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Is There an Antidote for Poisonous Righteousness?

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.

Laura Staley
Laura Staleyhttp://www.cherishyourworld.com
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

6 COMMENTS

  1. I love your rich, vulnerable, heartful writing, Laura and I equally loved the jumping off point it gave Charlotte’s thinking. That’s one of the great gifts you give to the world, my friend. That you allow us to look at those naked and raw parts of ourselves and of our experiences to find our own truths in your stories. Thank you!

    • Thank you so much, Kimberly, for your kind words and reflections. How important for people to discover their own truths inside themselves and in their experiences-with other people-conversations-what life dishes their way. Honest human stories can allow this to happen. And you are very welcome! BTW-the questions you asked at Friendship Bench-I’ve been asking friends and my son, too. Am having a blast hearing their responses. Such a wonderful session! Thank you, again, for facilitating and helping us get our juices flowing about not yet fulfilled dreams-experiences which have opened us to the world–such great questions/topics!!

  2. How fascinating there seems to be this convergence of questions around this topic of being right and being in relationship with another-and the tension which can emerge-with all the layers of emotions and beliefs coming into play. I have definitely learned that when a person truly-even fiercely-believes a “ketchup bottle is a bag of potato chips” (ah, the metaphors) that listening is about all I can do-then I can walk away if I don’t care intensely about the person- without any need to alter their “truth.” Your raising this question offers such clarity for I do believe some individuals would rather be right than be in a relationship.

    I’m grateful to know this essay helped you with your agency in that challenging conversation. I have hung up on people, too. I did it with a woman from the internet company when our internet was down and she kept returning to her sales script-I was respectful and patient all the way through, but when I finally realized she had not heard me at all-even when I kindly said, “We have no service. I do not want to purchase a package. We need our service reconnected” I finally said, I’m so sorry you are unable to hear me or help me. I’m hanging up the phone right now.” And I hung up. I even wondered if I had been speaking to a robot rather than a human being…

    I appreciate our exchange of ideas so very much.

      • Oh, I heard Sam Ardery in a podcast interview with Yonasen Goldson-and his sharing about his wife-that very question. Being right often creates barriers to being in meaningful relationship with another human being. And it can be complicated-with many parts-especially in the context of an intimate relationship with a spouse/significant other/best friend…I hear you, Charlotte.

  3. “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.”

    Sleeping on a post about safe spaces, I woke up this morning with the words in my head “when is my need to be right more important for me than my desire to be in relationship with you, and when is your need to be right more important for you than your desire to be in relationship with me?”

    From this perspective, we have a much easier time with people we don’t care intensely about, because our need for relationship with them is not clouding our thought patterns as much.
    If we feel the NEED to maintain the relationship, we react from fear, and if we can’t voice that fear, snark is often what comes out instead – when all other feelings are suppressed, anger is the only one with energy enough to break through.
    On the other hand, is we know we have provoked that fear, we can soothe it while still going about doing our own thing.

    A funny thing happened while I was writing this comment, Laura. A contractor called about an old job his people had done, and he was so rude that I hung up on him.
    “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.”
    It was clear that he had not gotten the whole story but he was – before being hung up on – not interested in hearing that his employee had not given him all the information. Hanging up rebooted the conversation.

    Thank you for priming “my agency.”

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