How does a coward speak truth to power? Softly.
By temperament, I am a shy and retiring wallflower. Confrontation is not my forte. Very probably I am an ideal candidate for assertiveness training. So far I’ve chosen to muddle through on my own recognizance.
Not that I haven’t or can’t stand up for myself, mind. Rather that I often choose not to. I prefer to pick my battles, and to limit their number.
Is this wisdom? Cowardice? A bit of both?
Among my acquaintances is a fearsome battle-axe of a woman. She thrives on drama and drives her way through life over the bodies of those who stand in her path. She regales her listeners with tales of her fortitude: the time someone didn’t do what she ordered and she took a sledgehammer to their house, punching a hole in their defenses. Another time, in order to make a point, she cut a living room couch in half with a chainsaw.
Anytime she buys an inferior product she’s the bane of customer service. She gets a lot of energy from confrontation and from getting her own way.
Part of me is attracted to her. I stand in awe of her talent and abilities. I admire her strength of will, her cussed determinedness. Her willingness to be her own advocate. I could learn a thing or two from her.
In fact, I already have, and it hasn’t been pretty.
I acted foolishly, though in good faith. I placed my trust in her and made myself vulnerable to her. She used this to her advantage, and how. The details still shock me. Suffice to say she wiped her feet all over me, with consequences that are still making themselves felt in many areas of my life.
In the aftermath, I did have the sense to distance myself from her. I cannot avoid her altogether as we both serve a specialized target population via an organization that regularly brings us into face-to-face contact.
Enter fate. In recent weeks her choke-hold on life has begun to loosen; her stance of being in control begun to fall apart in serious and irremediable ways. She faces medical issues far beyond her scope, way out of her control. When I first learned of this I thought, “serves you right.” Then I felt pity that anybody should have to go through what she is. Later I felt compassion to learn she has a limited support system, no one to talk to about her feelings or what she’s going through. This came out in a discussion we were having. I took it as a sign of her being at wits end that she should say anything about it to me. At the same time she suddenly became much more human. Seeing her vulnerable side, seeing the mighty brought low, made her approachable.
I’ve opted for kindness and genuine regard. I’ve asked her questions, listened to her voice her fears, tried to create a space where she could be herself without the bluster. She has surprised me in responding in what I take to be an authentic way. I feel for what she is going through, am willing to bear witness to her suffering. I have no answers for her. I think they are all inside of her, such as they are, waiting to be discovered.
As she walks alone into the unknown, faces an especially difficult stage in her journey, I wanted to speak my truth to her. I gave her a homemade card with a threatening bear on the cover of it.
I took a chance and spoke frankly about how she comes across to me.
Inside the card I describe the little girl I suspect she carried around with her, her inner child. Surely all that outward gruffness masks a softer core.
I conclude with a sincere wish that makes no promises about a happy resolution to her situation, envisions no Disney ending to her story. It feels real to me. It feels honest. It rings true for me. And it feels like in some small way I am speaking truth to power.
Really, I suppose, I am voicing a truth I need to hear, as well. Inside me–inside each of us–is a vulnerable childlike spirit that needs tending, want attention, benefits from self-care. No matter who we are, no matter how strong we appear.