Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A Bit of Commentary: Learn When to Pick Your Battles

After living more than 30 years and being told this message a thousand times, it seems odd that my biggest Achilles heel in life is adhering to these words from my mother: You have to learn when to pick your battles, baby.

While this may seem easy and second nature for many, this practice represents my most daunting task. “High-spirited,” “snappy,” “feisty,” and “stone-cold bitch” are all words that have been used to describe me regardless of whether I’m at home, at work or at church. I simply cannot seem to turn down a good fight—even when my opponent is hardly worth the effort.

But I love the art of the diss, and get a rush every time I put some numbskull in their place. I like to hear people’s voices shake when I’m laying them out with my fierce tongue-lashing. I love feeling my neck roll, and relishing in the awful lines I spit. I can be downright brutal, and sometimes, it feels great.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I usually reserve my verbal fury for those who earn it according to my definition. The problem is, that definition changes depending on my mood. So, I may go off on somebody who cheated me out of money as fast as I’d go off on a Starbucks worker for forgetting to stir my whipped cream into my overpriced cup of coffee (no offense, Starbucks…It’s just that I should own significant shares of stock in your company after all the overpriced cups I drank).

I might also go off on the telephone company for not installing my services properly. And, before I go further, let me apologize to all the folks in India that I’ve cussed out about my mobile telephone service because they made me repeat what I was saying way too many times.

Of the examples I’ve given—even though cheating someone out of their money is a serious thing—none really call for the effort I take to develop creatively offensive lines that would make your hair stand on end. It’s just not worth it. Nine times out of ten, the receiving party just dismissed me as some crazy flake…and to be honest, many times they were right.

I have to learn to handle and avoid conflict better. Here’s a perfect case in point…a friend moved downstairs from me in my two family apartment building, and brought her boyfriend along for the ride. Since he didn’t have a job, we all agreed that certain duties around the building—like taking the trash to the curb and shoveling the snow—would be his responsibility. He was cool with it until we got the first heavy snowfall.

That morning, I was outside trying to shovel snow from our massive, uphill driveway, and I wasn’t doing a very good job. Instead of helping me when he came out to bid his girlfriend adieu, he simply said “hello” to me and walked right back upstairs (his girlfriend drives a truck and didn’t park in their garage, so getting out wasn’t an issue for her). I especially thought this was odd, since the two of them had just eaten my food the night before, and because we had all agreed to the terms of the household. So, I asked what the problem was. He said, “Why should I help you shovel snow so that you can get out of the driveway?” I said, “It’s not just my driveway, it’s all of our driveway. Why would you want your own girlfriend to have to park on the street?” And with as much venom as I could muster, I ended with, “It ain’t like you got anything to do since you don’t have a job!”

And with that, he slammed their door in my face. I had to use a sick day because I couldn’t get out of my garage.

Well, the next day, I hired a company to come and remove the snow. As I got them started, I realized that it might be easier for them if I moved my car out of the garage. This would allow them to back the plow into the driveway and push the snow up the hill. They had cleared a path for me so that this wouldn’t be a problem.

But, I needed my keys to move the car. So, I went back upstairs to get them. As I was coming back down, I reached the landing of the basement stairwell. Just then, my friend’s boyfriend was making his way up the stairs. In an instant, he pushed past me, knocking me into the wall.

Now, if I had been smart at this point, I would have called somebody to deal with the situation (like my father or best male friend). Instead, I just start yelling at him—blatantly chastising him for the error and ignorance of his ways. While I’m arguing, I’m also making my way back up the steps to my apartment. I made it as far as the first landing before I said something that made him pause before he shut his door.

“Say it again,” he challenged.

So, naturally, I did. And the next thing I knew, my head was being mashed into the wall and my body slammed against the stairs. I was seeing stars as I was dialing 911. He left, of course, and hasn’t been back since. But I had to go through weeks with a lump on my head and an extremely unsightly bruise on my hip.

He was wrong for what he did. But there were other ways that I could’ve shown him this. For one thing, I should have let my friend show him the error of his ways. He was her problem, not mine. I should have just called somebody when he pushed me the first time. But no. I had to insert my two cents into the mix…and it caused me some pain I wasn’t expecting. And the whole issue was about nothing more than some damn snow!

My Mama always said that when you put people on the defensive, you had better be ready to deal with some shit. And this is one case where she was right. Sometimes, having too much to say, whether you’re right or wrong, can get your head split. The rest of the time, you’re just wasting energy that’s best devoted elsewhere.

So Mom, I’m finally listening. I will heed your advice and learn when and when not to keep my mouth shut. After all, life is too short to spend it arguing with the endless array of fools this society has to offer. And I’m much too cute to get my head split!


At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Just Me - Very good. Maybe this article will help others to learn to pick their battles. She, I am sure is very proud of the fact that you listen to her. Wisdom comes with age. She probably had a few bumps on her head before she learned. You are a very wise "30 something" to listen. Also, this is a very good article - very frank - very informative.

At 12:56 AM, Blogger a black girl said...

i love that last line! "i'm much to cute to get my head split!"

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

damn, this is all great stuff. you go girl.

At 4:44 AM, Blogger Worried Boyfriend said...

yeah picking your battles is important. but there is nothing like finnaly confronting someone/something that just makes your skin crawl.

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