Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Down with Assholes

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” When I first heard that I thought it was extremely useful advice; the sort of thing I ought to make myself remember when others were trampling on my feelings. No doubt ER meant to empower people, but lately it occurs to me that this advice smacks of blaming the victim. “You feel inferior because YOU let her make you feel inferior.” Well, thanks, now I feel even more inferior. I propose the following as an update of ER's wisdom: Down with Assholes.

A classmate approached me recently and asked me for information about the fall semester classes. The nursing program made some changes and had given each student an information sheet with explanations, a list of our class options, and other useful information. I referred to my information page and answered her question. “Can I borrow that?” she asked, adding imperiously, “because of course, you have already registered.” I told her that, in fact, I hadn't registered yet, but she snatched the page out of my hands, saying she thought she could quickly register before class started, that she would return my paper, and off she went. This particular classmate is famous for her rudeness, indeed, she has the audacity to cut to the head of the bathroom line during break, so it was a sinking feeling that I entered my classroom, a feeling that sank even more when she returned and did not give me my paper.

At break time, she didn't return my paper, and now I was anxious to register myself, so I followed her to the computer lab and sat two computers away from her. I asked her if I could have my paper back and she acted surprised, almost as if she thought I had no right to it anymore. I noticed she had written all over it and circled her own class choices. Now I was really mad, and with the irrational behavior of the angry, I gave her back my paper and registered without it, but not having the paper to refer to caused me to screw up my class schedule and get sucked into a computer vortex in which I couldn't do anything. And now break was over. I returned to class and saw Ms. Classmate folding my paper into tiny squares and tucking it into her purse. I wanted to disrupt the whole class, and throttle this chick until she gave me back my paper, but I was not raised to go around throttling people, so I sat helpless with tears of rage and frustration starting in my eyes. I couldn't concentrate on the lecture, so I walked out and marched down to the nursing office where the secretary got me registered properly, only by this time, the Med-surg class I wanted had closed and I had to register for one that is inconvenient for me.

I realize, of course, how ridiculously hysterical I sound. “She took my piece of paper and she wrote on it and she didn't give it back! I was inconvenienced!” I was mad at her for flattening my feeble resistance. I was mad at myself for not being more assertive. Why didn't I just say, “I'm sorry but I need my paper.” It would have been so simple, and yet for me, nearly impossible to say. And why does no one ever say anything when she sails into the bathroom and grabs the next available toilet, ahead of everyone else who has been waiting? Is it because everybody hates a scene? Is it because she acts like she has the right to cut to the head of the line? Does she have superpowers? If I ever tried to do the same thing, a shower of vigorous protests would rain upon my head. Do we all have a built-in sense of who we can mess with and who we can't?

According to Eleanor Roosevelt, I consented to this person's taking advantage of me, but is not she equally culpable for being an asshole? “The meek will inherit the earth” is a useless platitude. What people like me need is the ability to recognize and effectively manage assholes. Without becoming assholes ourselves.


  1. unbelievable. hire a hit man. talk to your other classmates and have everyone pelt jellybeans at her when next she cuts in line. cough loudly every time she is about to answer a question in class. or find something you can calmly say to her that will get under her skin and stay there forever.

  2. I like the idea of hiring a hit man. :)

  3. Oh honey, tell me what time and where and I'll come in and handle this with you. I have NO QUALMS about dealing with people like that. By the time I get done with her, you'll be a hero to your classmates for bringing me in as The Enforcer.

    I believe you and I are approximately the same age, so hopefully you'll get this cultural reference: "Nobody puts Baby in the corner." Well, nobody puts Patience in the corner. :-)

  4. What a jerk! I hope she doesn't plan to do any nursing around here after graduation. She might find a catheter where she least expects it one day.

  5. Wouldn't it be fun if "she" sent a letter to your nursing office just before the fall semester explaining why she needs to drop out. Now, that might be a bit of an inconvenience!

  6. @Samantha: And a service to humanity at that!

  7. I've always hated that ER statement.

    No, I'm afraid it's a bit more complicated. Tell it to the concentration camp victim or the slave.

    It sound reassuring I guess. We just all know it isn't true.

  8. Oh man have I been there. So let's practice saying the following together: No, no thank you, I would prefer not to, not at this time, no, that is not possible, no, I can't help you with that and no, perhaps you should get your own/do it yourself/ask someone else. She obviously doesn't care what others think of her, so don't worry a bit about what she or others like her might think of you for not giving in.