In the stall next to me, a woman is on her cell phone.
She’s booking an appointment. I can’t tell with whom. Is it nails? Her therapist? Her oncologist? Her voice echoes over the empty bathroom stalls.
I snap the paper toilet seat cover down and sit. This is really uncomfortable. I’m going to make pee noises. The woman in the stall next to me is chatting away.
I hesitate, then I get mad. She’s the one breaking the rules, I think, not me. I am going to pee as loud as I want.
When I get up to flush, I’m frozen again. I’m thinking how awkward it must be for the person on the other end of her phone to hear all the noises of a public bathroom. I’m actually thinking about the feelings of the person the woman beside me is not thinking about at all. This is ridiculous.
I flush. It’s really loud.
As I’m washing my hands I realize that I have just seen what happens when you break a social norm. It’s not embarrassing the woman next to me to talk to a stranger while using the bathroom. But it’s embarrassing me. Because I go around thinking that everyone feels like me: I would never call someone from inside a public toilet stall. Ever. I think that everyone else thinks like me, too.
Until someone snaps that idea in half.
In Flow, we look at the world as moving energy. We merge or align together to share experiences, and we un-merge or drift apart when we stop sharing experiences.
We all have common, mundane moments of merging — like being next to someone in a public bathroom. This woman, the person on the other end of her phone, and I were all merged into a shared experience for the five minutes I was there.
And in my head, I assume all of us are also perfectly sharing my world-view, which is that you don’t make calls when people are farting and flushing. I think the woman next to me should know that. And I assume the person she’s talking to feels awkward. Look at that full storyline I’ve played out in my head, all centered around me and how I think everyone around me should feel.
Except, maybe even the person on the other end of the phone also books her own appointments in bathroom stalls. Maybe I’m the one they’d think strange.
When someone makes it very clear that they don’t think like you (like the woman next to me), two choices pop up: you can go on being you, or you can be like them. Basically, you pick.
And you do this all the time, just about every moment you interact with people.
I’m so irate because I chose to be like this woman, and do the same as her and pee and flush and participate in her rudeness. Frankly, I really had to use the bathroom and she wasn’t giving me any other option. She forced my hand.
In other words, I had to go with her rules for the experience. She dumped my rules. I went from powerful to powerless. No wonder it got me irritated. I don’t want to be like her. I don’t share her way of thinking.
And . . . I realized not everyone thinks like me. My projection of social norms is just that — my own made up fantasy that I go happily walking around in until someone shakes it up.
You’ve had this happen too. You’ve walked into a situation (maybe with your family, maybe at work) where you believe everyone views things like you view them. You think you have a basic level of agreement going on — something deep and foundational. Until you don’t. And then you choose: do you keep your world-view, or do you switch to theirs?
We all think we stay with our own view (I’m powerful! I don’t cave!), but Toilet Woman shows me that sometimes (often times) we switch. And we get resentful and upset when we do, because we lose our power.
This is the heart of most situations that feel upsetting: you let go of your power. Someone else’s understanding of the world momentarily overrides your own, and you choose to play in their world, by their rules.
But what happens if you’re with this person all the time? What if it’s not momentary? You live with this person. Or you’re best friends with this person. Or this person is ruling you at work. What happens when your interaction isn’t brief, but it continues on and on . . . I guarantee you someone is going to give up their power. If it’s you, you’re going to feel resentful and embittered all the time. If it’s the other person, they’ll feel that way instead.
How do you solve this?
You carefully choose who you want to be aligned to. You pick people who share or match you in most ways, but whose ideas expand out from your own in interesting ways that grow you or provoke you to look deeper or stretch further. You choose workplaces that align to your beliefs and ways of being. You spend time with organizations that enrich you and expand on your shared values, maybe even challenging them sometimes, but in ways that feel good. You make this a life choice, a way-to-live choice. You rarely make exceptions.
It’s really, really simple when you get down to it. Mom was right: you do become whom you hang out with. Or, they become you. The challenge is not to forget that and get swept into the debris of other people’s lives, thoughts, and ways of being that in no way inspire your own.
You also do not need to adopt someone else’s worldview. You can snatch your power back anytime. I could have said, “Hey lady, get off the damn phone while I pee, you’re making me uncomfortable.”
Where have you lost power? How can you get it back? I bet you’re thinking of a situation already. What is it? Post below and share your thoughts.
XOXO with love and Flow,