Thank you, Mrs. Roosevelt

31 Dec

Michaela was aiming, concentrating, brow furrowed, getting ready to once again lift her leg and try to drive her foot through the board. She had tried several times already, unsuccessful each time. She was surely nervous and frustrated. I was holding the board and was also focusing, offering her the occasional tip or encouragement, nervous for her, wanting her to succeed, to figure it out, to learn.


That comment didn’t come from me. It came from a bystander, one of the group home staff that was off to the side, watching the promotion test.

A couple of times a month, I conduct class with residents of some area group homes. They have Traumatic Brain Injury and other challenges. For two years we’ve held class a couple of times a month. The class is a highlight for these folks; they come in with such enthusiasm for the experience of each class.  A few of them also come in with a matching degree of anxiety and low self esteem, but they always seem to leave uplifted. The promotion test is intended to be a boost to their psyche, even if a challenge for which they are nervous but that they hope to overcome.

I ended up feeling badly over that staff member’s comment. Not at first, but shortly thereafter. The reason I felt so was because of the way I responded. I thanked him and told him we had it under control. I did it all in a manner and tone that implied, “HOW DARE YOU INTERRUPT OUR TESTING!” He started to explain further, and I verbally shut him off again.

His comment was intrusive. It was rude. It was disrespectful. Was it? Actually, it was a well-intentioned offering from a staff member who helps Michaela each day trying to give guidance to help her succeed.

My response bothered me all the rest of that day. I didn’t make opportunity to apologize that day.  I have not reached out to do so since then. But I continue to think about it. I continue to think about how and why to apologize (I think I’ll just call), but even more so I think about why I was taken aback, or even offended, by his comment.

If it had been a black belt blurting out during testing, they’d be some reason to feel put off or frustrated, but still not necessarily to correct, never mind admonish, in public. And that, with a black belt, takes some restraint at times, since I  would be thinking, “How could you not get it by now?”

But with a well-intentioned bystander? I overreacted. I failed. His comment DID surprise me and break the moment. With a challenging test, there is an intensity to the process, and more so with kids and adults in special circumstances. His comment just sort of jumped right into the middle of all that.

However, what actually happened is that I let my expectations and ego and pride of position get bumped. For that conglomeration of  reasons, and maybe more, I got offended.

Being offended is an interesting phenomenon. I’m not sure it matters whether the person intended to insult or challenge, whether they unknowingly said or did something that was an affront or damaging, or whether they were completely innocent in their act and intentions. I think the bottom line is that we let ourselves get offended, perhaps even at times choose to be offended. Isn’t the expression “to take offense?” Perhaps no one can really “force” offense into us. Rather, what people say and do is simply out there; we in essence “take (the) offense.” It’s sitting there and we pluck it like picking flowers, rather than observe it and walk on.

Perhaps taking offense is parallel to inferiority in regards to Eleanor Roosevelt’s adage, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”  “No one can offend you without your consenting to take the offense.”

Are feelings of inferiority one of the reasons we take offense? Maybe more so, it’s insecurity.  Pride?  That’s probably a big one. Ego. Selfishness or self-centered-ness? Power, position, authority. Entitled-ment? I think that, as a Taekwondo Master Instructor, I take myself a bit too seriously at times, more than I wish. Maybe all the time, and I just don’t see it.

My intention is not to analyze possible roots or reasons, but to simply tell a story and offer an insight. The insight is that we should not simply feel offended — or hurt, or challenged –but notice ourselves, catch ourselves, feeling so. Don’t assume we have the right to be so.  Don’t worry about what the other person intended, but look inside and think about why we feel affronted. Spend a bit more time working on ourselves and worrying about others a bit less.

Once we see ourselves more clearly, we can then see and hear others more clearly, and respond accordingly, in a better way, rather than simply choosing or taking offense. Maybe respond in a more gentle, kind, accepting or forgiving manner. If they hurt us (as we perceive it), need we hurt back? I know that I wanted to make sure that staff member knew he was out of line, and he and others would know so.

People are imperfect, whether they are intending to challenge/hurt or inadvertently do so. They have their struggles, fears, insecurities and hopes, as do we. Let’s look inside and first tend to ourselves, heal ourselves, more-perfect ourselves. Then maybe we can much better attend to others.

One Response to “Thank you, Mrs. Roosevelt”

  1. Debbie Maki Tibbetts January 2, 2014 at 02:29 #

    I read: You both had the very best interest in Michaela succeeding. Both jobs well done!

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