Taking it Personally

I have always been one to take things personally.

I had a teacher during elementary school who had a color coded discipline system. Every student had a clear, plastic sleeve hanging on the wall, and in each sleeve there were three cards. If your green card was showing, it meant you hadn’t gotten in trouble at all throughout the day. If your green card were switched to a yellow card, you had one warning. If yellow had been switched to red, however, you knew you were going to have to bring something home to your parents to sign.

There was only one time during my elementary school career that I was even mildly disciplined. One time. Some may have called me a goody-two-shoes or a teacher’s pet, but I recognized that there were rules to follow, and more importantly, parents to satisfy and teachers to impress. So, naturally, when my green card was switched to yellow, I cried the entire day. It felt like a personal attack from the teacher, and more importantly, I felt like a failure.

Flash forward to Tuesday of this week. I get an email from a higher-up – who is “100% not mad” and giving me “professional feedback.” And like the former version of myself from 2nd or 3rd grade, I cry about it. I spend the time at the dinner table with my family seething about this woman and her curt email, and I lose sleep turning over possible emails back to her until I’m up so late and so exhausted that my hypothetical emails become one-worded and involve emojis. (Update: I sent her a perfectly kind response back… big surprise there.)

I take it personally when people I barely know don’t seem to like me the way that I’d like them to, when I’m critiqued a tad bit harshly, and whenever I’m said no to, within reason.

I’ve been told I’m too sensitive and that I take things too personally, and to some degree, that’s completely correct. Is it possible we’re all narcissists for feeling that nearly every negative thing that comes our way has to do with our actions and character? Maybe. However, the more I think of it, and the more I try to envision a world in which no one takes anything personally, the more I feel that feeling is what makes us human.

Really, go ahead and imagine a world in which no one takes anything personally. People probably wouldn’t recycle or conserve water, and the endangered species list would probably be longer than this blog post. I wonder if there’d be monogamy and marriage. I’ll go so far as to say that the intricacies of human life and the web of human connection depend on the nuance that is involved when we take things personally.

In an ideal world, I would be a less subject to the flood of feelings that come from criticism and failure, especially as directed at me externally. I would take the advice and move on instead of mulling it over in my head for days and attempting to decipher further, probably hurtful, subtleties of speech. Maybe one day I’ll learn how to take things to the heart without taking them to the head. In the meantime, however, I’m learning to embrace the pure humanity of feeling – even the feels that come from a one word, no punctuation response from your boss’s boss. Ouch.

         Personal
BY TONY HOAGLAND

Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts
but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:
trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.
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