I’ve lived here for a decade and—thanks for asking— my Spanish is still pretty awful. But my pretty awful Spanish has taught me invaluable lessons in assertiveness that have generated into every aspect of my life. Let me elaborate.
Here in San Miguel de Allende, especially in the ex-pat community, it’s a big deal how well you know and speak Spanish. It’s the ultimate status symbol. Over the years I’ve had many snide comments directed my way implying I’m either stupid, lazy, arrogant, or ‘just don’t care’ because I haven’t mastered the language. Oh, and don’t mention politically incorrect. I know, I know!
In the past I fell into the big huge bear trap of explaining and defending myself—“Oh I’ve really tried! I’ve had a dozen tutors! I’ve gone to all the classes! I guess I’m just too old, or just haven’t found the right teaching method, blah, blah, blah. I’m not stupid! I’ve got a degree. Something is just really strange about this, blah, blah, blah.”
This never felt good to me, and it never convinced anyone about anything. No one ever validated me or gave me the approval I was so desperately seeking.
This taught me a huge life lesson.
Substitute anything for not learning Spanish: I can’t lose weight, I can’t cook, my house is untidy, we haven’t decorated yet, I can’t do this, I haven’t done that, etc.
I repeat: People will judge you. That’s what they do. Human beings are judging machines. We all judge everybody, all the time, for everything. You can’t stop that so don’t try. You’re wasting your energy.
But you don’t have to fuel it either. Groveling, apologizing, explaining, or justifying fuels judgment, it doesn’t get rid of it. As long as we crave or expect approval from others we’re sunk—it won’t come. So stop trying to get it.
I realized I was playing either the Mouse or the Dragon about Spanish—
I would cringe and crave approval and forgiveness for being such a dunce, or I would get mad. How dare you look down on me! I’ve tried, darn it! I mean, really tried! Neither reaction gave me the elusive result I wanted.
Now I’ve learned to laugh at it. I no longer give explanations to anyone. I only owe them to myself. When it’s time for me to learn Spanish, I guess I will. If that never happens, I guess it won’t. My reasons are mine, not anyone else’s and I don’t owe anyone an apology.
So when anyone criticizes me about anything these days, I think, “That’s interesting. I wonder if they’re right?” I might even conclude they are in which case I say, “Agree! You’re right!” And then I shut up.
I take criticism into account (after all I might learn from it), and then choose my response, if any, rather than reacting emotionally. I avoid being arrogant, and I avoid being a victim.
You can’t imagine how liberating this is.