Do No Harm, But Take No Shit

My mother was at a grocery store once, waiting in the self-checkout line. You know, where there are four “registers,” but people unofficially form just one line and head to the next station when it becomes available. (For the record, this is the only correct and fair way to negotiate self-checkout. If you don’t know, now you do.)

She’d been waiting awhile, minding her business. Now she was next in line.

All of a sudden, a lady she didn’t know approached the self-checkout (and the line stretching away from it) and stood behind someone scanning their stuff. You know, creating another line. (Not acceptable behavior.)

If anyone knows my mom, they know where this is going.
She said, “Excuse me, there’s just one line.” And gestured to that one fairly long line.

She’s got this rule down.

I’ve never heard her utter a rude word in someone’s general direction. In fact, she’s drilled it into my head to be polite to every waitress, every customer service rep, every secretary, every single person that I come into contact with. She abides by Dave Barry’s rule that anyone who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person. When I get frustrated and want to lose all my shit, she reminds me that you’ll never get anywhere in life just yelling at everybody all the time.

But my mother will never take anyone’s shit, either.

That’s why, when the lady’s tall, super-jacked husband came over to ask if there was a problem (srsly, dude?), she again told them that there’s only one line for self-checkout.

And then he said something ridiculous — probably, “Says who?” or something like that. (I mean, says errrrybody, don’t you know how to work self-checkout?!)

So she looked (up) at him and said, “Are you freakin kidding me?” (This is Jersey for, “gtfo, dude, I’m not scared of you.)

There’s a difference between being rude and abrasive and taking no shit. (That guy was rude. My mom didn’t take his shit.)

I know this because, for a lonnnnnnng time, I didn’t have this rule down.
I took everybody’s shit. All the time.

In fact, I thought my mom not taking shit was out of line. I was horrified when she asked a waitress if she could speak to the manager because the vegetables in her salad were dirty. (Actually, my grandparents and I fled the table, got in the car, and drove to the end of the block. Like maybe they might chase her out with pitchforks.)

When I was a little older, she got napkins from the concession stand in the middle of a movie and brought them to a guy across the theater who was snorting instead of blowing his nose. She said, “I think you need these,” and returned to her seat quietly. I was in awe of her.

I could never do that.

And for as long as I believed that, I took a lot of shit. And I never realized how angry it was making me, how it poisoned me from the inside out, to feel like I had to take all this shit all the time because that’s how to be “polite.”

I swallowed so much anger, frustration, and confusion that it gave me heartburn. Legit.

But eventually, I started to catch on to what my mother had been trying to teach me all those years. Infamously, an angry client who was slamming his fist on my desk and yelling at me was calmly told, “There’s no reason to speak to me that way, sir.” At the end of his visit, I wished him a good day. With a smile. Coworkers cheered.

I’ve repeated that performance again and again, at work and in my personal life.

The comment that was made that hurt m feelings? I said, “That wasn’t funny, and it hurt my feelings.” (That one was tough. I thought I might literally die from how nervous that made me. I thought my friend would never speak to me again. In reality, she apologized and we let it go and moved forward.)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you teach other people how to treat you. What you allow is what will continue.

I often have to remind myself (pretty much every day) that setting your boundaries isn’t the same thing as starting a fight. You can set clear boundaries without getting defensive and without kicking off World War III. You deserve to be treated the way you want to be treated.

I’ve come to embrace my “handle with care” sticker, and all the people closest to me in the world know that I am much more tender than I appear at first blush.

And even with all this experience, I still hesitate to stick up for myself sometimes. Often, if I’m being honest.

When I tell myself, I don’t trust myself to respond to this because I’ll probably let it escalate, what I mean deep down is, I probably deserved that.

I’ve told myself that “because I’m not a good person,” I don’t deserve good things. In fact, what I deserve is to take everybody’s shit for the rest of my life — at least, according to the bitchy Me I’ve got living in my head.

I bet you’ve told yourself the same thing.

Maybe not in those words. And maybe not point blank like that. It’s possible that you have no idea you’ve been telling yourself all this time that you don’t deserve to be treated with respect, to have your boundaries honored. But if you’ve been taking shit from other people and not speaking up, that’s what you’re really saying to yourself.

And that’s not nice, and it’s not true.

Look, most of the shit people are giving you has nothing to do with you anyway. It’s about them — where they are in their lives, if they ate breakfast or slept well last night, if their mom hugged them enough or if they’re in touch with themselves and their dreams.

There is nothing you can think, do, or dream that will mean you deserve to take someone’s shit because their dad spanked them or they hate their job or they’re mad at their daughter.

You are literally made of stardust. (Look it up.)

You don’t deserve to take shit from other people.

Repeat that every day if you want.
Put it on a post-it note and tape it to your bathroom mirror.

For bonus Adult Points, remember that hurt people hurt people. Try your hardest to be extra nice when someone is being shitty. Try because you’re awesome.

For extra bonus Adult Points (and I feel like this should go without saying, but I never let anything go without saying), don’t give them shit either. If your job is crushing your soul, your friend just kissed the guy you like, or your husband ran away with the pool boy, acknowledge that that’s all your own shit. Deal with it so you don’t force it on other people. Because it doesn’t feel good when they do it to you, does it?


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