Thailand has brought me many things. I thought that the worst feeling in the world was somebody wrongly concluding that you are less than you are. This week, however, has taught me that much worse than that, is somebody concluding you are something that you are not.
There was a boy in high school that I was close to as a friend, but always liked as a little more than that. We were in the habit of eating up philosophical discussion instead of lunch, or mulling over great literature instead of going to third period.
In one of the few classes we actually took together, our teacher was so fed up with our talking while he was talking that he finally hung a toga that he had in his desk from the ceiling tiles to cover my face. Don’t worry, I was young, and I’ve since learned to respect my teachers, though honestly what’s a toga going to do and better question, why did he just have one in his desk?
In the midst of our discussions (when we weren’t so rudely interrupted by a toga), my friend would often say things that I disagreed with. I’d never say as much, however, I’d just expand on what he said, until I could make it conform more to what I thought, or I’d say nothing at all. It wasn’t until two years after our senior year when we got back together, and I’d grown into myself and out of my girlish crush on him, that I realized how much I’d checked myself in our conversations in high school.
I’d always wanted to seem agreeable, and so when the opportunity came to present a difference of opinion, I’d push it away _ hoping that ultimately he’d always feel smart and comfortable around me.
It never did work. He probably did feel comfortable and smart around me, but it never amounted to anything more than friendship for me, and with just a friendship, I could’ve filled the airspace between us with what I really thought on a topic and never threatened us.
This holding-back thing, this polite dismissal of my dissatisfaction or disagreement in favor of keeping the elephants out of the room (elephants?! Haha, I’m in Thailand) has become something of a habit of mine in every area of my life. In the back of my mind I hold back my opinions when I’m with people that won’t receive them. They can’t handle someone brushing their fur the wrong direction, and I don’t need outside validation of my thoughts to maintain my position as a free thinker, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut.
In some instances that works all right, and it doesn’t bother me to admit it. However, there are cases when there was more at stake than an intellectual discussion. A change really did need to be made or someone really did need to follow through, but I accepted and adapted, rather than spoke up, because in some dark corner of my brain I don’t really believe I deserve whatever it was that was already promised to me.
It’s such a fine line to walk between your sense of self-worth, requiring you to say what you need, and the vast majority of people in this world (including yourself, probably), completely unable to hear what they’re doing wrong or that they’re not keeping up their end of a bargain. And so, pretend you decided to speak up or someone spoke up for you, and you’re in a position where you can’t take back what’s been said. You rejoice in the fact that it worked and something changed and personal productivity is suddenly possible again.
But it came with a cost.
Those people that you didn’t think would acknowledge their own failings, also turn out to be unable to see that you are willing to admit to your own as well, and instead they end up hurt. They begrudgingly give you what you wanted, but also come to the conclusion, that conclusion that will give you the worst feeling in the world, that you are something that you are not.
Say you’re a dog that, in getting to that bowl of food that literally has your name on it, spills the mop bucket all over your master’s clean floor. He starts to kick you because he’s angry about his floor getting wet, when he should’ve known not to put the bucket there in the first place.He keeps kicking and though you want to remain a calm, loving house animal, you’re also not willing to sit there and take it.
So you finally just bark to let him know this isn’t working for you. You were merely trying to stick up for yourself, and he wrongly concludes that you’re a savage monster.
When something happens and you’re suddenly and inexplicably put on the defense, it’s hard to know what kind of fortifications you’re allowed to employ without your attackers (whom you so desperately wanted to be your friends) vilifying your actions to the extreme.
Then is the lesson here not to speak up? Am I supposed to conclude that it’s better to be stepped on and grin than dodge the step and leave other people frowning? Or better yet to never have sought out your food in the first place — to starve but proudly bear the label “adaptable”?
It is in times like these that I wish God was not the only one who had free reign of my true heart and desires. I wish I could physically peel back the pieces of my heart so that they could see that I bore no ill will and still don’t, that I just wanted that food and it was supposed to be mine. But without truth in its purest form being able to speak for itself, all they will remember is the wet floor and that bark that they thought proved to them who I really am.