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Entries from July 2010

Declare Your Independence! (from being nice at any price)

July 2nd, 2010 · 12 Comments

A wonderful client of mine, a smart, hip woman who lives in Manhattan, recently got a lesson in the high cost of being too nice in the NYC subway. A bedraggled man got on the car, took the seat beside her and, in a series of escalating advances, attempted to engage her in conversation and then began to touch her.

Frightened, she quietly waited until the train came to a station, told him it was her stop (yeah, she actually gave him an excuse for leaving), and re-entered the next car, which had more people on it.  He followed her, continued his advances, and luckily this time, several men on the car restrained him, and summoned the transit police, who took the very mentally ill man away in handcuffs. My client was grateful because it could have been worse, but she was tremendously upset and shaken.

What was she thinking? As we deconstructed the event, she realized that she saw him initially approaching her, felt uncomfortable, but she sat still because she didn’t want to seem impolite.

We do it all the time, us nice girls.

I recently visited a new hairdresser.  I walked into an elegant salon and was greeted by a man dressed in black and chains, like an old British rocker.  I did not like his look or his vibe, but nonetheless, I politely sat in his chair.  As I picked at my hair, trying to describe what I wanted, he abruptly told me that I was paying him to cut my hair, not drive him crazy, so I had to keep my hands out of my hair.  As he roughly raked through my hair, my eyes welled up with tears.  “I’m extremely tender-headed.” I told him. “Well I’m not known for being gentle,” he replied. I was aware of a sickly feeling growing stronger in the pit of my stomach.  But I did not leave.

You know the ending of this story, right?

Of course.  I left with three inches less hair than I wanted, a lousy, unflattering haircut, and the prospect of finding someone else to repair the damage.

What was I thinking? I was operating on the same frequency as my client in the subway, as the woman who doesn’t get off the elevator when the creepy guy gets in, the woman who doesn’t get up, walk out, scream, or do whatever it takes to live her life in peace, exactly as she pleases.  I ignored all the signals from my gut, because I felt too uncomfortable standing up and leaving.  I ignored my feelings because I was afraid to tell him the truth.

We’re such good girls aren’t we?  In the name of being nice, of not making a fuss, not offending, not drawing attention to ourselves, and a passel of other sometimes valid but not universally applicable motivations, we tolerate all kinds of inappropriate people and behavior. We ignore the clues in our bodies, sometimes whispering, sometimes screaming at us–get up, leave, walk, run, speak up, yell, don’t sit here, don’t stay here, don’t do business here, get the hell out of here and don’t turn back.

Enough!  I’m Declaring my Independence.

I’m ready, finally ready, to declare my independence from being nice at whatever it costs.  I’ll have a wonderful daily reminder as my hair grows back.

I declare that henceforth I will put my desire to be happy and safe over my desire to be polite at any price.  I will listen to my body.  I will listen to my gut feelings.  And I will never, ever again fail to speak up for myself, and just stay quiet, sit still, and not leave, speak up, scream, or whatever it takes to look out for my best interests, in the name of being a good girl.

Won’t you join me?

Tags: listening to your body · noticing · risk