One high school memory that still haunts me to this day is from my junior year photography class. We were going on a field trip to the Andy Warhol museum. I never like Andy Warhol’s art. I still maintain that he’s not a good artist, he just became famous for being a weirdo that people were interested in. I kept professing these kind of sentiments and complaining that this was where we were going. Eventually my teacher cut me off. Irritated, he said, “Bite your tongue.” I felt so ashamed and honestly wished I would never have to speak again in that class. I wanted to disappear.
The reason this memory sticks with me is because it seems to mirror similar situations throughout my life. There have been many times when I’ve ended up embarrassing myself or making my own life more difficult because I seem to be unable to bite my tongue. It is usually when I am feeling angry or irritated about something. It is very hard for me to just let things go for some reason. I feel compelled to voice my displeasure. Loudly and whenever I get the chance.
For example, today I have to stay late a work for what seems like the thousandth time because of a particular CPS worker that likes to take advantage of my friend and coworker’s good nature. We will stay after hours to do emergency interviews. Sometimes a child is in immediate danger and it’s necessary that we talk to them as soon as possible so we can make sure they have somewhere safe to go. However, this CPS worker just uses the word “emergency” to manipulate and control us so that things work better for her schedule and deadlines.
The interviewer I work with is a very nice, easy-going man. To him it’s never a big deal and he takes pride in the fact that he never refuses to do an interview. He always says that I don’t have to stay and he can do it all himself, but it just wouldn’t feel right for me to let him do that. So here I am, stuck doing two interviews at 4:30-6 or 7 today when our office closes at 4. And surprise, surprise it couldn’t be further from an emergency. The children are completely safe.
My problem isn’t even that I have to stay late without pay (we are a very small non-profit that only gets paid for 40 hours each week no matter what), it’s that this horrible woman continues to take advantage of us for her own convenience. In my nearly two years with this organization, no other CPS worker has asked us to stay late. Not only that, but this specific worker does it practically every single time we get a call from her. It just makes me feel so furious that someone even has the nerve to do this continuously to such nice people like my coworkers.
On matters of injustice or unfairness, I have an especially difficult time biting my tongue. It’s one of the reasons I still struggle to do so when I hear idiotic comments about veganism. I get a familiar rumbling, hot sensation in my chest that causes viscous language to spew out of my mouth like a volcano. It never makes anything better though. The anger continues to build. Not only that but when I speak out I also start to pile on feelings of shame and self-hatred. I’m embarrassed by my uncontrollable outbursts, and by the way others look at me when they see me so angry.
I’ve always clung to the idea of operant conditioning and to the idea that staying quiet and complacent is the same as condoning a behavior. At least those are the reasons I give myself to rationalize my violent reactions to these types of situations. I feel it is my duty to do something, to protect myself and others from injustice or abuse. I feel very passionately about it. But I don’t want to feel this way when the result is that I become spiteful and vindictive. The outcome is never restoring justice, it simply ruins my day and possibly the image that others have of me as a person.
When days like today happen, I have been trying very hard to use them as an opportunity for personal growth. These are the moments that I’ll need to utilize in order to begin to create new, more healthy, productive, socially acceptable pathways in my brain. It’s never easy. I still get caught up in brooding over all the reasons that I shouldn’t be put in this situation, finding fault, blaming others, and coming up with ways to make these things stop happening, or at the very least to get revenge. I feel a great resistance bubbling up inside when I try to transition away from these thoughts to more positive ones. Something inside of me is always dragging its feet, insisting that if I allow myself to be okay with this, it will happen even more, and the injustice will continue to expand and grow larger. Part of me still tends to believe that’s true, but even so, I’m missing the point. Does it even matter if these things happen to me more if they no longer produce such toxic emotions?
I am trying to stay curious. Rather than getting wrapped up in the spiral of self-justifications, I ask myself, “Why is this so hard for me? What is it that keeps me from letting this go? Wouldn’t I rather be happy than right?” That’s really what it comes down to, that last question. Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember that being happy is better than being the smartest person in the room or being right or even having control. When I start feeling like I am helpless and powerless in a situation that is out of my control, I just need to remind myself that I am always in control. Maybe not when it comes to what happens to me, but I get to decide how I react to those things. That is what is truly important.
As I continue on with this unbearably long day, I am going to choose to focus on all of the things I have to be grateful for instead of the few small irritations that I have to put up with occasionally. I love my job. I love the people I work with. I love (most) of the people in the other organizations we work with. I can get away with coming in 15 minutes late everyday. I can leave early another day since I’ll be staying over tonight. I got to work from home for nearly a year. My job is usually easy and not stressful. Yesterday I got to spend the whole day at the office chatting with my lovely work friends. We even got lunch delivered to us from Panera thanks to one of the board members. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of this place, even if that means learning how to bite my tongue sometimes. This is a valuable skill, one I genuinely want to learn. So I should also be grateful for these opportunities to practice it.