Imagine speaking up

So if the last blog explained some of the intricate weighing of pros and cons going on in our brains as we decide whether or not to ask a stranger to keep it down while on their cell phone, today’s question is, “Okay, so what can I do about that?”

And that is one of the hopes of this blog:  That by learning what is going on in our brains, wired as they are to ensure our survival on the savannah or in the tropical forest, we can find a way to work with the wiring, instead of letting it rule our lives.  And that is where the spiritual life comes in.

Dave Davies on the NPR show “Fresh Air” interviewed Jonathon Alter on his new book, “The Center Holds,” which is about creative campaign strategies and data analysis.  The relevant piece for this discussion is when Dave Davies says to Jonathon Alter, “You write that actually a key to the victory was overcoming the human desire not to be irritating.”

Yes.  We are scared the person we ask to be quieter on the cell phone won’t like us.  And they probably won’t.  And our brains don’t like that, but our brains don’t understand that is not the point.  But it takes practice to get over that initial and persistent impulse.


So, today’s spiritual practice invites you to reimagine a scene where you wish you had spoken up, but you didn’t.  Remember the surroundings.  Were you in a restaurant?  In line at Starbucks?  Waiting to be checked out by the grocery store clerk?  What was the person on their cell phone talking about, do you remember?  And how did that make you feel?  Really put yourself back there.  Take a few breaths.  What was going on inside your head at the time?  Remember not only how annoyed your may have been, but can you put words to what held you back from speaking out?  And now imagine the scene again, but this time include what you wish you had said.  Not the angry, irritated you – But the calm, compassionate you, not asking for a fight, not being defensive, just calmly ask the person if they could keep it down.  Now steel yourself for the angry look you imagine you might get.  Now imagine they don’t do it.  Feel your response, then breath.  Shrug your shoulders.  Ah, that’s just my brain worried that this person doesn’t like me!  So?  Pat yourself on the back.  You spoke up.  And next time, maybe they will be a little quieter.  But even if they aren’t, you’ve practiced speaking up and staying calm.  Which is good for us all.


2 thoughts on “Imagine speaking up

  1. Amy, thanks for this blog. It’s so interesting to see how your studying and reflecting time on this subject over the years has manifested itself into something to share with more than those friends who sometimes get to gather around your dinner table.
    As you know, I’m currently living in Brazil, and am seeing all things through that lens. People here tend to be rude by American standards when it comes to things like talking on their cell phones, cutting in line, etc. So I run into situations like the one you describe multiple times on a daily basis. I find this a major source of stress as my blood boils when I feel affronted in this way. But I too tend to hesitate before saying anything, especially here, in part because I’m not sure I can put together the words coherently in Portuguese. But it’s also about being the foreigner, being the outsider, not wanting to challenge the norms of the society I’m newly part of. So I want to belong, to not stick out, to not be any more noticeable than my white skin and oh-so-sensible shoes already make me. So is this just another flavor of the need to be liked that you’re talking about, or is it some other brain mechanism at work? Or is that another blog post….

    • Carolyn,
      I would say that your brain knows full well you are on tentative ground and it is not worth risking anything – These aren’t your “people;” it’s only their kindness that help you feel as safe as you do – So I would say your brain is wise in not wanting to rock the boat of another culture where your norms are not necessarily their norms! On the other hand, it is remarkable how quickly the “us-them” divide breaks down – As you’ve experienced – in the kindness of strangers wanting to help you – the stranger. All really fascinating stuff to me –

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