by Stephanie Self
I am a person who hates conflict. Even small disagreements and spats with friends make me anxious and stressed. My battle cry would likely be “Peace and harmony at all costs.” And by “all costs,” I mean I will usually lay down and apologize — even when I know I shouldn’t — because I just want the negative emotions and tension to go away. “Who cares who is right or wrong? Let’s simply move on” would be the hook to my theme song if I ever had one.
Some people will describe this as being a pushover or being someone who has no self-respect. I assure you, I do have self-respect and I would not describe myself as a pushover. Because I was maintaining the peace, I never had a problem with it. I was perfectly happy just to be without any emotional tension.
Having this position as the opinion editor, however, has exposed me to uncomfortable situations I would otherwise hate to be in. I’m not a particularly aggressive person, but putting my face on a piece of my own writing every week forced me to confront people who openly disagree with me or even call me “disgusting” on social media. If not in person, then I was at least forced to consider why those people disagreed with me.
From writing about menstrual cups to admitting to binge drinking to using Plan B to BDSM and going after Coffin and Keys, I spent my time offering perspectives I didn’t know people would even want to read. It was not always easy, but I learned to cherish every moment that I got feedback on my writing, even when it was controversial.
This has been changing lately. Whether it’s because of my year spent as the opinion editor of a newspaper or because I am getting older, I have come to a realization that everyone else seems to have known their whole lives: You can never make everyone happy.
I’m sure that this is not news to anyone. It certainly isn’t to me. I suppose instead of being a person who was concerned with my own happiness, I was just concerned with everyone else’s. I’ve gone through several things recently, however, that have made me reconsider my usually poor balancing act of selfishness and selflessness.
A couple of weeks ago, I ran into two people — who I had not seen in many months — by pure happenstance. Each of these incidences were completely isolated from one another despite that these two people have at least one thing in common: They owed me long, proper apologies for the ways they have treated me in the past.
It sounds funny, but I found a way to express to them how much they had hurt me in my own way, without being bombastic or irrational. I don’t know that I would have been able to do this had I not been given the chance to explore my own voice throughout this year. Conflict was suddenly not something I necessarily needed to be afraid of as long as I was honest with myself in how I wanted it to be handled.
One of my favorite books, “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison contains the passage, “What and how much had I lost by trying to do only what was expected of me instead of what I myself had wished to do?”
I’ve been asking myself this question a lot, and I would encourage anyone who feels unsure of themselves to do the same. Although you cannot always make everyone happy, you owe it to yourself to share your voice with the world. And the only way any of us will be able to do that is if we give ourselves the chance to find it.
Stephanie Self studies English. She can be reached at email@example.com.