I did something strange today. Well, a little bit strange for a “properly raised” Southern woman, anyway. I wrote the truth and nothing but the truth in a text. (Really?! THAT is strange for you, Becky? Hmmmm…maybe I need to rethink what I thought I knew about you…HA!)
Being raised in the South and right in the middle of the Bible Belt, I was raised to speak the truth. That lesson was drummed into me almost everywhere I went be it church, home, school, or with relatives of every age, size and shape. It was a well-taught lesson and one, I’m certain, that many people have often wished I hadn’t been taught quite so well. You see, I’ve taken it to an extreme level at times and shared truth in a way that definitely broke the SECOND most drilled-into-me lesson, which was, “You have to help people,” followed closely by the third lesson, which was, “Don’t hurt people’s feelings.”
That second lesson wasn’t so much taught, as caught, and it, too, was everywhere I turned. I could be OK with that. I was also smart enough to notice that those who failed to follow Rule 3 were often more criticized than those who broke Rule 1. Yes, we are a polite culture down here in the South, aren’t we? (wink) Right up until someone breaks the rules…and, then, all bets are off…Especially for a Southern woman who is “expected” to be polite even when exhausted and confronted with those who aren’t.
I understood the rules. I followed them…or at least I tried to co-mingle them as much as possible. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it wasn’t as successful. Telling someone “no” when they asked for my help used to be akin to impossible and, according to the standards set around me, it wasn’t very polite, either. That meant I often waited until I was so overwhelmed by all of the “yeses” that my “no” might have come out harder and louder than it should have. I still struggle with some of that home-grown/ingrained guilt even though I’ve managed to get better and better at shedding it over the years. I’ve written about it and taught/counseled others on the need FOR saying it, but there was often this niggling little guilt that followed the “no” even on the things I knew weren’t right or mine to do.
For years, I combated the guilt by following up the “no” with lots of details. Totally-useless-to-the-one-being-told-no details/excuses would come out as though I needed to convince THEM that my “no” had significant validity and they would SEE that I wasn’t being rude with my “no” to whatever they wanted me to do. Breaking that rule about always being polite even/especially (!) when you aren’t going to be helpful is tougher than it looks and definitely tougher than it should be. That gets tiring pretty quickly.
As a strong personality with a profound proclivity to nurture my introverted-self, my first-born rule-following tendencies are still something I have to carefully watch. I have often just gone ahead and done what I was being asked just to avoid the interminable and inevitable conversation that I knew would inevitably follow or be expected because, after all, I COULD do it and it was apparently the polite and helpful thing to do…and doing it would just be quicker. That will wear you out pretty quickly, as well.
I worked on it for years, meaning that I trained myself to say the “no”, to deal with the guilt, and stop explaining far more than necessary, though at times, I still fell back into those early culturally-ingrained habits. I’m still working on this, however! Today I just said “no” and while that should have been sufficient, I still searched for what should follow up that “no”. I worded and re-worded until I was reminded of Rule #1 and realized that telling the truth was the simplest and kindest thing I could say (to ME!), so my text shared my simple “no” because I needed to be here today.
I waited for it to feel impolite, but after several days in a row of “peopleing” more than I’ve been accustomed to in awhile, the relief of putting my own need for this day into words before it became more than a necessity left me little room for anything else. And, according to their response, I don’t think they gave it a second thought. As for me, I was reminded that maybe Rule 1 is first for a reason and extending some much-needed grace to myself allows me to apply Rules 2 and 3 in a personal way at the same time.
“Lord, who can dwell in Your tent?
Who can live on Your holy mountain? The one who lives honestly, practices righteousness,and acknowledges the truth in his (or her!) heart—” Psalm 15:1-2 (CSB)
“But let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37 (CSB)
Grace and Peace…and personally responsible Margin decisions–especially to all of my other Southern rule-following friends! (grin)