“Wow. Sounds like the trains run on time at your house.”
I was with my extended family at Pike Place Market in Seattle doing the “tourist thing.” All six of us wanted different things for lunch (of course) and I was trying to coordinate everyone heading in different directions. As I laid out the plan of who was going with whom and where we should meet, the person stationed at the closest produce stand chimed in with the above statement.
Having lived in Manhattan, I did not feel put out by a stranger weighing in on what was otherwise not of their concern (though it is far less common in the PNW). It was that he had seen right through me just from a brief interaction with my family. On a sidewalk. In public.
I could have taken it as a compliment. In general, the trains did run on time at my house, even with two young children, a husband who had recently launched his own business and me as a newly certified yoga instructor in the process of building my student base and community.
But the comment stuck with me, rankled me. If I knew it was true, why did I find it so disarming to be called out?
This isn’t the only comment from strangers (or “non-intimates”) that has stuck with me: the art teacher in 5th grade who told me I wasn’t an artist; my 10th grade AP History teacher taking a dig at me in front of the whole class for being an underperformer; being given the nickname “Josephine” by some upperclassmen at college (as in a female version of someone with a Napoleon complex, haha).
The thread? Each of these comments poked at a part of me that I hadn’t fully wanted to own OR that didn’t feel in alignment with my identity. I didn’t think I was rigid (Pike Place vendor), not creative (art teacher*), not fulfilling my potential (AP teacher), or bossy (upperclassmen).
When a part of ourselves is being reflected back to us and it causes discomfort, it is an opportunity: Is it that I know it is true and I don’t want to accept it? Is it that I don’t think it is true so it causes dissonance in relationship to my definition of self?
(Worth noting—but not a part of this exercise—these comments often say just as much about the commenter.)
I do like to have things run smoothly and on a predictable schedule; it feels comfortable and natural. Others may see it differently. Accepting that, integrating what is true and filtering out what is not can turn poke-y comments from feeling deprecating to feeling empowering. All aboard!
*Given that she felt comfortable saying such things to an eleven-year-old, she probably wasn’t a great fit as an elementary school art teacher.
Take a Trip Down Comment Memory Lane
Are there comments that “non-intimates” have made that stick with you? Here’s one way to work with them:
-Remember the place and setting of the comment. Where were you? What age? Who was with you?
-Recall hearing the words. What was the tone? Were there any non-verbals? Do you remember your reaction at the time?
-When you think about those words now, how do they make you feel? Do they poke at something you know is not true about yourself? Do they stir up feelings of resistance? What can you learn about yourself either way?
(other) Smart People
“Don’t tell me that you know me,
That ‘this right here is what you are,’
I am the universe in motion,
For I was born from stars.” —Erin Hanson
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