Or Am I Just Jaded?
I was raised in a home where you said what you had to say; you got it off your chest and then you let it go. By the time I got to kindergarten, I learned that the rest of the world didn’t operate that way.
Along the way, I received lots of reactions to my “Brooklyn” bravado. I had to hide my sexuality, therefore, it was act tough and survive or whimper and be bullied. I developed a thick skin and a look that said, be real with me or get out of my face.
And then this happened . . .
I was a candidate for a really great position on campus at the University of South Carolina. It was my second year of a two-year Master’s degree program and I had spent the first year validating my candidacy for a coveted position. At the end of my second semester, I met with the director of the Living & Learning Program and discussed my future. I remember a smirk on his face I didn’t appreciate. He told me that there had been a couple of complaints about my direct nature — an interesting way to put it. He further went on to tell me he had observed it himself. What he said in not so many words:
I appreciate that you’re from New York and that New Yorkers are known for speaking their mind. It’s not how we conduct ourselves in the south. We tend to start with some small talk and then we sugar coat our words a bit. That’s how we succeed in getting what we want. You might want to consider changing your communication style while you’re in South Carolina; maybe tone it down a bit (source is now deceased, 1983). I guess I might have been reliving this horror in the middle of the night last night, because I also recalled that he said that I was a “primadonna.” At the time, I didn’t even know what that meant.
To say that I was devastated is a gross understatement. I spent the next two months questioning everything about the way in which I conducted myself. I cried a lot, I was angry, I hated that creep, and I went from deciding I would change everything about myself to being determined I would stay true to who I am.
At the end of a long and tortured summer, the director called me into his office; I almost refused to take the meeting, but I knew he had a lot of influence at the University. He asked me if I’d thought about what he’d said in May. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that I was tormented by his feedback. I responded:
I thought about what you said and I agree with some of it. I went on to tell him that I could be a bit less crass and a bit more tactful. I also stared him straight in his eyes and told him that I liked my own sincerity and direct approach; bullshit was not my style and being all nice nice without feeling it, wasn’t ever going to happen.
He listened with what seemed like an open mind. I asked him if there was anything else and he said,
“The position is yours if you want it. There are a lot of people on campus who are rooting for you, don’t let them down.”
He shared his own reservations and I sat there acting all smug and self-satisfied. I wanted that job more than anything and I was determined to prove him wrong.
So what is the point of my telling you this tale of woe? There are a few reasons actually:
- His words stuck with me more than any others that I have heard in my life. I didn’t like him, but I respected him and I came to believe he was sincerely trying to teach me something.
- In many ways he was right. I was overly confident and way too direct.
- Had he not shared his observations with me, I may never have been told that I needed to lower the volume. I still resent his harsh and hurtful approach, however, he managed to get me thinking about how I communicate with people and that is never a bad thing.
I have mentored several young people throughout my career. I have been in the position to share my thoughts about character flaws I thought could be altered or corrected. I am thoughtful about the way in which I phrase my criticism or feedback. I can always tell when I may have pushed too hard or said too much. I recall how much I learned from my critic and I accept the anger directed toward me. My own saboteur reminds me that I am vulnerable and imperfect.
And Another Thing . . .
My neighbor has decided to make his condo an Airbnb; it’s his place, I guess it’s his business. Personally, I think it’s an ugly dump and I’m not sure why anyone would rent it. It’s probably cheap, so it’s attracting young party people.
Yesterday, my new, not-so-friendly Airbnb neighbors were getting on the elevator to go to the beach and I introduced myself:
“Hi, I’m Chris, if you need anything please knock.”
They looked at me like deer in headlights and I very gently said:
“Do me a favor, when you close your door, please do it slowly. When your door slams my apartment shakes.”
Seriously, it sounds like a bomb has hit the building when the wind is strong.
You would have thought I was asking them to go to bed earlier. The look I got was of utter disgust and resentment. I promise you, I was pleasant.
What I said to them was not even criticism mind you. Would a big ugly sign outside my door asking for consideration be better?
Things I Keep In Mind When Offering Criticism/Feedback
- Will I ever see this person again?
- Will my words make a difference?
- How am I being impacted by their approach or style?
- What words can I use to make a difference?
- Am I being honest or mean?
- Do I really know better?
- Is my honesty a way to sabotage a relationship?
- Will they hear me?
- Are they open to feedback?
- Why am I doing it?
I know that I don’t know anything about most things, but I sure do know a little about some things. Keeping my opinion to myself isn’t easy, so listen up:
Men of Portugal (you know who you are), stop dousing yourself with buckets of cheap cologne, you stink and you’re making me sick! People, when you’re in line at the supermarket you need to stay in line; continuing to shop and expecting to keep your place in line, isn’t cool. And to the young men who own motorbikes in my neighborhood: I know that having a small penis makes life difficult; however, taking your muffler off of your motorcycle or moped won’t make that little penis any larger. You’re just making people angry and the girls don’t think it’s cool. Spend more time on your hair, it’s quieter. And I’m sorry to judge, but young gay men are not driving their loud motorbikes all around Faro.
Note: I’m just guessing about penis size.
When people are not willing to speak out for fear of repercussion or alienation, they become angry, resentful, and complacent. Keep this in mind when someone around you is feeling stifled or worse, gagged.
Travel: Time on the Spanish/Portuguese border in a Pousada next week; they can’t cancel that on me. I’m pretty sure I’ll get to go on my trip to Stockholm in August. And maybe even a booked trip to Lyon, France in September. I don’t count on travel anymore, I just have to wait and see.
Castles, Palaces, Monasteries, Halls of kings and Rooms of Queens… The Pestana Pousadas de Portugal offers the ultimate immersive Portuguese experience in some of the country’s most historical and iconic properties.
Note: Check out Wanda Sykes who is hosting for Jimmy Kimmel this week. She’s doing some kick ass truth tellin’.