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My grand-daughter is not cute
because we tell her she is.
And, hopefully, she won't come to believe
she is becuase of what people say to her.

It Is Very Personal

460 words


How To NOT Take It Personally Even When It IS
by Dianne Roth


Often we are told, "Don't take it personally," and still we must strive to overcome the opinions of others: "You are... whatever." Our spirits shrivel if we are seen as negative... ignorant, ugly, lazy, messy, thoughtless. Our spirits soar if others see us as positive... beautiful, slim, smart, well-dressed, kind, thoughtful.

For most of my life, I defined myself by what others took time to tell me about me. If I heard, "That was a good idea," I knew I was smart. If I heard nothing, I was sure I was dumb. If no one told me that my new dress was lovely, it probably wasn't. My life was a roller coaster ride of other people's opinions. My addiction to compliments and my fear of attacks kept me from ever getting to know who I really was. Taking everything personally was a way of life and I could not understand how it could be otherwise.

Then, one day I got it! A first grader in my classroom came to me crying, "He called me a girl!" (An aside: I am offended that being a girl is an insult. I long for the day when that is no longer true.) I asked him, "Well, are you a girl?" He howled a pain-filled, "No!" I said, and this is the key, "He can't make you be a girl." With a smirk, I added, "He must not be able to tell the difference."

Both boys had a moment of inspiration. The one in front of me, got it, loud and clear. He looked with disdain at the other boy who looked furtively around to see if anyone else had noticed that he had done something stupid. He didn't get it, quite, and was worried about what the other children were thinking about him.

Amazingly, I got it! No one, not a single person, can make me be something I am not. And, in a flash, I realized that this was not just about the negative stuff, but also about the positive. "Good idea," did not make me smart. "Lovely dress," does not make me beautiful. I am a thoughtful, generous, kind, funny, smart, attractive person. No one's words made me that way, I just am.

And yet, attacks and compliments are actually very personal. They show up in our lives and make us sad or make us smile. I still enjoy a compliment, but it does not define who I am and it tells me a lot about the person giving it. It still hurts when I am the brunt of someone’s attack. Sometimes it is gut-wrenching, but it does not define the kind of person I am. It does, however, tell me a quite a bit about the person delivering the barb.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on October 8, 2012