Pathologically Polite – How Being Polite Could Be Putting You in Harms Way
A letter from Sarah,
I’m going to be honest with you. I do not wake up in the morning with the fear of being physically attacked. I’m not naïve to the possibility; I know that my petite stature is a beacon light, alerting the wolves of the world to my sheep status. I walk with purpose. I make eye contact. I avoid parking garages. I put gas in my car in daylight. I stay off my phone in public so that I am alert to my surroundings. My daily habits are designed to mediate my physical vulnerability.
So why did I choke when a male colleague asked me if I have visible ab muscles? Why did I let a different male colleague refer to me as “babe” as if that’s totally normal? Why did I not know what to say when yet another male colleague quipped, “it’s warm weather, I see you’re back to wearing skirts.” When male, married colleagues tell me I’m such a good catch, when they tell me I should wear my hair down more often, when they tell me to “calm down”…why do I apparently have zero life skills?
It’s actually quite simple. I’m pathologically polite. Sure, I’m also outspoken, assertive, and confident. I’m well read, well traveled, and known for my quick wit and capable verbal sparing skills. But above all, I am polite.
I have been enculturated to be pleasant. My upbringing centered on it. I was taught specific phrases to use when answering the phone. My brothers and I practiced how to handle in-person introductions with people we were meeting for the first time. We were taught what to say and how to act at funerals, museums, nice restaurants, the symphony, and even how to order a pizza. I have distinct memories of my parents telling me prior to interacting with the elderly that no matter what the “old” person said, I was to be agreeable.
In the work place, relationship building is crucial. Promotions depend on the bridges you’ve built just as much as your actual skill level. Attendance to the holiday work party has nothing to do spending even more hours with people you already spend all day with and everything to do with exchanging pleasantries and making inroads with people.
When someone says something inappropriate, what is the best way to handle it without being “that person”? If you stand up for yourself, it is not just one relationship that is affected. All it takes is for one person to believe that you’re “not easy to work with” or that you “over-react” and suddenly your reputation as being difficult is set into motion. Being a “team player” is a quality that is not to be underestimated in importance.
I know all about stranger danger but I hesitate to say, “that’s inappropriate” when it comes to people I interact with on an every day basis. I’ve been in the work force for ten years and have accepted that the male experience and the female experience are different. While I accept that the experiences are different, it still catches me off-guard when comments are made that are overtly sexual or otherwise demeaning. This year, my resolution is to be less surprised and more prepared.
Being Pathologically Polite
Your parents did a bang up job raising you. Yup, they raised one hell of a polite, intelligent, focused, respectable member of society that any parent would be proud of. Maybe you worked you ass off in school and successful climbed that corporate ladder. But maybe you dropped out and threw 1000% of your endless energy into moving to the city, to live out that romantic, awesome, crazy sitcom based lifestyle that you knew was the only way for you. You did it, you’re an adult. You are perfect. And I am soo fucking glad I have your attention.
Victims of violent assault come from every walk of life, every religious sect, every age and gender. They are generally great people…. just like you. To truly be safe though, a person must “take the gloves off.” Their subconscious self must kick on that powerful Fight or Flight response that their body is built for. Yes, YOUR body is made to fight. It’s also made to run like hell if need be but don’t think for a second that you; in your most vulnerable of situations can not scrap your way out of danger. You are built to survive. But what happens if your Fight or Flight response is stopped at the first sign of trouble? When social programing inhibits your own willingness to protect yourself, there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
What Sarah’s Letter Really Means
The issue that our writer brings up is that your social engineering might be stopping all those built in responses from happening. Over and over, police interviews show that some victims ignored their intuition (Gavin de Becker interview with Oprah “Save Your Own Life”) and although feeling nervous, uneasy or fearful they continue to engage with someone politely that they didn’t want to. That subconscious intuition was making some victims sick to their stomach on the inside but they were burying those warnings in an effort to ….. not be rude? Or not seem crazy… or not seem racist? Our guest writer Sarah (with an H) questions her own self awareness when she repeatedly and sometimes dangerously “clams up.” She recognizes those uncertain social situations and allows them to continue without utilizing her oldest form of communication…. the word “No.”
“No.” Is A COMPLETE SENTENCE! It is the most basic language of her inner dialogue. When a stranger is crossing a social boundary, you’ve already decided it’s not ok. It’s an On/OFF switch inside the mind. When her colleague refers to her as “babe,” her response could (and should) start with “No, that’s not appropriate for our relationship and especially in a work environment. You should not refer to me like that again.” (This is of course the very “PG” version of a possible response) Please feel free to elaborate on this response in any way you feel is necessary in real life.
Whether her response is PG or Rated R, the first comment is NO. It’s our writer’s line in the sand. But it’s also a mine field, bordering a moat filled with sharks (with laser beams attached to their heads), and stone walls 50 feet high covered in barbed wire, with archers waiting to unleash hell if an aggressor attacks. “No” is her first line of defense. It is strong, it is necessary and it is her’s (and your’s) to use. When “No” is used/said, the battle could be over in a moment or it could be the start of all out war. Either way, you said it when you knew “No” was right. Here’s the catch, the word can’t help you if you bury it.
No one would hand you a guitar and expect Hendrix if you’ve never played. The same can be said for self defense training and standing up for yourself.
Good Reps vs Bad Reps
As you can probably assume, this article isn’t just about raising your voice during an uncomfortable social or professional interaction. The issue at hand is how to listen to the voice of your beautifully protective subconscious self and act on it. Modern athletes, musicians and martial artists practice by doing. They put in the work on the small fundamentals so that their minds and bodies can perform when it counts. No one would hand you a guitar and expect Hendrix if you’ve never played. The same can be said for self defense training and standing up for yourself.
Maybe it starts small. Maybe it’s that uncomfortable set of eyeballs transfixed on you while you sit on the bus. Yes, lets start here – A How To Guide – read-this-article-until-the-creepy-guy-on-the-bus-stops-looking-at-you. Although funny, the Reductress “guide” should be… avoided if possible. Now, I’m not saying you should engage that creepy s.o.b. with a violent torrent of “hellbows”, eye gouges and knees to his skull right off the bat (Thats next week’s article) But you should not be held back from exercising your right to voice your own response to his action. He broke the social norm of looking at you like a starving hyena. And here’s the kicker, when some broken individual crosses the Saraha Desert of normalcy and appropriateness by sickeningly gazing at you or your family, they might actually have bad intentions. So you might as well make that decision now, “No” means you’re ready to back it up.
Remember that line in the sand I mentioned earlier? By this point they should be dragging their emotionally bruised, embarrassed, and broken self back over that line in the sand to their side of the playground. It starts with NO and it’s quickly followed up with whatever is necessary. Any emotionally healthy person will acknowledge they have made a social mistake. A dangerous aggressor will look for weaker, less defensive victims. Saying “No” and meaning it makes you one hell of the bad target.
Be polite when surrounded by polite people but never let being polite get in the way of being safe.
Stay safe out there
If you got through this article, thank you. Our goal at SafeGuardMedia is to improve your safety in anyway possible. If this article rings a bell with you but you’re not sure where toget self defense training or would like to have a talk about strategies for your own safety please please please shoot me a message. I will find a school or trainer in your area who offers quality training and speak to them on your behalf. If it means getting a couple phone calls together so you can get an introduction before you walk in, I would be extremely happy to do so. Contact me Here on SafeGuardMedia.net.