“What’s this?” my dad asked one day, somewhat annoyed as he stared at the mountains and mountains of books I had heaped on my bedroom floor. I was dusting, I explained, to clean the shelves all the way to the back instead of just brushing a paper towel or feather duster across the visibly dirty section. I told my dad, “My books deserve that.”
And yet, in spite of my insistence in that situation, I am aware of my own tendencies to sweep some problems under the rug. I’m fairly easy dealing with my own problems, but when it comes to conflicts with friends or relatives, I am more inclined to accept responsibility even for things that are not my fault, hoping that will disperse the tension.
I am not particularly proud of this behavior, but to Dr. Robert E. Alberti, the author of Assert Yourself- It’s Your Perfect Right: A Guide to Assertive Behavior, it’s even more serious than that. He claims a lot of people have a propensity to veer in either one of two self-destroying directions”: towards meekness, which often means submitting oneself to circumstances one finds undesirable, or towards aggressiveness, which can result in one getting what one wants, but often at the cost of another’s feelings. Instead, he recommends being assertive with your goals and wishes— a state that involves neither being under or over passionate about the little stresses of life.
He illustrated the differences with several true to real life examples of problems that could spawn either a non-assertive, aggressive, or assertive response. In a particular case “Helen” is concerned by her roommate’s request to borrow a necklace her brother gave her on a trip home from active duty.
According to Dr. Alberti, Helen’s three options are to either let her friend go with it and spend the entire time fretting about the necklace’s safety, to yell at her friend for such an outrageous question and then later feel the guilt of causing a scene right before her roommate’s big date, or to calmly explain why this necklace means so much to her that it might be anxious-provoking to have it out of sight.
Seen in this context, it is simple to guess the correct behavior, but as I, and I am sure many people know from personal experience, navigating the correct balance of understanding and insistence can be hard; that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile.
Everyone is entitled to certain things out of life, but items such as our freedom of speech are a duty as much as they are a privilege. We owe it to ourselves to be vocal about how we feel; each time we do so, we are asserting our right to feel anything. As long as we keep in mind what is due to others, personal honesty can have a very beneficial impact upon our lives.
And in times when walking a perfect middle road is not possible, we at least deserve the satisfaction that comes from knowing that we did not let fear get in the way of establishing ourselves, nor did we consciously attempt to step on anyone’s emotions. Most often the person that we picture as our ideal selves has achieved something that we, as of yet, do not possess.
So if you want a healthier relationship, a better price on that item you are haggling for, or something as simple as to reclaim your spot in line from a couple of rude butters, the first step is to acknowledge our entitlement to ask for those things.
It is not wrong to hold our ground in the face of opposition; and in reality, our own inner voice is one of the greatest voices of opposition for us to overcome.