The “Stick Up For Yourself” Culture

As part of my pre-yoga teacher training homework, I’ve been reading pages and pages of text about yoga and the philosophy behind it, its history, meaning, and benefits, how to eat, breathe, speak, sleep, think, love and wash the dishes. I’m learning infinitely, and the information that I’m gathering is materialized into something a little different every day. I’ve been seeing the things I read come to life in random situations. Some days, I notice that I’m breathing deeper, or that the person next to me is slouched over, or that my dogs would be really good gurus. But today was different. Today I noticed something about people, and I saw it everywhere. Today, all I saw was anger.

People are really, really angry. Even some of the ones that don’t feel like angry people, are. For example, I saw a guy step in dog poop this morning. He scraped it off his shoe and then started going off about how people never “clean up after their dog” in this “damn town.” After some exasperated sighs and shakes of his head, he kept walking down the trail, resentful, day ruined.

At the coffee shop, the line was long and there was only one barista working. Even though she kept apologizing for the wait, people were really pissed off. One guy said something about how he tries to “support local coffee shops” but if all he gets is “this kind of service” that Starbucks is really “his only option.” Everyone else was in a tense, arms folded across their chests kind of moods.

People were honking at each other on the roads, fighting on their cell phones, swearing at the refs of college football games. And all this, in Northern California! We’re supposed to be the most laid back of them all.

I really don’t think today was different from any other day, I just noticed the anger because I kept my eyes open for it. It was freakin’ everywhere!

At closer look, almost all of this anger is caused by the assumption that when something unfortunate happens, it is a personal attack from someone else on our perfect, never having made a mistake, God-like beings. How dare that person cut me off! That barista isn’t even thinking about me and my day. How could all of these people not clean up after their dogs, what about me?

We are told from a young age by parents, teachers, television and society as a whole to “stick up for ourselves.” We live in a “stick up for yourself” culture. If someone does us wrong, we think that acting passively is a blow to our self-worth, a sure-fire sign that someone is suffering from low self-esteem. We’re told to confront the person, let them know how shitty they are, how shitty our day has been because of them, how if they can’t undo and explain their shittiness that they are, undoubtedly, even more shitty. But is this really self-esteem that we’re dealing with here?  I’ve learned recently that most of us mix up the meanings of self-esteem and ego. Self-esteem is something that, if it exists within the person, doesn’t rise or fall depending on external situations or circumstances, it cannot be changed. It doesn’t need to be flexed or put on display. Ego, on the other hand, is what most westerners have plenty of. It’s what causes us to feel that “how could they do that to me” feeling.

I’m guilty of getting angry and offended when a participant in my fitness class acts disinterested in what I’m teaching. I taught a cycling class at 6am for a few months, and one morning I had a participant who kept checking her phone every five minutes. I figured she was so ready to get out of the class that she kept checking her phone to see what time it was. Then, she walked out of the class halfway through. I automatically took it personally, like how could they walk out of my class. Maybe they didn’t like the way I was teaching, but how could they do that to me? The next week, the same woman came to my class and apologized for leaving the week before, and explained that she was waiting on a phone call from her son to see if he needed a ride to school, which he ended up needing. It had nothing to do with me or my class.

We are constantly making false attributions about why people act the way they do, and it leaves us really mad. These attributions always place the blame on the person we are dealing with, never the situation or simple bad luck or timing. We don’t think for even a second that maybe the person in the car who just cut us off is trying to get somewhere really important. Even if they’re just a bad driver, it has nothing to do with us. Sometimes the traffic is bad, the lines are long, the ref makes a bad call, and sometimes, for no particular reason at all, we step in dog shit.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Megan Gala
    Oct 03, 2010 @ 10:27:15

    Great job, George! So well said. I love the way you articulate the difference between ego and self-esteem.

    I believe we also live in a society that advocates not taking responsibility. You spoke to this when you say how easily we blame others for our circumstance. It is our responsibility to make our lives what we want it to be and not someone elses. This includes having tools in our toolbox that can help us navigate the dog shit, yoga being a great one.


  2. Georgie Abel
    Oct 04, 2010 @ 09:23:26

    Hey Megs,
    I so agree with our tendency to not take responsibility for our lives. The most tragic case of this is when a person is unhappy with their romantic relationship. They keep thinking, he/she is doing all of these things that make me so sad, angry, what have you, and my life is suffering from it. I feel that we are treated the way we project that we want to be treated (usually unconsciously). People always look at me crazy when I say that something like being cheated on is their fault as well as their lovers, but it is! They are usually allowing their lover to treat them badly, and that allowing is just as bad as the actual hurtful act.


  3. Lauren
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 14:02:12

    I loved reading this. I have been noticing the same thing recently… maybe people nowadays are angrier than they have been before. Worst of all, I sometimes feel myself being sucked into their anger when I’m riding public transportation, for example. If someone bumps me I find myself fuming about it for an hour afterward, long after the person has left and gone about their day in peace. Then I feel silly that I wasted so much time on something that, like you said, had absolutely nothing to do with me. Keep up the amazing posts… I’m really enjoying them. 🙂


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