This week, I honed my “No” skills on the following razor strops:
1. The most uncomfortable “team-building” exercise in the history of ever. Our roomful of adult professionals was asked to stand up, find a person we didn’t know well, and silently gaze into their eyes for two full minutes. Then — still silently gazing — we were to take each other’s hands and reveal one of our “deepest fears.” Then, we were supposed to hug. This unwanted intimacy resulted, of course, in people giggling, looking away, and putting their hands in their pockets in an attempt to recover some personal space. The team-building “leader” started yelling: “DON’T LOOK AWAY! LOOK AT YOUR PARTNER; DON’T LOOK AT ME! NO TALKING! GET YOUR HANDS OUT OF YOUR POCKETS! HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO CONNECT WITH YOUR STUDENTS IF YOU CAN’T CONNECT WITH EACH OTHER!”
I looked at the “leader,” a guy who, to me, represents $42,000 we AREN’T spending on books this year, and sat down. Forced emotional intimacy is an ugly thing, and part of our job as educators is to maintain APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES with our students. It would be inappropriate (maybe even actionable) to try to connect with them in anything close to this way. “GET UP!” he exhorted those of us sitting down. “BE BRAVE!” I stayed in my chair, because no way. No fucking way. No matter how much he tried to dare or manipulate me, my answer was no. Saying no felt so good, I was ready for
2. Last night, I met a few family members for dinner. One relative, delighted with his new iPhone, kept insisting I watch a “funny video on the YouTube. This girl got her wisdom teeth taken out, and she’s crying! Heh heh! Look at all these videos of crying girls!”
I declined, because I don’t enjoy videos of women crying and uncomfortable, filmed and watched by men who think it’s funny. This was triggering on a deeper level, because while I love this relative very much; while he’s brilliant and sensitive and usually funny, he has a tendency to laugh at women’s discomfort and embarrassment. I don’t think he’s alone in this, and I know he wouldn’t laugh at real pain, but but but. I got up, headed for the restroom, and came back 5 minutes later to a sulking relative. After awhile, he brightened up and felt social again — but dinner was kind of ruined. I felt punished for saying no, and the message I received was that everyone’s discomfort was my fault. I had ruined dinner with my humorless jerk ways.
But, you know? It was worth it. I’m still upset about last night, but I’d be more upset if I’d caved and watched the damn video. I’d rather someone hurt me for saying no than hate myself for not saying it.