I’d heard the phrase “a chip on his shoulder” as a kid but never quite got it, so last week I looked it up. I read that it referred to a practice during the 19th century, in which boys looking for a fight would place an actual chip of wood on their shoulder before walking around, daring the others to knock it off. Yesterday I met a man who seemed to fit this definition. He is an artist, works with metal and successful in that area, but like a sheet of metal, it seemed some sharp, rough edges of defensiveness were protecting the interior.
We got to talking about when others give us advice about our personalities and traits, and how we receive that information. I told him that if it’s shared with kindness and received without resistance, it can feel like puzzle pieces falling into place. I described a lunch I had 10 years ago. It was my first day at a new job and I was invited to join 2 women for lunch at a local Thai spot. It was around noon and there was a line to get a table. We had been waiting maybe 10 minutes and a man cut in front of us in line. I felt myself getting angry. I was hungry and it felt like he thought his time was worth more than ours, or so the voice in my head said. One of the women from my new office said aloud “Wow, that’s interesting, I’m noticing how mad 😡 I’m getting as I watch what he did.” Her statement really hit me. I had this image of her leaving her body for a second and watching her own reaction from above. “That’s pretty cool.” I thought, noticing her detachment. She is able to see the same behavior I’m watching and notice her anger without getting so caught up in it. As I shared this memory with the artist, his face looked a little puzzled. He made a comment about it maybe being easier for women than men because men are more defensive. I said “I don’t think so. It’s just a choice. We all get to choose in the moment.” His face softened a little, warm brown eyes twinkled. The softening was nice to see, and we both left feeling lighter.