She Just Can’t Stifle Herself / Sometimes We Overestimate People
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have a longtime friend who cannot have a political thought without voicing it to me. She prattles on about stuff she hears in the news; much of it inaccurate and annoying to me. I finally—and very politely—told her that I’d rather not hear any of her “opinions” (pretty much word-for-word from what passes for “the news”), and she got very angry with me. She said that she has a right to voice her thoughts and opinions and that I am stifling that right. I told her that I also have the right to NOT hear it.
If she has a right to be heard, don’t I have an equal right to NOT hear? I exercise that right every day by turning off the TV. Unfortunately however, unlike the TV she does not have an OFF button. Do I just have to write her off as a friend? I really like her, but it’s getting on my nerves! What can I say to her?
Dr. Hurd replies,
Let’s be clear on the right to free speech. The right to free speech refers to freedom from government censorship. The right to free speech does NOT give you the right to impose yourself on another person. Yet that’s what your friend is implying, no matter how much she will deny it.
I’m not suggesting a political argument here. There’s no point going that far. The only point is that you are under no obligation to honor her claimed right to force you into a topic you have no interest in discussing with her. That applies to anything, not just politics.
We’re sovereign over our lives, and that includes our time. Nobody has a right to make you discuss a topic you don’t find valuable or interesting. The deeper issue is that nobody has a right to steal your time. Although she’ll never admit it, when she blusters, “My right to free speech means you have to listen to me,” nothing could be farther from the truth. Would she like it if you made her listen to your views she doesn’t care to hear? I doubt it.
I realize you’ve already said this to her, and I know she’s not going to listen. Tell yourself that’s OK. Just exit the room and exit her space. Move back into your serenity, and don’t worry about her. You will be just fine! And she will too. We don’t all have to get along.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have been working for the same company for many years, and had the upmost trust in the owner. In fact I helped to start her business. Recently I went on vacation and when I returned she had replaced me with somebody new—formerly a subordinate of mine to whom I was now to answer. I confronted the owner and asked her if she was firing me, and she got angry and started talking about how I needed help, etc., etc. She finally sent me an email saying it was best that we part ways. No explanation, no niceties. I was hurt and disappointed. I put a huge amount of time and energy into her company—much of it over and above my assigned duties. But I just can’t shake the pain and betrayal of being dismissed in that way. I think I need help to get over it.
Dr. Hurd replies,
That’s pretty awful! Just like any major loss, you won’t “get over” it—but you will get through it. Loss is painful. Though few losses are as painful as death, this is sort of like a death; not the death of a person, but the death of a person’s reputation. You thought you meant more to the company’s owner than you did. You thought she was more than she really is. And that’s sad.
Sometimes we overestimate people. Not everyone is loyal. I’ll speculate that your employer had already made up her mind to let you go, but had mixed feelings about it. Instead of “manning (or womaning) up” and sticking by her guns by explaining her reasons in as palatable and sensitive a way possible, she botched it. That’s all on her; chalk it up to your overestimation of her as a businessperson and a human being. What else can we say?
At this point a lot of people will tell you, “Everything happens for a reason.” I’m not so sure whose reason we’re talking about, so I won’t sign on for that tired cliché. But implicit in this is the suggestion that you exploit (in a good way) any and all future opportunities, including some that you might never have anticipated. In my most recent book I call that “psychological entrepreneurism.” It means not looking at yourself as a victim—even when you are a victim—and focusing more on what you can do to come out of this stronger. If you study the lives and mental states of successful and happy people, you will always find that quality. This is a good time for you to apply it.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email Dr. Hurd