Monday, November 26, 2007

Noblesse oblige

You know what I hate? Doing The Right Thing. Being the Bigger Person.

I hate doing this, in part, because it always seems to be I who make the effort--even when I have no particularly good reason to reach out to the other person; even when I'm pretty clearly the wronged party; even when I don't entirely like the other person. I send the email or make the phone call or walk across the room at the party all pleasant and smiley as if nothing in the world had ever happened.

I hate it. I resist doing it with every fiber of my being. But I can't not do it.

I have, I guess, very definite ideas about what is and isn't socially appropriate and what we owe to the people in our lives. I also believe that, generally, the harder something is--and the more I want Just Not To Deal--the more essential it is for me to do it.

But I wish, sometimes, that I could just be angry, in a pure and righteous way, holding grudges and either not speaking to those who deserve my anger or telling them off in a furious and splendid fashion. But for me, expressing anger to other people is almost never worth it. It's harder to recover from a fiery confrontation, for one thing, but more important is the fact that I tend to regard anger as a self-indulgent emotion: it's usually more about covering up or compensating for one's own sense of woundedness than it is about voicing hard truths. (And even when it's the latter, how often is it the case that the person who's an asshole will come to realize, through one's telling him so, that he is an asshole?)

So instead I make nice. I give people options and put them at ease. And I refuse to give the impression that what I'm doing isn't as natural as breathing.

And it's true that, once I make an overture, I tend to feel better--even smugly powerful--for being calm and gracious in the face of someone else's discomfort and avoidancy; it's nice, I guess, both to put someone else at ease and to know that I can master my own dis-ease. I also believe that, in the long run, graciousness and magnanimity are, like the proverbial living well, the best revenge.

But God. I still hate it. And right now I'm facing a particularly unpleasant situation, where it's clear that one party needs to make an overture. . . but it's equally clear that if I don't, no one will.

So I guess I'll do it. But I really, really, don't want to.


life_of_a_fool said...

Oh, I also hate being the bigger person! I agree with you, in large part, about the pointlessness of righteous anger, etc. I have, however, gotten better about not making big friendly overtures when it would cost me (emotionally) to do so. I try to be calm and gracious and all, but that's as far as it's going. You sound like a bigger person than I.

Flavia said...

Well, thanks but I don't know about that! I definitely don't make an effort to be *friends* with people whom I don't like/don't treat me well/don't give me an appropriate return--but being *friendly* to them, at least on those occasions when I can't avoid them, seems appropriate.

(Once or twice in my life, though, I've had the simultaneously gratifying and depressing experience of having someone who'd basically done nothing but treat me poorly, but who for whatever reason I'd been friends with for way too long before an eventual falling out, take my later purely perfunctory friendliness as evidence that I actually liked him/her. . . and then repeatedly persist in trying to be MY friend. That's what I hate about revenge: by the time it actually comes around, it's never as satisfying as you'd imagined.)

life_of_a_fool said...

Yeah, I'm not good with the perfunctory friendliness. Civility, yet.

I did once have a case where I knew a co-worker was talking smack about me to anyone who would listen, basically campaigning against me. I went out of my way to be enthusiastic and supportive. It still makes me smile in satisfaction, thinking of messing with his head (I hope! I never want to be contradicted on that!). So, clearly, even when I am the bigger person, I'm still not so secretly petty and vindictive.

MurkyMama said...

Goodness, babe! Feel free to call if you'd like; I'm just sitting around the house waiting to drop this kid ;-)

Flavia said...

Babeness! If I weren't so totally screwed with the grading and whatnot this week, I'd def. give you a ring--we need to catch up. Just don't, like, foal too soon. Maybe I'll call you from the airport Thurs p.m.

(And uh. . . you didn't think I was talking about you, did you? I feel bad that we've been in such crappy touch recently, but if you put your mind to it you can probably guess what/who I'm *really* talking about.)

Flavia said...

MM's comment made me reflect on the fact that there are a lot of people whom I know IRL who read this blog, not all of whom I've been in great touch with recently. It has also been brought to my attention, in years past, that people have a habit of spontaneously deciding that I hate them. (But we'll unpack that issue some other time.)

So for serious: no one who (I am aware of who) reads this blog is the immediate subject of the attached post. I'm not that passive-aggressive, dudes.

Just aggressive.

Consider this your BlogAdmin PSA.

Anonymous said...

Oh, man, Flavia.

You know what I hate? Doing The Right Thing. Being the Bigger Person.

THAT is why we all read and love you.

gwoertendyke said...

one of the many reasons, but yes, i agree with neophyte.

and i LOVE that you are aggressive aggressive. ME TOO. so much better that way....which is why being the better person hurts you so, because you are an honest person too. or so it seems.

Flavia said...

Neo: you're saying. . . because I'm a bitch?

AW: I appreciate the compliment, although I suspect that plenty of people would say that making nice to those one dislikes is at bottom dishonest. The point, though, isn't to make someone else truly believe that I like him or her, but to make life easier and more pleasant for everyone, not burn my bridges, etc. It's fundamentally strategic, and therefore I think an aggressive rather than a passive-aggressive act. . . but being aggressive doesn't mean that one is direct and straightforward.

Anonymous said...

This is a hard one for me.

On the one hand, I feel obligated as a Christian to turn the other cheek, to be forgiving, to rise above the hurt. And, at the same time, in doing so I often feel a decided (and no doubt un-Christian) glee in being publicly and overtly nice to someone who has screwed me over, heaping burning coals upon his or her head in a very satisfying way. So those are the advantages of being the one who makes overtures.

On the other hand, I do think that it can be really important to express righteous anger. Not because it's going to make an asshole realize he's an asshole -- I agree with you on that -- but because sometimes the truth needs to be spoken, and because sometimes speaking the truth is important and healing for the speaker even if the audience can't or won't hear it. In my own case, at least, I've internalized enough the messages about being a good girl that I sometimes forget that it's okay for me to be angry, which means that at times in my life I have wound up accepting a lot of stuff that should have made me angry.

All of which is to say that this is a tough one for me!

Belle said...

There are advantages to getting older. One: you quit caring so much about what other people think of you. Two: sometimes you can say no. Three: Once in a while you allow yourself to be yourself, and to indulge in either passive-aggressive or aggressive-aggressive behaviors to those who have angered/enraged/hurt you. And finally, sometimes you can just not deal.

I wear a lot of purple.

Flavia said...

WN: oh, that's so true. I don't generally think of myself as feeling that I need to be a good girl, but I'm sure that's part of the difficulty that I have expressing anger--because I do, too.

It's also the case that anger makes me feel out of control, and believing that I'm at least partly at fault--or that expressing anger wouldn't change anything anyway--is a way of remaining firmly in charge of a situation. (I think my therapist was secretly gratified when, after months of my saying, "you know, I'm not really angry; there's really nothing to be angry about; I just don't think I'm angry" I walked into her office one day and said, in a tone of amused surprise, "You know, for the past few days. . . I've been just a ball of rage!")

Belle: hee!

Tenured Radical said...

There's nothing wrong with being angry *and* expressing it. I would say that the key is to keep it specific, and put boundaries on it. (God -- this is worth a TR advice post....)

What I mean by this is to express, succinctly, what the behavior is that you object to, and why you object to it; not to get it mixed up with your past grievances toward the person by using phrases like "You always" or "You never;" or characterizing the person by the behavior.

The tough part -- particularly in relation to someone who has done something really awful and/or someone whose offensive behavior is repetitive -- is to let it go, which usually means a kind of false closure.

In my experience, not expressing anger can result (for me at least) in a lot of passive-aggressive behavior: gossiping, sarcasm, telling embarrassing stories at the other person's expense. And this gets tricky, both because it is really bad behavior (I am truly speaking about myself) AND the only message that gets to the other person is that you are a jerk too. Or maybe the only jerk, since s/he won't recognize hir own jerkiness.

On the other hand, a good, firm retort that makes your position clear can be refreshing to you and make you the object of other people's admiration.