What did you do ...?
I found Anne looking out the window a sign that she was pondering something. "What's up?" I asked. When she turned around, I could see that she was upset, despite the smile.
Anne hesitated before answering me. She shook her head as she said, "Sometimes we are given the same lesson over and over again, even when we think we have learned it. I am feeling embarrassed and ashamed.
"When I was in elementary school, and I complained to my mother that someone had been mean to me in the playground, she would ask me, “What did you do to make them treat you like that?” I found that infuriating. As far as I could see, my just breathing the air had irritated them.
"I told my mother that I hadn’t done anything at all – might not have spoken to or even looked at them. Her question was disempowering and invalidating.
"As she grew older and wiser, she encouraged me to give mean, rude, disrespectful and cranky people the benefit of the doubt. She identified five reasons a person might be cranky – they are:
5. Irritated by sand in their underpants
"My task was to uncover the reason(s) and apply the appropriate solution(s). That was it. So simple. Give the mean or cranky person:
1. A peanut Butter sandwich or a muffin
2. A glass of juice or a cup of tea
3. A sweater
4. A nap in a warm bed
5. A bath – preferably with bubbles
"Which still told me that I should take responsibility for their bad behaviour towards me, and work to make things better for them."
"All these years later, when confronted with mean, cranky, disrespectful, or rude behaviour, I hear my mother’s voice in my head asking, “What did you do …?”
And this forces me to examine my own behaviour; to ask myself whether I had somehow offended the other person and, if so, what I could/should do to remedy the situation.
"Earlier this morning, I experienced a situation in which I found myself feeling disrespected, invalidated at the hands of Drucilla. She talked right over me and outright told me she was not interested in what I had to say.
"This was worse than being interrupted when you can say, “May I finish?” In this instance, I had to say very loudly, “Drucilla, may I speak?” Even then, she was reluctant to grant me the courtesy of listening.
"I found myself shaking after that conversation.
"I have now reviewed all of our written correspondence and looked out the window for some time as I replayed our previous conversations, including my opening to this morning's meeting.
"I was reminded that there was frequently a disrespectful edge to her emails and despite my best efforts, I was not succeeding in bonding with Drucilla. Instead, I was allowing myself to be drawn into an unpleasant exchange that didn't feel good and certainly was out of alignment with the person I want to be.
"I feel ashamed for letting someone push me to behave in a way that I find unbecoming."
"Others who know her better told me not to take it personally because she is like that with everyone, and she is too old to change. Accepting her behaviour is not doing her any favour as it enables her to continue to treat others badly.
"We are all on a learning journey and we can all learn new ways of being and new ways of interacting with others. And that includes Drucilla."
Kindness, compassion, consideration, and respect are so very important
and cost nothing to give. Don't be Drucilla.