What does it mean to you when someone says “I’ve got your back?” In my experience it means they’re about to be confronted with a situation on your behalf, possibly even a conflict, and they’ve committed to standing up for your best interests and “having your back.” Hearing a friend, relative or coworker say that to me is always followed by a feeling of immense relief because usually that impending situation is one that’s causing me a great deal of anxiety. Knowing that the outcome might be positively manipulated or even just softened by a surrogate is a gift. It brings a certain peace of mind, right?
I like to think that filling the surrogate role for others is one of my shiniest features. I would love it if at my funeral party someone close to me said, “Marissa said the things I couldn’t always say for myself.” Since it’s a party, there would be booze and so later in the night other things would be said as well – “She was a real selfish bitch, that one. Always had to run the show. Left me with a thrown out back on the floor of our bedroom with nothing but a TV remote for a TV I couldn’t see.” But, if just one person recognizes that I’ve always striven to be an advocate for those who’ve felt tired, scared or weak, and to speak up when they cannot, that will be a legacy I’ll be proud to own. What would make me even prouder is if, before I leave this planet and my spirit swims for eternity with the humpback whales in Maui (I guess my spirit would also need to migrate to Alaska during the summer months, but that sounds so cold…I think my spirit prefers to stay in Maui year round…), is if I could inspire others (you!) to take on a true surrogate role for their (your!) loved ones. I want to share some examples of things I’ve done or said to step in for people I’ve thought could use it, not because I’m a braggart, but because I genuinely think we are lacking in this area as a society. We are more than happy to defend our favorite political figures all day long on social media, but how often are we defending the people in our lives that we have actual, personal relationships with?
Example 1: Many, many years ago a rumor was going around my very large company that one of my coworkers was sleeping with multiple married men at our company. None of the people sharing this information had received this information first-hand (of course they hadn’t). I could have listened silently, but a rumor like that, true or not, could ruin someone’s career and their personal reputation. I instead said something to the effect of, “No one has any actual idea whether or not that happened and it isn’t appropriate to assume that it did.”
Example 2: I once witnessed a Starbucks customer verbally assault his barista over the amount of foam in his drink and then storm off. I gave the woman a knowing look and then I followed him out and told him what an asshole he was for treating someone that way.
Example 3: Someone very close to me is estranged from her father, mainly because he is a pussy and is married to an evil step-witch, but I’d been hearing about this woman’s suffering since childhood and decided that I couldn’t not say anything any longer. Their relationship was so damaged at this point I felt it couldn’t hurt matters any more and for the record I did ask her permission first. So I wrote him a very long, heartfelt letter about all of the things he was missing out on in his daughter’s (and grandchildren’s) lives, hoping that an outside perspective might help wake him up. It actually did, for a hot minute, until he settled back into his pussy ways again.
You see, the point isn’t to necessarily get the source of the conflict to bend to my way immediately. I am merely letting them know that someone other than their victim is paying attention. So maybe they start to think it’s not just me, maybe everyone else is watching too. Maybe then they start to feel some accountability for their words and actions. If all of you reading this start speaking up in a similar way, then we create a culture of accountability. No one likes to be judged or to have their flaws pointed out, as evidenced by our esteemed POTUS, so it seems reasonable that if enough of us start holding each other accountable for our asshole behavior that eventually the tides will turn.
Maybe for you it doesn’t have to be so flagrantly assertive; perhaps the next time a friend is saying awful things about their wife/boss/mother-in-law, you simply offer another side to the story (in this scenario you’re actually standing up for the other side…still very useful in many ways). Suffering isn’t usually one-sided. How many marriages might be saved if instead of saying “call a lawyer,” the person’s best friend said “call a therapist?” The larger point here is, I don’t see a whole lot of anything other than status quo reactions when people witness other people behaving like assholes. So take a stand! If not for yourself, then for the ones around you who need you to.