I witnessed dad’s demeanor metamorphose dramatically during my visit to the nursing home the other day. He has been quite passive and overly cautious ever since his fall in November.
Dad decided to sell his old power garden tiller, in an effort to downsize his belongings. A man, about my age, wanted to purchase the implement. I soon found out that dad used to be his work supervisor. Dad became much more energetic and demanding. He was more like his old self. His old heavy-handedness had returned.
When the former employee entered dad’s room, the role-playing relationship, between the two, resumed. Dad took the initiative of introducing the man to me. There was some amount of small-talk, then dad presented the minor business transaction. I was pleased to watch the price negotiation happen without any dithering on dad’s part.
Dad wanted to make sure the tiller’s operating manual went along with the employee so, dad insisted that we all go to dad’s house to pick it up. It was almost amusing to see dad exert himself and attempt to get out of his chair alone. He was a man on a mission. Dad was the boss, again. He was in charge for the next half-an-hour.
Almost as soon as the employee had loaded the machine into his pickup truck and drove away, dad once again resorted to his prior passivity. Seating him in my car was once again laborious and slow. By the time the ol’ Camry was underway, dad was back in nursing home mode.
I’ve been pondering dad’s temporary burst of confidence and self-assertiveness all of this week. I wonder what it has been like for him to live so passively after harboring a life-long overbearing attitude. I also wondered why there seems to be no happy medium between the passive and active for him. It was interesting to watch dad’s determination, and self-discipline return, albeit for less than an hour. I also wonder if he was fully aware of his change in behavior.
Sometimes, we feel like we have little actual control over our lives. Perhaps some of us have lost the power or skill to counter the opposing forces in our lives. We feel that we’re at the mercy of powers greater than us. Some of us feel like we’re being dragged through situations that fate has brought our way.
There are times we find ourselves at the beck and call of other people. We’re working for the benefit of other people’s agendas and goals, not our own. We fall prey to the designs of political, religious, and commercial designs upon us and our energies. We feel the tug to gain more control over our lives and not allow other people to significantly have their way over us. We want to be active agents in our own lives. We want to be the directors of our own life dramas.
Have you noticed that many of us seem passive or somewhat indifferent to the World around us until a project or plan comes to mind? Indecisivness and passivity disappear, in favor of a sense of mission and action. We find a reserve of strength to help us withstand the rigours of what is needed to bring the task to completion. This is when we need to take control and then we do so.
We might notice the need to assert ourselves and be forthright. One’s self-confidence increases and we more skillfully express our own wants and needs so we have a better chance of getting our own way. This is when we find faith in ourselves and understand who we are and what we stand for. The assertion goes beyond that found within beliefs and belief systems. It’s much more primal and powerful.
Some of us mistake assertion for aggressiveness and vice versa. Assertion comes forward once we have come to terms with our own aggressive urges. Just like sexuality or any other primary survival mechanism, aggression cannot be suppressed. The destructive form of aggression can be creatively channeled so that it doesn’t devolve into mental and physical illness. We can see assertiveness when a person has taken control of any impulses towards anger and aggression. We need to let others know who is boss, who controls the situation, and who is also in control of oneself. Dad’s behavior, the other day, is a good example of this.
An assertive demeanor cannot be forced. Attempts at doing so will be seen as phony and desperate. Assertive behavior is carefully cultivated along with other positive virtues like compassion, mercy, and acceptance. Unlike brute-force aggression, assertiveness brings out our appreciation of the struggle.
Assertiveness is a celebration of the positive, active forces in our lives. Assertiveness is a learned skill.