue and didn't express to you exactly what I thought of the choices you were making or the things you were doing."
"You're welcome for treating you the way I would want to be treated even though you can't possibly return the favor."
Just one more example: On my most recent CD I was working with a studio engineer who was also a wanna be musician/recording artist. He had found no success in his music career so he started a recording studio instead. I hired him as an engineer (not as a producer) to record some vocal tracks that I could send to my producer in another state. In one session (that turned out to be my last with this guy) I was singing one of my original songs to get a reference take and all of a sudden he comes bursting out of the booth yelling, "Hold it, hold it, stop singing, this song needs some work." He proceeds to take my lyric sheet off of the music stand, picks up a pencil, and starts crossing off lyrics from the sheet. Literally. He was going through the song saying, "You don't need this, you don't need this, we get it...this is too repetitive, cut this chorus and go straight to the bridge," etc. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I reminded him that the song itself was already finished, the instrumental backing tracks had already been recorded, all that was left to do was to record the vocal. To which he responded, "Well you're just going to have to re-record all of it this way."
Not only was this my 4th professional CD recording, not only had I worked with several other engineers and producers who would never have dreamed of doing something incredibly offensive like this, but when I spoke to other engineers in the field about this they all responded unanimously with things like, "Wow! That was incredibly unethical and out of line. That's not how things are done when you're a professional." I had another engineer who fancied himself a producer try to change a chord progression and the time signature in one of my originals. Not his place, not his job, and not the way it works with people who actually know what they're doing.
I had become friendly with one of the studio musicians who worked frequently with the first guy and after the whole situation happened I asked him, "What was that all about?" To which he answered, "Well, you're too nice."
Too nice. I'm so nice that people feel completely comfortable walking all over me like a plush carpet.
Apparently I'm also so nice that people have absolutely no problem with tossing good manners out the window and returning gifts I've given to them directly back to me.
Yes, you read that correctly. Over the past 20 years or so, I have had 6 different people accept gifts from me, and then either at that moment, or at a later date, give them right back to me, telling me either that they didn't want it, it wasn't their style, or they couldn't use it. One person did it twice.
Those of you who know me know that I love giving gifts. I do it for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and very often just for no other reason than I saw something I thought someone would like so I got it, wrapped it, and gave it to them. While I try to be an extremely thoughtful gift giver, of course I miss the mark sometimes. Everyone does. So how should a person react when they are given a gift they'd rather not have?
(I know the answer to this because it has happened to me many times.)
1. Thank the gift giver graciously, either in person or in a note of some kind, remembering that the giver took time, effort, and money to purchase and wrap this tangible expression of thoughtfulness expressly for you.
2. If the gift has been sent through the mail, always let the person know that it arrived - this is an item that falls under the category of "common courtesy" that many people tend to forgo.
If you don't like the gift, or can't see yourself using it you have a few options:
1. Find out where it was purchased and try to return it to the store.
2. Rewrap and regift it to someone whom the original giver does not know.
3. Donate it to a charity of your choice (be careful about trying to resell it online if the giver visits the same sites that you do).
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IN A CIVILIZED SOCIETY IS THE POLITE THING TO DO IS TO RETURN IT DIRECTLY TO THE GIVER LETTNG THEM KNOW IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS JUST HOW MUCH YOU DON'T LIKE IT!!!!
I can't believe that things like that need to be pointed out to the grown-up, adult, college-educated people I used to know. (And yes, I call them ones that I used to know because I do not need the overt callousness of those unhappy, rude, and unappreciative people who had the gall to do that to me in my life any longer.)
I guess because I'm generally a pretty easygoing person, people see me as a low-risk opportunity in which they can show their true selves. But I know plenty of women who are not as agreeable, who are not as laid back, and whom no one would dare treat as unkindly as I have been treated. Does that mean I need to change who I am to avoid harsh judgment? Is it possible to be a nice, happy, non-confrontational person who doesn't get bombarded with judgment and criticism at regular intervals along the way?
Answer? No. Better answer? No, but I don't care. My constant criticizers have no place in my life, and more importantly, no place in my head.