Saturday, January 12, 2008

On the Inability to Let a Thing Lie

One thing about me, which really anybody who gets to know me in any real way learns, is that I have a real problem with keeping my mouth shut and going about my business when I feel that I've been unjustly treated in some fashion. Now, you might be saying, "But that's a good thing, Crazy! You should stand up for yourself!" Except. Well, maybe sometimes I should take the high road rather than the road of self-righteous indignation, which is the one that I most often choose to take. Because I find myself calling people out on fucked up behavior not so much because I want them to change the behavior as it relates to me (indeed, there's no way they can take this sort of thing back once it's happened, even though I will ultimately forgive it) or to explain the behavior (in other words, my agenda is neither productive nor meant to give a person an opportunity for redemption) but rather because I want to make it clear exactly how much they suck for having behaved that way. I want them to feel badly, not just about how they acted but about who they are if they would dream of acting that way.

This, my friends, is not a nice quality to have. And I know it's not. And the more compassionate side of me does feel sorry for the people at whom I direct this kind of treatment. The problem is, and why I continue to behave in this way in spite of my more virtuous instincts, is that when this sort of situation comes up, I'm always convinced that the other person deserves to be told off in this particularly vicious way. And even though I feel sorry for the person after I've done it (notice: I feel sorry for the person, not sorry for what I myself have done), I continue to believe that they deserved it. I continue to believe that they shouldn't have been allowed to get away with whatever it was they did to cross me, and so a large part of me is pleased with what I've done.

I've been thinking about this part of my personality a fair amount lately because of how I responded to a recent situation. On the one hand, I think that I'm kind of an asshole. I think that a more mature individual would have kept her mouth shut and went about her business, since ultimately what the person did was nothing more than to offend my sense of good manners and fair play, and I didn't really object to the end result of what was going on. My problem was with the form - not with the content. And so I probably shouldn't have said anything. But on the other hand, I can't get past the feeling that people should be made to take responsibility when they behave in a bullshit way. So as much as I think I'm kind of an asshole, I also feel like sometimes people deserve to encounter assholes like me, and that without assholes like me, people who do fucked up things would just keep doing them in perpetuity because they'd think that there's nothing really wrong with their fucked up ways.

I could say that I'm not going to do this anymore, but that would be a lie. Every time I've vowed that I wouldn't do this anymore, I've always ended up doing it again. And I know that no apology I offer really works once I've done this, that I can't really expect a person to forgive something for which I'm not really sorry, or to forget something that is so downright mean. Those who have forgiven this sort of behavior on my part haven't done so because I've expressed remorse about it but rather because they've found a way to accept it as part of the package that is me. They've decided (I imagine) that my good qualities somehow outweigh this crappy one. (Not that this is the only crappy or difficult thing about me, but it is, I think, one of the most difficult for other people to take.)

So I don't know. I'm not really sure how to conclude these musings. There is a part of me that wishes that I did feel genuine remorse, rather than just feeling like through my own mean-spiritedness things have been resolved fairly. There is a part of me that wishes that I didn't feel quite so content and at peace with myself after having behaved in such a way. There is a part of me that wishes that I were better at letting some things lie, even though I know it's intrinsic to my personality (and, maybe 3 times out of every 10, good) that I don't.


Maggie said...

Just for the record: I am exactly the same way. EXACTLY.

Usually, though, when I do this there is also something else going on: a feeling like I've been (or am being) taken for granted in some way. Sometimes that feeling is justified, and sometimes it isn't, but I know for me it makes those feelings of righteous indignation even more powerful.

One of my exes said something amazingly useful to me once, something like, "You need somebody who is steady at the helm" i.e., who can take all my crap and righteous indignation in stride. I don't think it is a coincidence that my husband is exactly that kind of person.

Sorry to take over your comments! But obviously this resonates a lot with me!

marciano said...

Nothing wrong with telling someone off. I do it with my students daily.

However, if you're obssessing over this, it might be symptomatic of a compulsive trait you need to tame.

And don't think yourself as an "a.h" From your writings I can tell you're a super duper person--whom I respect.

Belle said...

As someone on the other end of the spectrum (take it all and swallow the rage and disgust) I can only envy your ability to do it. My best effort to date is simply to be duck's back re: water. That rarely satisfies.

Flavia said...

I have a version of this. Only in my dreams do I truly tell people off, and I really wish I were better at the righteous indignation when the person were actually present (as opposed to when I'm sitting on my sofa, talking to the air), but I do have a profound belief that it is my job to school people in the ways they ought to behave--and that I, uniquely, understand how everyone ought to behave.

So, I've been known to walk directly into people on the street if they're just standing around in on a Manhattan sidewalk, and when they complain, say, "well! maybe all three of you should get out of the middle of the sidewalk when you need to check your map!" Or to make a similarly snide remark to people forcing their way onto a train when people haven't yet disembarked.

Mostly I suppose I just bitch endlessly to the people around me about how inappropriate everyone else is. Which is satisfying for me but perhaps irritating to my friends.

Dr. Crazy said...

Maggie: You're definitely right that there's an element of feeling taken for granted that is part of the mix with this. That whatever's going on, I feel like the other person just assumes that I'll suck it up and suffer whatever is going on and that the person isn't giving me any credit for doing so - that I'm just supposed to take their shit in stride without any sort of acknowledgment. And I, too, need people who are "steady at the helm" and who can take this sort of reaction on my part in stride =) (Actually, one thing that's nice about me is that I do give those in my life who can do so continuing credit for putting up with this part of me, and I really don't take their steadiness for granted.)

Marciano: I'm not really obsessing over this - just have been thinking about it. All in all, even if it is a negative thing about myself, nobody's perfect, and this is just one among many of my imperfections. And I don't *really* think I'm an asshole - just that every now and then I can come off like one :)

Belle and Flavia: your contributions to the comments made me think of that scene in _You've Got Mail_ where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are discussing his ability with the quick comeback and her inability to do the same. It's ultimately a six of one, half-dozen of the other sort of thing, where either you end up regretting what you don't say and mulling over all of the things you might have said or you end up regretting the zingers that you did let fly. That said, having done both things, I actually always feel much better for having let fly the zingers than I do when I keep my mouth shut (which is another reason why I know I'm not ever going to become more enlightened where the problem is concerned - because ultimately I think it's *less* of a problem than keeping my mouth shut, which never works for long anyway).

Brigindo said...

Your behavior in this area sounds exactly like my favorite sister. It's not something I've ever really liked about her--at least when I'm on the other side of a tongue lashing--but her faith that she knows exactly what is right for everyone else or how everyone should act has always been comforting for me. I would agree with you and Maggie that she has always felt like the one who has to take the brunt of burden. (Interestingly I think I must be her "steady-at-the-helm). But she is also quick to use this same quality to defend others, like her little sister. However she has recently mellowed a lot (she says people have no idea the degree of restraint she uses on a daily basis) and says she feels a lot better by not letting it go all the time.

life_of_a_fool said...

Maybe it's because I can also be like that that it doesn't sound like a *bad* thing to me. And I think sometimes people do need to be called on their shit, and made to feel responsible (as much as anyone can). It's a fine line between inappropriate righteous indignation and letting people walk all over you.

I don't think it's ever occurred to me to try to change (indeed, I'd say it's something I made an effort to work up to), though I do try to think things through first and choose my battles. I don't respond this way every time I feel like it. . .

Rokeya said...

Why do you think you act this way? I don't mean this in terms of why you feel like you should act this way (because you feel that people should be called on their BS, as you explain in your post). What I mean is more along the lines of why you embraced this particular way of dealing with others, where you learned it, how you came to practice it. I've found that tracing those sorts of things can be really telling in figuring out why we do certain things and what our investment really is in continuing certain kinds of behavior. Plus it's interesting. :)

Artistic Soul said...

I find myself somewhere in the middle -- in our most recent departmental skirmish, I opted for the high road and swallowed it because I know the individuals in question will be getting chewed out by some higher ups once we return to campus. But, part of me still wishes I bitched them out for being as stupid as they were being, particularly since it was unprofessional and their behavior sort of implied that I wasn't doing something correctly (which admin obviously disagreed). Anyway, that was a mind dump there -- but although you might feel bad about the behavior, if you were in my department, I would love it since you'd probably say many of the things that I would want to say but wouldn't. :o)

Kjerstin said...

I'm getting increasingly like this, except I don't tell people off outright. I stick to my passive-aggressive ways (I've even been known to sink as far as to communicate my displeasure on post-it notes) which are nonproductive at best and counterproductive at worst. The thing that worries me, is that my behavior nevertheless makes me feel better. Self-righteousness can be a very good feeling, after all. On the one hand it's a great relief to know that I'm not alone, but on the other hand: If we all (including the misbehavers) think we know how everyone should behave, and we all tell each other, aren't we just making things worse for everyone? Sometimes I'm afraid I'll end up the old hag who shouts at everyone if they aren't doing things exactly the way I would have done them. Now that is scary!