There’s no way to sugarcoat it; I can be pretty judgmental. It started as a defense mechanism. I mean, if I was vehemently vocal about not liking the popular kids in school, I couldn’t be upset when they didn’t like me. Since my inclination towards judgment has been with me for so long, it’s taking more time to overcome than I would like.
One of my current struggles is my tendency to label anyone who is hard of me as “the enemy.” Unless someone is a close friend, my knee-jerk reaction is to label any criticism as disrespect. It wasn’t until recently that I noticed that by labeling people who may have well-intentioned concerns as an adversary was, in turn, labeling myself as a victim. Having experienced and overcome a lot of adversity in my life, viewing myself as a victim is something that I cannot allow. To overcome this, I’ve begun consciously to reframe other people in my mind, despite my tendency to see the worst in them.
One area of my life that I get a lot of practice with this in with curling. I joined my local curling club last year with a friend, and it was a blast. Last year, we were assigned to a team with two experienced players. At first, I was afraid that they would hate having two newbies on their team, but they just wanted to have fun. Tim, the skip (captain) of the team was focused on making it fun for me as a new curler while teaching me the basics of the game. We lost, a lot. Tim didn’t care, as long as I was having fun and improving, he considered every game a win.
The season ended and I spent the next six months excited to register for the next session. My friend and I registered and were placed with another pair of experienced curlers. Through the grapevine, I heard that John, our new skip, had been curling since college. Now in his sixties, John has a lifetime of curling experience he could share with me. I also heard that John could be a bit aggressive. This made me nervous, but I was still excited to learn from him.
During our first game, I learned that aggressive was a bit of an understatement. I overthrew my first shot, and it went through the house and out of play. “You haven’t thrown a rock in six months. This is fine” I said to myself. Then I looked up and saw John throw his broom to the ground.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” John screamed. I looked at my friend, and he shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. John’s behavior during our games continued, but he was personable and offered corrections afterward. After the first few weeks, John’s outrageous behavior during the game was too much. Not only did I not care how I performed, but the thought of walking into the curling club gave me anxiety.
In my mind, John was a hothead who had nothing else in his life aside from curling. Why else would he be such a tyrant? Despite my desire to quit, I decided to stick it out since I committed to my team, but I decided that I did not want to speak to John anymore. Even during the traditional handshake before the game, I answered John’s “Good curling” with silence. As soon as the game was over, I would buy my counterpart on the other team a beer (as tradition dictates) and say my goodbyes.
During our last game, the other team placed a stone in the center of the house, right behind one of our guard stones. John called for me to curl behind the guard stone and take the other’s teams stone out of play. This is a difficult shot, and honestly, I don’t think John expected me to make it. I lined up, took my shot, and watched as it gracefully curved around the guard and hit the other stone with enough force to take it out of play.
“Wooooooooo” screamed John as he pumped a fist in the air. Confused I looked at my friend who was also celebrating my shot. My friend made me stay for drinks after the game.
While we were sitting there, John commented on my shot. He said, “You should curl like that all the time. You get so in your head, and you fuck up your shot. Just calm down and do it. It should be muscle memory.”
Was this a pep talk? From the asshole? I was confused. That’s when the lightbulb clicked. Just because someone wants and expects you to do better, even if they communicate it poorly, doesn’t make them a bad person.
Is John aggressive? Sure. Is he a hothead? Of course. Is winning important to him? Definitely. Does any of this make him evil? No way. He just works differently than I do. In fact, I would never have made that shot last year. John’s approach made me a better curler, in spite of my best efforts to ignore him.
This experience has made me reframe other people I’ve disregarded as “the enemy.” My coworker who thinks my training could improve with more role-playing, she just wants the best for our new hires. The guy at the gym who wants to give me unsolicited advice on how to improve my workout is just trying to help me get the most from my workout. My friend who tries to reason with me that the original Grease is better than Grease 2 is still an unrefined monster. I guess it’s a work in progress.