Is your heart hungry for an antidote for poisonous righteousness and could the antidote be in part an anecdote?
Did you hear the one about the woman who knew she had a sheet of stamps in her wallet? She needed one to place on a bill she immediately had paid-the old school way with a pen in her hand scribbling out the amount on a paper check, then inserting this paper into an envelope-making certain the portion of paper statement with address showed through the small rectangle on the front of the envelope. She stuck out her tongue to add saliva to the gum, the lickable strip, for safe adhering and sealing paper to paper. She sat in the passenger seat beside a man, who was driving his vehicle.
For some unknown reason, he had a roll of stamps in the console. He showed her the stamp he had already pealed from his roll. “Here’s a stamp unless using this will violate your sense of agency.” Now, this could have been kind of funny if he had used his light-hearted, comical voice, but the man didn’t. His snarky tone laced with certain indignant anger blew hot around the words.
A few days earlier she had made what he angrily called a unilateral choice to fly on an airplane to visit her son. Her son had asked if she could come see him. To her complete bafflement, the man blew his gasket on that previous day. And for the first time his anger and fears did not scare her as she sat curled up underneath a blanket on her lap. In the deepest places inside of her, the anchors of trust, confidence, self-love, and peace she’d been cultivating remained solidly intact. She had sat silently bearing witness to his tirade.
Now in the vehicle, she silently accepted the stamp, placing it on the envelope. Hours later, she mustered her courage to share-“That stamp interaction hurt. My heart hurt. It didn’t feel like you were coming from love.” He got defensive yet admitted, “The comment came from twisted love.” And she thought, What the heck is twisted love but poisonous righteousness with a thin layer of a mostly invisible glaze-sort of like a slice of moldy cake with icing.
She recognized this moment as one of a thousand, gazillion micro-aggressions she’d experienced from significant others. These tiny moments of cutting remarks, demeaning words mixed with angry tones meant to hurt, to harm, had often worked in their insidious ways to keep her afraid, silent, compliant, and apologetic. Coupled with a withholding of affection, of an important other turning icy, she knew this pattern deep in her being. She also knew now she had done nothing wrong; no punishable crime had ever been committed other than her audaciousness in living true to herSelf.
She remembered a stay at a bed and breakfast a few years ago with a different mister. While reading the brochure about the Inn, she learned they had a postage stamp created with the image of the Inn on the front. “How amazing! This Bed and Breakfast had a postage stamp made for them!” She shared her excitement with this different mister. He replied, “That’s impossible! This Bed and Breakfast does not have a postage stamp! You must mean they had a rubber stamp designed with an ink pad!” At that juncture, she watched her familiar thoughts roll through her mind. He does not believe me or trust me. He thinks I’m a dumb*@*. Wow! I’ve been navigating for a long time these tiny, awful moments of being dismissed, not believed, overruled by what he thinks is his superior intellect-his poisonous righteous and fierce stubbornness to ever admit he might not have all the facts.
Rather than going into the ring or flopping down on the mat with useless sparring words, she finally chose to leave the building where she’d been fighting to be heard for her truth. She didn’t want to argue about stamps, whether the song playing was by Chicago or the Doobie Brothers, or if the sign on the freeway indicated they were driving in the opposite direction of their destination. She didn’t want to argue about her experiences of feeling denigrated, hurt, invisible, and being raped.
When a person stubbornly commits to their view of reality, unrelenting in their rightness, then it becomes impossible to have a sane conversation from curiosity or discovery, for the truth to emerge. When there are no apologies for hurtful behaviors or changed behaviors as an effective, enduring apology, then it’s time to set yourself free.
Why are agency, courage, and confidence in a person viewed as a threat? Why is a different perspective or even factual data viewed as threatening? Why does a person grip so tightly to their worldview? Why do people presume to speak for another person’s experiences rather than listen with rapt attention to another’s realities?
The Universe, once again, delivered a clear message sealed with a stamp of approval.
The woman no longer required an outer demeaning voice doubting her sense of agency, the actions she intuitively knew happened to be the healthiest and best for her life. The unkind, doubting voice inside of her had finally taken a permanent vacation, a lifelong fly-fishing trip to the ten thousand lakes in Minnesota. She knew she had the courage and faith to walk away from the latest iteration of a pattern that no longer served the woman she was becoming and the beautiful being she had always been.