I am a nice person.
Actually, I am a really nice person.
I can’t stand the thought of ever hurting anyone’s feelings. I will go to great lengths to help the people in my life to feel happy. And it breaks my heart when someone is sad, lonely or hurt. When I was younger, I was a sucker for the door-to-door salesperson. I just couldn’t bear to send them away dejected. My dad would roll his eyes and cringe every time I defended my latest purchase; ‘But dad, I just can’t say no…!’ And his response every single time was; ‘Oh, Katie, that is not what a father wants to hear’.
My deep concern for the feelings of others is one of my greatest gifts. And, it is also one of my trickiest liabilities.
I am one of those people who gets stuck talking to ‘that person’ on a bus, a plane or a train. I simply can’t turn away, tune out, and pretend to make a call or spontaneously fall asleep. I just can’t bear to hurt their feelings.
Well…I had a breakthrough today.
After a fun and successful corporate Christmas lunch in Toronto, I boarded the GoBus armed with my e-reader and a cup of Starbucks tea. After a Christmas party last night and Christmas lunch today, the introvert in me just needed some quiet time to gently recharge.
I was deep into my book when the older man across the aisle made a comment about the slow traffic. I looked up, acknowledged what he had said and then spent the next 15 minutes trapped in a soliloquy that would have put Shakespeare to shame. I actually don’t know what he was talking about. Something about snow tires and winter driving, I think, but I’m not actually sure.
Customarily, I would close my book and settle into my role as ‘really nice person and reluctant audience’. I would work to find the thread of a story line. I would nod agreeably and I would feel the frustration seething inside me that could, at any moment, start pouring out of my ears.
While ‘Snow-Tire-Guy’ was talking at me, I had an epiphany. What I realized was that he was not in the least bit interested in me. He did not care what I might have to contribute to the conversation. I was just a warm body. I was just someone with a pulse. He did not want to connect with me at all. He just wanted an audience for his senseless, and frankly, selfish, rambling.
When I realized that his emotional investment was absolutely nil, I had no trouble at all wishing him luck with his snow tires and going back to my book. And when he tried on multiple occasions to lure me back into our one-sided conversation I had no trouble smiling politely, murmuring something and diving back into my solitude.
Eventually he left me alone and when I got off the bus I wished him well and walked out of his life. And the heck of it is…he won’t miss me at all. As I walked home from the GoBus stop I realized that I had not hurt his feelings. The only way I could have hurt him is if he had tried to make an emotional connection and I had shut the door. I am still a nice person but, perhaps, I am learning to keep my needs in the equation and be nice to myself as well.
I am a connection junkie. I am not an audience of one. And the ‘Snow-Tire-Guy’ encounter today showed me that I not only have the ability but also the right to say…no thank you.