21 September 2007

Being a wimp

It has taken me many years to perfect the art of being a wimp. It has not come naturally and has taken a fair amount of work. That's because I'm actually a reformed volcano.

It has taken me many years to perfect the art of being a wimp. It has not come naturally and has taken a fair amount of work.

According to the dictionary, a wimp is a weak and cowardly person. I don’t agree. I think it takes a lot of courage to be a wimp.

So does this mean I accept someone else stealing my parking spot, say yes for the graveyard shift no one else wants to do, and be kind to tele-canvassers who made me jump out of the bath to find out how I felt about banking services?

No ordinary wimp
Sometimes it does mean just that – accepting minor slights and inconveniences. You see, I am no ordinary wimp. I am a reformed volcano. It’s probably easier to give up smoking or lose weight than it is to learn to just let certain things go.

But being an active volcano is no joke. Just look where it got Mount St. Helens. And boy, did she blow her top.

Everyone knows that feeling of blind white rage. Your brother-in-law insults you again, or you get the blame for something you didn’t do, or you find out your partner is seeing the ex again. Losing it is both a mental and physical experience. That burst of anger triggers a surge of adrenaline that boosts your blood pressure and pulse rate and increases the heart’s workload. And it could cause abnormal heart rhythms, not to speak of artery-blocking blood clots, and possible even a spasm in a coronary artery, according to the Harvard Family Health Guide.

So think about it - who gets punished when I lose it? I do.

A pushover?
So does this mean I am going to be a pushover for life? Dream on, I’m afraid. But there is a big difference. I now choose when I want to risk a spasm in a coronary artery. And many things are simply not worth it. Taxis pushing into highway queues, Telkom, electronic voices on customer care lines, screaming kids in restaurants, lying politicians on TV. Enough – I can feel my blood pressure rising already.

But think about it. What difference does it really make to let that taxi in? I might get home five seconds later, but with my heart mechanism intact. A small price to pay.

I have learnt to choose my battles. I am not going to change the driving habits of taxis, nor am I going to reform Telkom, nor change the parenting style of the couple in the restaurant.

I knew the battle was won one evening when I managed to say calmly and with a smile on my face to a most belligerent, racist and insulting fellow dinner guest, “I choose with whom I argue and I’m afraid I have not chosen you.”

‘Seething’ as a default setting?
Previously I would have taken him on in one-to-one verbal combat – of the we-take-no-prisoners type. Not anymore. Some people or some issues are just not worth risking a heart attack. I do not enjoy being on a default setting of ‘seething’.

I need to conserve my energy for the battles that are really important: making an effort in relationships that are important, losing it when I see kids abusing an animal, or parents abusing a kid, keeping my house presentable, spotting a spelling error in expensive signage, weather reports that are way off the mark, shoe shops that don’t stock my size, people who chew chewing gum while talking to me.

OK, OK, I know – a little more work is needed here. Actually, a lot. But please, just once I want to have a parking lot rage attack, and ram the car of the stupid fool who stole my parking spot. Please. Can I do it soon?

(Susan Erasmus,, September 2007)


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