Wednesday, February 23, 2011

But That's RUDE!



In classes for teen girls I'm often asked what to do when some guy, either a stranger or someone they barely know, approaches and begins asking overly personal questions.  A simple "I don't want to talk at this time" is certainly polite, and right to the point. "I don't give out that information," said in a neutral tone, is also direct and sets a boundary without being nasty.

But some girls still take issue with a direct response. Because it's "rude." And I hear from some adults who work with girls that it's just "who they are."

Who are you, really?

Are you always the person you wish you could be?

Food writer Ruth Reichl faced similar questions, but in a different context. As the restaurant critic of The New York Times beginning in 1993, Reichl knew that her reviews would powerfully influence the rise and fall of restaurants big and small; a great review could mean vastly increased revenue and prestige. Restaurant kitchens, she found, had Reichl's picture plastered on the wall and a reward for any staff member who spotted her. Reichl's clever solution was to come up with disguises for her dining excursions. And her disguises went beyond wigs and makeup -- she envisioned what kind of person she'd become. With the help of an acting coach, she transformed herself. And it worked, sometimes too well. She found herself falling into her roles--often to the delight, but sometimes to the dismay, of her dining companions.(Reichl details her escapades in her charming book Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.)

"Chloe" was a blonde bombshell who seemed to know precisely how to intrigue men. "Brenda" was warm, funny, kind, and approachable. Elderly "Betty" blended into the furniture, and was treated as a castoff. "Emily" was brusque and bitter. All different  personalities, yet along the way Reichl recognized them all as elements within herself (and she decides she wants more Brenda and less Emily). Reichl had the epiphany that controlling how others treated her could be as simple as changing the way she dressed and projected herself. She tested this out, and for her it worked.

Reichl was able to effectively reconstruct herself for a slice of time, over and over, in different guises.  She got her job done.

Do you know precisely what you would do in any given situation? Do you ever do things that amaze you? That disappoint you? Do you ever say things you wish you could take back the minute it came out of your mouth for all the world to hear? Do you ever wonder how you had the presence of mind to say exactly the right thing, and wish you could do it more often?

That's resilience in an uncertain world. Grace under pressure. Cool, calm, collected. What's not to like about those qualities?

As I tell my class participants, self-defense has a performance component. Regardless of who you believe you are, you all have the same job to get done, of keeping yourself safe. You can act. You can project yourself as a skilled, confident person on your own mission, and pity the fool who tries to mess with you.

Personally, I believe my time is valuable. I feel I should choose with whom to spend, not squander, my time. Otherwise I'll end up treated as someone else's entertainment, emotional barf bag, or -- at worst -- victim.

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