I’m frequently frustrated when I encounter other people on the sidewalk. More specifically, when I’m walking on my right-hand side of the sidewalk, and someone is walking towards me on their left-hand side (or when groups of people walk towards me walk while standing shoulder-to-shoulder), I get annoyed if they don’t make space by the time we get into collision range of each other. The depth of my understanding of my response in these situations has been that I don’t like it when other people try to control me.

I’ve resisted people trying to control me most of my life. I have a history of rejecting authority and being rebellious and defiant. I always thought it was simply about resisting control. Recently I got to discover this a little bit deeper.

At work, I’m participating in a book club with some coworkers. We’re reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. Yesterday we reviewed chapter 3, which is heavily focused around shame.

The shame that men experience is something that was discussed in this chapter. A common theme here is that many men feel shame around being perceived as weak.

While reading this chapter, I reflected on my experiences with encountering people on the sidewalk. I never thought about how this or my other forms of resisting control were related to shame. But if I explore my fears and thoughts around this, I can see how it’s true.

I feel like making way for other people is one way to elevate them above me, and lower me below them. I fear that it will be perceived as an invitation for people to stomp on me in the future. And if I put myself at the bottom of the food chain like this, no one will want to have anything to do with me.

Another common theme from this chapter was that shame gets its power from evading language. I found it interesting how for a long time, I never looked at these reasons hiding beneath my avoiding control.

So this morning when someone bumped into me in the madness to get on the train, I caught myself putting my shields up. I started to name the shame and engage myself in a conversation about it.

In that moment, I could choose to be kind because that’s how I’d like to be, or I could choose to be unkind because I’m afraid that people may see me as weak. In hindsight, I find it funny how much I struggled with myself over that choice despite thinking the right answer was so obvious. But at least now I’m starting to be an active participant in these conversations with myself. I think that’s a step forward.

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