Replacing Passive-Aggressiveness with Grace and Beauty

Last week, I drove my daughter’s iPad down to her at to school.

One of the Blue Shirts there in the parking lot approached me and asked what I was doing, and told me, “we get a little concerned,” because I was waiting there for her. I figured, as soon as he realized I was a parent who had a legitimate reason to be at the school, that would be the end of the conflict. But during our short conversation, he repeated this line several times, “we get a little concerned.”

I said, “Sorry about that.” But what I was thinking was, “‘Concern’ on your part does not translate to a demand on mine.”

And maybe if I were a bigger asshole, I would have said, “Well, I’m sorry you feel concerned. Maybe if I bring you some milk and cookies next time, you’ll feel better. Would you like that?”

I really have to find a more constructive way of dealing with the Blue Shirts, because the nice-guy approach clearly isn’t working. Over the past 3½ years, I’ve had several unsatisfactory encounters. (And the sense I get from my daughters is that these are actually nice guys.)

The only other similar encounter I’ve had with a female teacher (who was not wearing a blue shirt), a couple years ago: I told her was meeting my daughter, and the very timbre of her voice became pleasant to listen to. I still remember smiling at her. I wish I could remember her name.

There’s a lesson in this: what the polyamorists call “owning your own shit,” and it’s a basic relationship ethic. It’s okay to feel however you feel. But it’s not okay to load it onto others. I am not responsible for how you feel. I am only responsible for what I do. Only you can manage your own happiness. This is an incredibly powerful—and empowering—concept. This means not turning feelings into demands. If I care about you, and you come to me and tell me that you were hurt when I did such-and-such, I may reconsider my behavior, if I can. (You’ve made a request, not a demand.) Or I may explain some part of the story you didn’t know about, and see if you then feel better about it. Or I might be unable to do anything.

But there’s another level to this, too, a flip-side: Only I can be responsible for my own actions and perceptions. If I’ve made a mistake, whether in acting wrongly, or in perceiving incorrectly, I ought to own up to it. (There’s that ethical language again.) Jenica Rogers (who as far as I can tell is not a polyamorist, but is apparently a Firefly fan) points out, “Owning your shit means taking responsibility for your actions, acknowledging their impact on others, and moving forward without trying to cover your ass.”

And I don’t know that you can do one without the other. Because managing one’s own happiness translates into action, and that action has consequences. And either one change his mind, or he stands by his actions; but in no case does he hide from what he’s felt and thought and done.

And I admit that I don’t always do this as well as I’d like to.

I really have to find some more constructive way of dealing with the Blue Shirts, because the nice-guy approach clearly isn’t working.