I’m a “questioner”. I learned this after taking Gretchen Rubin‘s quiz* in her newest book, Better Than Before: Mastering The Habits of Everyday Lives. (Rubin also discusses questioners in this nifty video here.) Questioners will accept an answer if they think it makes sense. But if not: they push back. I’ve always been someone who pushes back but I’m noticing myself doing this more often and in different ways than ever before.
I pushed back in a big way recently when I decided to leave a family-centered communications camp. It was poorly organized with frequent schedule changes that were challenging for me as a solo parent. I’d also noticed when my daughter and I had first arrived that the lodge (where we’d be staying) was not very clean but I chalked it up “rustic” and tried not to be judgmental. A few days later, I made a discovery that made our bedroom feel unclean and also unsafe. I needed to push back. My voice was shaky, I did. I’d signed up for a week but we left after three days. Life is just too damn short to accept what isn’t right.
My patience is also at an all-time low for bureaucracy, redundant medical forms and rules for the sake of rules. I push back on deadlines, if they feel arbitrary. (Often risky work if you’re self-employed.) I don’t always follow the truism that you shouldn’t give a homeless person money or allow them into your car. Pushing back when my compensation or business contracts are concerned is hard but I’m doing it.
I’ve noticed the occasional reason behind my acceptance of what’s offered (or not offered) is, “what’s the harm?”. But I’ve learned that the “harm” is that nothing is ever without cost. Those Michael’s coupons we sign up for at the register aren’t really free. Neither is the teaser marketing class or the diversity training sponsored by our university. There is a cost for our “yes”, even if only our time and energy. (This is especially true if you own your business as I do. Time and energy for a solopreneur is money.) Beyond time and energy for us, there are other less visible costs: our reputation or credibility, stress on relationships, and strain on physical health and/or emotional wellness.
“Does it really matter?” is another temporary reaction that sometimes kicks in for me, usually when my email deadline is ignored or the sales guy cold-calling me gets rude. Then I remind myself that as a woman and a business owner, my response always matters. (As a straight white woman, I know that I have greater privilege than women of color and trans or queer women.) I am judged on my appearance, the name of my business and how professional I look on a daily basis. (This is why you don’t usually catch me in yoga pants.) As a result, my response to what is “offered” always matters a great deal. So I push back, set a boundary or a deadline. I can’t risk not being taken seriously.
Are we “sweating the small stuff” if I push back? No. The small stuff is exactly what I need to sweat. But it’s difficult to identify the small stuff as important because I, like most of us, we’re taught not to. As kids, we’re forced to share something, give someone a hug we don’t know and play with someone we don’t want to. Later as adults, we teach kids (especially our girls) to accept what’s offered, to not listen to themselves. It’s no wonder then, that abuse survivors often don’t notice the warning signs of emotional abuse early on. As adults, we often give someone the benefit of the doubt. Many times we assume good intentions. Sometimes we’re apt to put faith in a stranger or acquaintance when we really don’t know whether or not they are a good person. But this maladaptive knowledge disadvantages us on a daily basis, unless we push back. A lack of pushing back impacts our ability to feel confident about all of our daily choices including the apparent “small stuff”.
Until recently, I’d never questioned the concept of “not burning your bridges”. It had never felt permissible to consider, even when my heart told me I should. (Incredible, isn’t it how we can be swayed into accepting a social norm in spite of it continuing to cause internal conflict?) But recently, others’ big actions and unconditional support have cracked open a space for me to act bigger. Col. Mustard and I agree; there is safety in numbers. I push back. I reason if some bridges are destroyed, then future bridges might be safer and more inclusive for all travelers. That’s a possible long-term outcome that would be worth it. And since it is possible, I’m glad to be someone with a steady match and clear conscience.
In _Sex Object_, Jessica Valenti asks what “a lifetime of leers” do to us as women. How does sexism several times a day, every day, affect women? The blatant street harassment, lack of clothing sizes for all body types, strange men sitting unnecessarily close and everything in between. Implicit in Valenti’s question, then, is what do we do about these constant micro-aggressions? Quietly sucking it up doesn’t make us a better person. It makes us cynical and joyless. Action is the answer. Doing something (anything!) gives us a renewed sense of personal agency and greater control over our lives. So when we ask to speak to a supervisor, insist on “breast” not “boob” and hold fast to our truth even in the presence of the non-believers, everything else isn’t as big of a deal. But when something is a big deal, we’re better equipped to handle it.
“Actually, we are powerful,” says Vi Hart in this incredible video. We are all powerful but more of us need to step up and take that power by pushing back when and where we can. That’s where you’ll find me. That’s what I’ll continue to do. Because I know when I do, I not only feel more confident abut myself and the decisions I make, I feel happier and at greater peace in my own life. There’s no question about that.