Testing the foundation

Lydia Ko lines up a putt during day two of the New Zealand Women's Open at Windross Farm. Photo: Getty Images
Lydia Ko lines up a putt during day two of the New Zealand Women's Open at Windross Farm. Photo: Getty Images
Life coach Jan Aitken's been writing a lot, lately, about personal foundation - needs, values, boundaries and standards - and how to integrate them into our lives.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken

I was first introduced to these concepts 14 years ago and now they are fairly ingrained!

However, even now I can say I don't always get it right. I'm not always as fast to respond as I'd like to be in some situations. On the whole, I don't mind that. I'm not aiming for perfection. Rather I'm open to continuing to refine my responses and reactions, to learn and grow. Every now and then something really irks me, though, and I wish I had been more forthright, quicker to respond, bolder to stand up for something I believe in.

Life served me up one of those moments a few weeks ago. Funny how it all coincided with what I was writing about at the time, a real-time lesson in living by my values!

A few weeks ago my partner and I had a short break in Auckland. We'd gone to spend a couple of days at the LPGA McKayson New Zealand Women's Open, an international golf tournament with many of the world's top women's golf players, including our own Lydia Ko. It was a fabulous couple of days, a well-run tournament and really exciting to be able to see the golfers we usually see on TV actually live! I loved every minute of it ... well, almost every minute of it. I want to be very clear, it had nothing to do with the organisation of the tournament or the players. It was some fellow "watchers'' in the gallery I took exception to.

Let me explain. We decided to plonk ourselves by the 18th green to watch Lydia Ko and other top players finishing their round. We were having a pleasant time chatting to another couple and watching some brilliant golf. On the other side of me were five middle-aged men. They were clearly having a good time and now and then I'd overhear a snippet of their conversation. As the afternoon wore on they got louder and louder and I became more aware of the tenor of their conversation.

It wasn't particularly polite and involved some very sexist comments and unpleasant innuendos directed toward the players. I found it offensive. I was so stunned at one point I unconsciously swivelled to face them. I couldn't formulate any comprehensible words, such was the shock at what they'd been saying. My distaste at their conversation was clearly written all over my face, as they looked at me, ceased talking and then eventually the party broke up and they drifted away.

I was absolutely horrified by their conversation. However, during the rest of the afternoon and the following weeks I just couldn't let it go. I came up with numerous things I could've said, some of them completely impolite and certainly not printable, to much more measured, pithy and clear about where my boundary was on such behaviour. I wanted to yell at them "how on earth would you feel if that was your daughter, or sister or wife, or friend? Would you say that to the player's faces?''. But I hadn't done any of that, I'd just glared at them.

On reflection, I disappointed myself. My value of "respect for others'' felt like it had been attacked and then my value of "integrity'' hadn't been met either with my own silence. Yes, they had stopped and dispersed but it all felt a bit hollow. The comments weren't aimed at me but I heard what was being said. Did I have a right to intervene? I clearly had different values to the group but that doesn't mean mine were right. What could I have done differently, I asked myself. What would I do in similar circumstances? It got me thinking about being a "bystander'' when inappropriate comments are made.

There's a lot of information around about how to handle inappropriate comments that are directed at you. I'm not just talking about sexist comments; it could equally be racist, ageist or homophobic language, disrespecting someone's religion or political beliefs ... the list is endless. I couldn't find much on what to do when you're a bystander. Time to call on my values to help me decide what to do.

For me, I discovered that objectifying someone in sexual terms and talking about them in a way that is less than respectful (in my books) is a line that I draw in the sand (I make no difference between which gender instigates the comments or is the subject of the comments). So, my value around respecting others had been "stood'' on. I can't necessarily rectify that as I wasn't the one making the comments. However, I could uphold my value of integrity by politely expressing my discomfort with their comments and placing a boundary around what was acceptable to me. Still nothing may have changed but I would have felt as if I had done what I could; I would have honoured my own values.

It worries me that if we don't stand up for these things then our silence gives permission for such behaviour to continue. It implies acceptance of the status quo. But speaking out isn't always easy. Firstly, you need to feel you are safe physically and psychologically to be able to speak out. If you're not then you may choose to not challenge the situation. If you are safe, and I was, then it's worth thinking about how you'd feel if you let it slide and how you'd feel if you politely challenged things.

I know I've often wondered if saying something ever changes a situation. Dr Alex Czopp, of Western Washington University, found that in everyday life confronting the "perpetrator'' and directly expressing your "disapproval of sexism'' (or other "isms'') is one of the most accessible prejudice reduction tools we have and can change societal behaviour. So, in short, saying something (politely but firmly) can help shift people's behaviour and attitudes.

Did I miss a chance to help stop this sort of behaviour or change some attitudes? Perhaps. I'll never know. What I do know, however, is that if I were in a similar situation I'd be much better prepared to take a deep breath and say what I found offensive and request the behaviour stop. I may well still have unprintable thoughts, but I would have at least lived up to my own values.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

For more go to www.fitforlifecoaches.co.nz



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