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2005-09-27 Irish Assertiveness

The leisure centre showers were freezing yesterday - again. It was the third time this week. Making myself as respectable as possible with only the aid of a skimpy blue towel, I marched authoritatively to reception.

 

Now look, I said, I am a new member here. Isnt it enough that most of the lockers are broken? But what is the story with those showers? For three days now theyve been continually shrinking my manhood. Ah, sure I know. Its ridiculous, isnt it?, came the unsatisfactory, if partially-expected reply, Ridiculous, sure Ive said it to them. You see, Ill tell you what the problem is. (I glazed over; he began to lose me). You see, the water has to come from the main hotel. By the time it gets here its cold, do you see?. (I did see, but was bored now). Its pure stone mad, isnt it?, he said. It is&pure stone&anyway, ok, em, thanks, I replied, and skulked back to wash myself as best I could beneath the arctic cascade.

 

Why is it that we Irish often go for the non-assertive option? We seem to have improved when eating out. Thanks to higher standards in cuisine, and stiffer restaurant competition, as a nation we are quicker to complain about food when it is simply below a certain standard. Gone are the days when my mother returned a block of stilton to Five Star in OConnell Street, when maggots had taken up squatters rights in the cheese. As a little nation we have asserted ourselves in a variety of significant ways throughout the centuries, from refusing to entertain foreign occupation, to becoming a nation to be reckoned with in the new Europe. And yet, individually, many of us still need to assert ourselves more. Maybe we confuse assertiveness with aggression, despite the clear distinction between the two.

I am a stickler for good time-keeping, and find it quite insulting if I make an effort to be on time, and people turn up late. Several of my friends make a habit of being consistently late. I know I ought to perhaps say, in an assertive way, Can you ring me an hour before we meet if you are running late, and I can make alternative plans? Thanks. But I just cant seem to do it.

Assertiveness is an ability to express yourself and your rights, in a direct, open and honest way, without affecting the rights of others. We ought to be able to express our positive and negative feelings, in a firm and confident manner, by simply exercising assertiveness. The lines of communication should then always remain open. But, of course, this is assuming we value ourselves and our lives, and value others and respect their rights. By tactfully and effectively expressing our preferences, feelings, opinions and needs, we gain self-confidence and can build honest and lasting relationships.

But again, we must believe we are entitled to those needs. We all ought to have the right to say how we want to be treated, the right to justify or explain our actions or feelings to others. If, for one reason or another, you dont truly believe you have these rights, you may end up by reacting with passive aggression  a very negative emotion (though its always worked for me!). By reacting in an unassertive way, you put yourself across to others as weak, self-sacrificing and inferior. By reacting unassertively and passively, you permit others to violate your rights, and the bullies triumph, thus coercing you into thinking their way. Their supposed assertiveness has crossed that thin line to become aggression and arrogance, their behaviour having become self-centred, inconsiderate and hostile.

Womens place in society is one of the more positive examples of assertiveness. When children are growing up, whether they be the Terrible Twos or the even-more-terrible-Teens, parents ought to try to exercise control with assertiveness, rather than a passive aggressive or even irritable response. Children can learn assertiveness by their parents good example, and learn to differentiate between assertive and aggressive. They must also ascertain that assertiveness is not just a question of content, but must be combined with appropriate tone, gestures and eye contact. The showers were cold again this morning after my swim. Thats four times this week. I really must say something in the New Year.