A week ago I had someone come to me in confidence. This person is a colleague of mine, one of my peers. By no means are we close friends, but we’ve known each other a few years, and we had always got along well. I liked the way they approached life, their views, their humour. I respect them.
They came to me one morning, in private, to lay it to me straight. I’m not going to repeat what they said verbatim, as it’s tough enough to write about such things; they essentially said they didn’t like my behaviour, and they no longer wanted to be around me. They looked me in the eyes and told me they didn’t like a part of who I was as a person, and that is honestly one of the most hard-hitting moments I’ve ever experienced.
When someone you like and respect stands there and tells you an element of your being is ugly to them, it leaves you in an uncomfortable spot. I’ve never been one for gross hyperbole and metaphor, but honest to god time did seem to slow down. As they finished what they were saying, and credit must be given for how gently they said it, it seemed like I had an eternity to formulate a response.
So many times throughout my limited existence I’ve seen the same situation play out; person receives legitimate criticism, person decides that introspection and self-reflection are stupid, person lashes out defensively, everybody cries.
I get it. It’s tough. No one wants to be told that a part of themselves is ugly, we want to defend ourselves! We defend shitty haircuts, toxic relationships and dumb cats that leave hair all over my clothes. At some level we all realise that we aren’t the clothes we wear or the image that we put forth for the world to see. It’s what drives us intrinsically that really matters; to get all Disney Channel for a moment, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
That’s why when someone ignores the clothes, the image, and the superficial fluff and goes straight for your truest self, it stings the most.
Something that I’ve been trying to work on for a while now is the ability to keep my mouth shut. It’s on my agenda to write about soon (so I’ll be done in about 2 years) but keeping one’s mouth shut it a skill that few possess. I’ll readily admit that I’ve been a huge dick at times, arrogantly strutting around serious conversations, deflecting all criticism with a barrage of excuses. It’s not a good look, and something I’ve actively been trying to change.
That’s why, as the scathing inditement of my behaviour ended, the best thing to say was simply, “I’m sorry”, and “Thank you” for being able to talk to me straight about it.
As far as situations go, it was fairly bleak. Sitting alone in an empty room afterwards was almost poetic, and I didn’t really move for a while. It’s a lot to process. I’m going to give myself the tiniest of kudos for taking the time to sit and honestly appraise my own actions, and come to the conclusion that yeah, this person had a point. I’d been a bit shit, and that’s on me. No excuses, no rebuttals, just an ice-cold slice of humble pie. No cream.
It’s been a week since, and it still stings. Not even the trendy northern-suburbs cafe on this beautiful 21 degree day, surrounded by hipsters with beards and blue hair can help escape the truth that our journey of personal development is never finished. I had thought I’d reached a good spot, that the weedy, insecure and insolent adolescent boy that inhabited my over-grown body had been moulded into something respectable. Whilst that is true, and I don’t want to be too hard on myself, the fact is there’s still a lot of work to be done.
This isn’t meant to be a chapter in a tragic back-story, nor a cry for help. This is the roughest and quickest piece I’ve ever written, and I’m not going to proof-read it too hard, as it’s a difficult enough subject to write about without subjecting myself to my crappy typing (my saussage fingers are just too big for laptops). It’s just a lesson, to either myself in years time, or anyone who finds something relatable in the writing.
Hearing criticism is hard, especially from those whose opinions we respect. We are inherently defensive beings; footy teams, patchy moustaches, cilantro… we will defiantly stand by things we believe in (or don’t believe belongs in food). More than anything else, however, what we believe in most is ourselves. That’s why a criticism of the self is the hardest to swallow, and the quickest to get our shields up.
The next time someone you know calls you out, maybe try giving them a good, honest listen. Keep your mouth shut and you may just learn something. I did, and it still sucked. I can say with certainty, however, that opening my big, dumb mouth would have made things so very much worse.