Assertiveness and Changing the World


So what does assertiveness have to do with changing the world? Everything as far as I am concerned.

Being assertive means that you are making a conscious choice to continue to value yourself and someone else…even when you disagree with one another.

Sometimes being assertive is easy. Other times it is very difficult.

Changing the World

I think we have all been in discussions lately…both personally and publicly about the state of the world. Particularly as it relates to race, law enforcement and the justice system.

The challenges loom large and it is quite overwhelming to try to figure out what each of us can do individually and/or collectively.

I think that we all have a role to play. We all have unique strengths and talents that will be vital in the days, weeks and years to come.

It may take a while to determine how you can contribute to changing the world. Make no mistake…changing the world is something each of us does everyday.

The main way we change the world involves how we treat one another.


As counselors, helping professionals, and as human beings we all need to listen to one another; hear one another and see one another.

We each have individual lived experiences. However, we also have global experiences that we share in some very universal ways. Empathy allows us to relate to one another and value each other’s experiences.

Today I had an interaction with a customer service provider at my bank. I have received notary services from him before. I remember him, however I don’t think he remembered me. In the past we had generally positive interactions.

Today, I got to the bank one minute before closing. I needed to make a deposit in addition to the notary services.

I spoke with the notary in his office first and he said that I should make the deposit first before they closed the two windows. “Good plan,” I thought. So I got in line. I was first in line. But it still took 15 minutes before either teller could assist me.

You’re Waiting…I’m Waiting

When I got back to the Notary I said, “Thanks for your patience.” He said, “I’m ready to go home.” It is difficult to convey the tone. Suffice it to say the tone was not joking – it also wasn’t vicious. More than likely it was simply a statement of fact with his authentic sentiment – annoyance.

I can relate to being ready to go home. I think we all can. However, his comment struck me as rude and I made a conscious effort to practice what I preach and take an assertive stance.

As opposed to a passive stance, a stance in which I ignore the sting. This may seem like a “don’t sweat the small stuff” opportunity. But for many of us the small stuff accumulates to big stuff. It adds up to mistreatment of others and a lack of contact with one’s authentic and whole self. Pretending something is okay when it is not is not healthy for anyone.

Confrontation is Not a Four Letter Word

I’m generally a thoughtful person, so we proceeded with the notary work…while I thought about whether or not I should say something about what I perceived as a slight.

When we finished the paperwork, I said “Thank you.”  He said nothing, instead he began to hum to himself out loud. As I write this now I can laugh about it. However, I can only do that because I also confronted it.

I began to gather my paperwork, but then decided to ask him about both of his remarks. I recounted to him what occurred and asked if what I heard him say and do was correct.

I did this from the stance of assertive communication. “I’m okay” and of course he is “okay too.”

He acknowledged what he said and affirmed that I was correct. Then he said something to the effect of “You are right” and ” You’re welcome.” This statement was a response to me having said thank you at the completion of our paperwork.


As I left the bank I thought about the encounter. But mostly I thought about the part of me that wanted to let it go. The part of me that didn’t want to address the matter.

After all, no one was injured. There was not egregious physical or emotional injury. This encounter was what I would classify as a micro-aggression.

I don’t know the roots of it for him. Quite frankly, that is not my concern. What concerned me was my perceptions of the incident, the meaning I assign to it and the roots of that meaning.

I am, like many of you, a Therapist. I am also a business owner and in many areas of my life I am a leader. I often think about how what I am saying and doing will impact others.

I often reflect on how “who I am being in the world” represents the profession of counseling. However, like many black women, I reflect on how my behavior and my being impacts how people view and experience black women.

In order to live a “whole” life and an “authentic” life, I have to allow myself to align with and interact from a space that is “true” for me. Even if that truth is uncomfortable.


I’m not always easygoing and happy. I am occasionally, like anyone else, annoyed and irritated. However, I have a keen awareness that how I express displeasure not only represents me…it represents other black women.

You may have a visceral reaction to that statement. It may be something you feel as well or it may be something you reject. After all, we are all individuals.

Even though we are individuals, we have an impact on one another.

I don’t think anyone enjoys being stereotyped. Whether you are a middle-aged white male; or a young-adult Latin woman; or in my case an African-American or black woman (age-less, of course).

I have been practicing speaking up for myself.

  • Even if it makes someone else uncomfortable.
  • Even it it means that the way a person perceives me shifts.
  • Even if it feeds into a stereotype (in this case angry black woman or black woman with an attitude).
  • Even if being true to myself means being very different than what is expected.

I believe that there are costs to each of us for these micro-aggression’s when they go unchecked.

Aggression and Passiveness

Aggression is basically the message “I’m okay, but you are not.”

Of course, I could have ignored these interactions. I could have said “Oh he’s having a bad day;” or “He’s ready to go home;” or “It’s no big deal…after all I got there right at the time for them to close.”

These statements are all examples of a more passive stance. The passive stance says “You’re okay and I’m not okay.” It says you are right and I am wrong. It says your existence and wholeness matters more than mine.

From a gender perspective perhaps I approached him in an apologetic tone. Perhaps he felt justified in his treatment toward me because I said “thank you.” As they say “kindness can be perceived as weakness.”

I Matter and You Matter Too

Assertiveness says we can both be complete. You can be ready to go home and I can be thoughtful about that fact. Assertiveness says that we can both be treated with respect.

On a grander scale, assertive communication says “I matter and you matter too.” In essence, if a person or group is asserting “I matter”, it is a positive assertion of being. The fact that “you matter too,” is not negated. However, if you respond by asserting that you “matter too,” you may be bypassing an opportunity to understand why a person or group of people even feels the necessity to assert that they matter.

If the response received is “Yes, you do matter,” perhaps then the voices wouldn’t have to be so loud (aggressive) in this sense because “I am okay, but you are not (because you don’t understand.)” Perhaps others will not fear that voice that says “I matter” or “my life matters,” or what that voice represents.

It represents a deep seated pain and weariness at collectively being treated as if  we “don’t matter.” It is a truth only known to those who live it. Known to those who have inherited it.

Perhaps we can change the world by holding the assertive belief that “you matter.” That those who perceive their lives as not having mattered begin to feel that perception shift. Then there will be no need for the assertion “I matter.”

Because this has always been the truth that I live by….I matter and you matter too.

Copyright © 2016 Ruby Blow. All rights reserved.

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