I'm no religious nut, but indulge me in a moment's imaginative thinking here, if you will. When God/Allah/Will o' the Wisp/<insert name of your chosen deity here> was sitting on a cloud, idly coming up with his "commandments" during a quiet moment when he wasn't inventing a flesh-eating spider or unfairly distributing the world's drinking water, he left out the most important one of all : Thou Shalt Not Take Shit.
Now I'm not advocating nutting anyone who happens to step on your toe on the 7.56 cattle-class commuter train to Charing Cross, or dreaming up new and novel ways to execute that colleague who doesn't share your 'alternative' world view....nah, we'll leave that stuff to ISIS. What I'm referring to is having a finely-tuned BS detector, a Wrong'un Radar if you will, and not, under any circumstances, letting anyone take advantage of your agreeable nature.
For me, it's a no-brainer. It has simply always been thus. As the eldest child, you have to assert yourself from an early age. Show the younger sibs who's boss. If you don't lay down the law of the land the minute your mum spawns the second child, there's gonna be a mutiny. You can't have the third in line to the throne getting above their station. That way trouble lies. They'll have their clammy little mitts in your Play Doh mixing up all the pretty bright colours into a mulched murky mass of camoflaged green before you can say "Doh....n't you dare!"
I reckon birth order definitely plays a part when it comes to no-nonsense attitudes.
And birth signs? Possibly.
I'm not one for sitting cross-legged gazing into a crystal ball with a chunk of rose quartz in my bra to balance my heart chakra, chanting "Ommmm" with a joint dangling from my lips, but there may be some truth behind birth sign behavioural traits.
I, for example, am the very definition of an Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac as symbolised by the ram, and rams do not take any shit. Forceful, decisive, spontaneous; a fracas with me is likely to involve me dipping my head and charging full-throttle, horns first. About as subtle as a brick through a window, my mouth engages long before the brain has a chance to question the wisdom of my latest outpouring. It's like I have no control over what comes out of my mouth - I'm genuinely as surprised by what tumbles out as the person I'm chatting to. I have no filters.
Having spent a lifetime surrounded by those from different zodiacal zones, I can vouch for air and water signs displaying much more laid-back qualities. Being married to a super-chilled Aquarius certainly made for some interesting scenes. In his words, I was a human pestle-and-mortar; my headstrong nature eventually "ground him into a paste." Meanwhile, his meandering lackadaisical attitude bordering on total inertia drove me to near-demonic distraction.
As I get older, it's getting harder to suffer fools. In my younger days, my direct nature was countered somewhat by the awareness of my inequality in terms of life experience; I respected my elders.
Now I AM an elder, it's harder to bite my lip when someone digs me out. One bonus of having under-eyes wrinklier than an elephant's scrotum is that people know they can't talk down to you anymore. Even if you work in retail. Especially if you work in retail. Comments that may once have sent me bawling hysterically to the stockroom to sob are now just water off a duck's back.
Come at me with some derogatory remark and it'll simply deflect from my hardened shell. I'm tougher than a stag beetle's back these days. My wings are like a shield of steel. No wait....that's Batfink. But you catch my drift.
Put simply, I ain't taking no crap from nobody.
So is it nature, nurture, or a gradually-developed skill? Perhaps a combination of all three.
We all know people who are perpetual victims. The human doormats who question why, time and again, people wipe their big muddy Doc Martens all over them. It's painful to watch as they get repeatedly taken advantage of, as those clumsy clodhoppers gradually wear out their "Welcome." If you don't want to be a doormat, get off the damn floor.
Being mates with a doormat is like watching an old flickering black-and-white movie where the vulnerable woman is screaming as she's tied to the railtrack, the steamtrain chugging furiously towards her. You watch the unfolding scene through your fingers as you know she's about to get hit. Only this real-life victim has willingly laid down on the tracks, her arms outstretched as she lamely allows herself to be tied down with rope. In the life of a true victim that steam train doesn't stop at the last second. It doesn't stop at all.
People only treat you as you allow yourself to be treated. You have to stand up for yourself. Of course, I don't advocate violence, and anyway it's not necessary. If you assert yourself early on, people know not to cross you. You teach people how to treat you.
When I was leaving primary school, all the children were given a dictionary, which our teachers wrote good luck wishes in. My form teacher, Mr Redman, wrote a message which did not make much sense to my eleven year old self:
"You are a child of the universe,
No less than the trees and the stars"
I came across the full poem, called Desiderata, a decade later, pinned on the wall at the home of my friend's dad, an ageing hippy. I instantly recognised the quote and in the context of the full poem, it made perfect sense. It was quite an emotional moment. I still look at the carefully hand-written message in that dictionary occasionally, almost thirty years later.
That was one of the most valuable lessons you gave me, Mr Redman. The poem is inspiring in so many ways, with so much accurate advice. But the part that you were highlighting was the part that my insecure, vulnerable younger self needed to hear. I finally understood what you were telling me with that message all those years earlier:
"Know your value....and don't take any shit."
|me sitting next to Mr Redman|
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