One time in grad school, I was in a ladies room stall doing my thing when another student came charging into the room. The intensity of her movements told me she had been holding in her pee for the entire lecture, and was now desperate to release it.
She kicked down my stall door (Damn those flimsy locks!), not realizing anyone was in it. And mid pee stream, after her ears were deafened by my scream and her eyes were blinded by the sight of me squatting, she shut the door and chose a different stall.
“I’m sorry!” I said.
Which makes this not just your average embarrassing bathroom story. Now it’s a story about how weird I am.
I said sorry? Really? Why did I, of the two of us, say sorry? Wasn’t she the one who accidentally kicked a door into my head?
Suddenly, it dawned on me: I was apologizing because my bladder was taking full responsibility for putting this woman in a position where she might feel embarrassed. I apologized so she wouldn’t have to.
So here’s my problem: I unconsciously discourage people from speaking their truth because I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. And I’m terrible at speaking my own truth because I’m afraid of hurting feelings, making someone angry, or creating an awkward situation.
A Better Way
Coincidentally, I married my complete opposite– Brian, a man with a history of sharing his most honest opinions a little too thoroughly.
The other night I overheard him on the phone ask someone, “Did it hurt your feelings yesterday when I made fun of your bald spot?” (Side note: Always be compassionate towards my fellow bald people, please.)
I was in awe of my courageous husband. Because if I were in Brian’s situation, I would have swept the bald joke under the rug and made sure not to ever make the same mistake again.
But Brian? He just goes for it. He asks the tough questions. He says what needs to be said. He won’t let people off the hook, but he also doesn’t let himself off the hook. He has balls of steel.
After his phone call I asked, “How do you know when to come right out and say something like that?”
He answered, “When things would be worse if you didn’t speak up than if you did.”
Your Turn: Have you ever bravely spoken the truth for the sake of the greater good? What did you risk and what did you gain by speaking up?