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Ann Brenoff

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Restraint Is A Virtue (I'm Working On It)

Posted: 01/04/2013 7:39 am

I know a woman who boasts about how she always speaks her mind. She prides herself on possessing this trait and goes around telling everyone how she set one person or another "straight." Her conversation is punctuated with phrases like "I don't care who knows it" and "You know me, I always tell it like it is."

Increasingly, I avoid her. Why? Because I not only don't admire her, I fear I could easily become her. The ability to show restraint is a virtue and I'm trying hard to practice it more often. It's my new anti-stress mantra: Don't get mad and don't get even. Just let it go.

My life, like everyone else's, is cluttered with petty annoyances and small injustices -- and not every one of them is worth addressing. Being angry at every slight, at every instance of life not behaving fairly -- it's all just too energy-zapping. Intellectually I know that letting go instead of exploding is often the emotionally healthier route. I want to be right and not need you to apologize for being wrong.

Still, I admit to the occasional lapse. As such -- and with a grain of humor -- I have identified the situations where I'm most vulnerable, the scenarios in which I am most likely to go bonkers. Yes, in the self-improvement category, I still have a ways to go.

1. I will no longer call up the mothers of bullies.
Truth is, we are all a little blind to the flaws of our children. My calls to you pointing out your child's transgressions were generally met with disbelief anyway, so from now on, I will simply exhibit restraint and wait for the next soccer game where for the mere price of a yellow card, your precious son will be walking funny for a week. I will further show restraint and refrain from high-fiveing my kid as he returns to the bench. I'm joking, peeps, I'm joking.

Seriously, I don't know why showing kindness can't become our culture's new "cool." Being mean has never made me feel better, so I don't really understand why others seem to get off on it. My kids no longer need me to fight their battles for them. I've given them the tools to navigate the difficult personalities of the world and assured them that Middle School doesn't last forever.

2. I will no longer get stressed out over bad service.
I will no longer be the weird person in line at Best Buy who says in a loud voice to nobody in particular, "Why should we have to wait to give them our money?" or "Why didn't they hire more holiday help -- didn't they know Christmas was coming?" Sorry, that was just the '60s protester in me hoping to rally us all around the cause instead of letting Big Chains walk all over us. I've gone through life with a megaphone and part of my de-stressing plan is to put it down occasionally.

Going forward, I will show restraint -- primarily with my wallet. I will just stop patronizing businesses that provide crappy service. I will order online from retailers like Zappos and Nordstrom, both of which provide excellent customer service and free shipping both ways.

3. I will no longer correct the misspellings on papers and emails that come home from the teachers and administrators at my children's schools.

I will stop doing this not because it made me the least-popular mother on the class roster but because it did very little good.

I have spent my entire adult life as a writer and editor and am not entirely unsympathetic to the act of misspelling words. Buy me a beer sometime and I'll tell you how I once I dropped the L from the word "public" in a story; yeah, still not laughing over that one. But you have to believe that that's a mistake I only made once.

Teachers, on the other hand, continue to send home the same handouts that I corrected three years before when they had my oldest child in the class.

Maybe the difference is public embarrassment. I typed public, right?

4. I will stop chopping off my nose to spite my face.
I am a person with principles. I believe in justice and became a journalist to right the world's wrongs. Yes, you could say I'm a delusional Superman.

I'm also horribly impatient. I hate waiting in lines. I am notorious for walking out of crowded restaurants that don't have our table ready 20 minutes past our reservation time. I have dumped many an armful of clothes on the counter and stomped out of Macy's because the cashier's line stretched down the aisle and only one register was open. I am not a good wait-er.

Who suffers the most when I do these things? Me and my loved ones. The restaurant hostess shrugs and the couple in line after us gleefully gets a table early. It's a lesson in deciding which is more important: Being right or being happy? I'm opting for happy.

My pledge is that I will show restraint and not walk out of restaurants or stores when it hurts me more than it does them. Instead, I will use the wait time to trash them on Yelp.

5. I will accept that valet parking is a privilege not a right.
OK, I really can't do that. You want me to spend $150 on a dinner and then pay you another $12 to park my car? Sorry dude, but unless that includes a car wash with a wax finish, we don't have a deal.

See how easy it is to slip into lack of restraint?

I will accept that valet parking is part of the cost of the evening's entertainment in the city where I live. My choices are to accept it or reject it, but not to fight it. The restaurant is charging us for one simple reason: It can get away with doing so. There are enough people willing to pay their ridiculous fee, so they do it. And, as experience has shown me, dancing on the hood of the SUV while you call the poor valet guy names and demand to speak to the manager isn't going to change a thing.

6. I will suffer fools silently.
I have little tolerance for the self-absorbed or self-entitled. But instead of trying to tolerate them, I will now try harder just to ignore them.

So yes, you may continue your loud cell phone conversation in the doctor's office because you must be right, the sign saying "no cells please" isn't meant for you -- everyone else, just not you. Nor will I say anything to you when you fill up the plane's overhead compartment that was meant to be shared by three passengers or when you pretend you didn't see me waiting with my blinker on for that parking spot. Please, I insist, you take it.

Truth is, the world is populated with a lot of jerks. It's also populated by pretty decent folks who on occasion have a jerk-like moment. The trick is in differentiating between the two. Going forward, I am giving you the benefit of the doubt and will leave your car tires intact.

7. Holding grudges is for literature.
Does anyone even remember why the Hatfields and the McCoys were feuding? I know that long after people have forgotten your words, they remember how you made them feel. I would rather they remembered the good feeling I left them with. I do not want to become the woman who walks around mad all the time.

Life is too short to spend it with a knot in your gut. If I call you to chew you out about something, please send me this link. Reminders can't hurt.

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