I come from a place where politeness runs abundantly and at times at a level of excess. Drivers will stop to anticipate whether or not you may or may not like to cross the road as you approach the sidewalk. People nod at the four way stops, trying to out”nice” the other drivers…”You go first”, “Oh, no, by all means, you go first”. And so the two cars inch forward, timidly, only to stop thinking maybe they are stepping on the other fellows toes. And it doesn’t stop there. There is always the lady who will hold up half a mile’s traffic to let everyone turn in in front of her (and everyone else who is waiting).
False smiles, idle and trite conversations that no one really wants to carry on, pleasantries and obligatory gifts.
Customer service and sales personnel who want to be your best friend the moment you enter the store. Feeling obligated to return that facade of glassy niceness. And it can all get sort of tiring, you know, dancing like a puppet on a string. “Sooooooo nice to meeeeet you. What a looooovely dress you are wearing today”, “Oh Thaaaaank you soooo much. You are sooooo sweet”.
So you can imagine my shock when I did a bit of traveling and found that there are a lot of places that are not like that. Having a walk sign at the crosswalk didn’t necessarily mean that the cars would stop. People waiting on me weren’t necessarily smiling or even polite. Apple cores and cigarettes flew onto the ground with no regrets. People yelled and honked at each other without restrain and I found myself heatedly arguing with a man dressed up as a Roman soldier. He had enthusiastically invited himself into a photo with me, and when I asked the price, he asked how much I had. He wanted not just the four Euros I had given him. He wanted ALL my money, every bill he craned his neck to see in my wallet. It made me think of that Yoko Ono song “…The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees, I want money, that’s what I want…in fact I want so much money…just give me money…” I felt like I had landed on a hostile alien planet.
Then I realized how much I can learn from this different way of life.
Who is better adjusted, the person who tries desperately to please and accommodate everyone or the person who directly and unapologetically declares what they want?
Who is better adjusted, the person who smiles and makes conversation while quietly thinking “Get me out of here” or the person who just keeps walking past the person they don’t really feel like talking to.
All I can say is I see a lot of people who are really nice, trying to be someone that they are not, beginning to resent people while burying that repressed anger of not getting their needs met with coffee, pastries and hours of reruns on television. I have to say, the people I saw in some of those countries may have appeared a bit more abrupt and direct, but they also seemed to have a genuine sense of connection with each other. (Of course I speak in generalizations)
I think that there is a balance and it looks something like this.
1. It is okay to have a “me first” attitude-to a certain extent of course. You are the only one responsible to look after yourself. And yes, you are also the one responsible for the consequences of your actions.
2. When you allow yourself to meet your own needs, you can begin to respect that others have a right to try to meet their own needs too.
3. The better you are at saying no to what you don’t want, the better you get at saying yes to what you do.
4. The more honest you are with other people, the easier it is to genuinely like them. Likewise, the more honest you are about yourself, the more they are likely to genuinely like you. And if they don’t, they can get lost for the right reasons.
5. You begin to do things for others because it feels good to you, not to elicit a response or to maintain a facade.