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Assertion and Popularity

April 28, 2011

I recently met a young hippie Brazilian woman whom I admired. It wasn’t because she had a luscious mane of thick, curly hair with volume I could only dream about (even with five bottles of super-hold mousse and an industrial-strength hairdryer). It wasn’t because she had fabulous abs and muscle tone to die for. It wasn’t because she was a flexible yoga whizz who could do the splits and stand on her head. It wasn’t because she could speak three-and-a-half languages effortlessly…


I admired her because she was strong. Assertive. As I observed this interesting woman go about her day, and I noticed that she would give her time generously to other people. During multilingual conversations, she would translate for people who didn’t speak Spanish, or Portuguese, or English, or whatever language was currently being spoken. She took the time to help people with physical and emotional pain by giving them massages, teaching them yoga, and listening to them discuss their problems.

Everyone liked this woman. She was one of the most popular people in her community. She had a friendly, outgoing and giving nature, however, there was something else about her that made her stand out.

She wasn’t a people-pleaser. She would happily give to others, but she knew her boundaries and had no qualms whatsoever about enforcing them. I observed her friend with a sore shoulder approach her and request a massage. The Brazilian woman simply said, “I will have a look later. I’ve been giving and giving all day, and right now I need some time to myself.” Her injured friend was whiny and persistent, but the Brazilian woman ignored the manipulation and simply repeated, “No”.

Unlike the Brazilian woman, many of us will submit to unreasonable or badly-timed requests in order to be popular or to keep the peace. This happens in relationships with family, friends, partners, colleagues, and even people we don’t know well. We may think we’re simply not rocking the boat and keeping the peace, but those are just euphemisms for being spineless. We don’t rock the boat because we fear the possible rejection by our peer group if we dared to assert ourselves.

You’re not going to step on many toes being passive, but you’re certainly not going to command the respect for your time and for yourself that the Brazilian woman commanded.

I’m not saying that you should never comply with requests. I’m saying if you’re busy or need some time to yourself to recoup, kowtowing to the whims of other people will just result in you harbouring resentment for yourself for being a pushover and resentment for others for not respecting your time.

Ask yourself what sort of relationships you want. Do you want relationships with people who only like you because you’re a doormat? Or would you rather assert your wants and needs and be liked for who you really are?

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