One of the interesting things in life is the number of facts we know to be true but forget each day. For instance, we know that accidents happen, that you never know what fate has in store for you. But still it comes as a shock when the man down the block falls off the roof while cleaning the gutters and is left unable to walk for the rest of his life. We think, How could this happen? And then we remember, Oh, yes, we never know what. fate has in store for us.
Wee are constantly rediscovering the obvious, but recently, I had a breakthrough in this area. I experienced a moment when I realized that I had finally absorbed what I know. It was wonderful. What was this fact I knew? That old bit of wisdom: “It’s not personal.” We all know it’s not personal.
When the clerk at the Safeway is rude, it’s not personal. It’s not that she doesn’t like you. She doesn’t even know you. You are customer 137 on a busy day. This morning she had a fight with her husband, the school called because her son is “underperforming,” and when her shift is done and she’s completely tired she can’t even get out of the store because she’s got to get the food for the week.
She is having a bad day. It’s not personal.
All right, here is my recent triumph: A stranger said something truly hateful to me. It was terrible for about three seconds. Then I took a deep breath, and started to laugh, and waved good-bye in a jolly way as he slunk out of the room.
It wasn’t personal. It was politics. I have written a book called The Case Against Hillary Clinton, which may give you an idea of what it’s about. It’s a controversial book. People are arguing about it, which is lovely. It’s good to be the subject of debate, as Scarlett O’Hara knew, as all spirited people know.
But the great thing about my encounter with this man is that I realized—in seconds four and five and six—that I’d finally absorbed what I know, that it really wasn’t personal.
What a relief. It’s not personal. It’s business, or office polities, or politics. Politics is run by impersonal forces. It has to do with who’s winning and who’s losing and which team you’re on. And if one team thinks that going at you will improve its chances of winning, it’ll go at you. And so what?
I have learned to think, at least in this one small but key area, like a man. And it’s good.
Men love controversy and love being attacked.
They fight back with gusto, and they laugh and plot on the phone. But they tend to see life as a team endeavor, and teams by definition compete, and competition by definition is rough, or should be.
But I am a woman who never played on a sports team any longer than I had to, who spent most of high school field hockey hoping no one would pass me the ball.
These days I get strange letters from people, and sometimes they’re a tad over the top in their. .. let’s call it aggression. And I read them and tape them to the wall of my office so when my friends come over they’ll see them and laugh. To me, they are like medals. They are proof that I was in the war—a war with meaning.
I don’t know how I finally absorbed that it’s not personal. I think it may come with age. Maybe it’s the important lessons of life you remember as you grow older, as opposed to where you put the keys, which you do not remember.
But it’s hard for women—isn’t it?—to know that aggression isn’t personal. Because we didn’t grow up in locker rooms and come to understand life through locker-room conversations. At least older women didn’t. Younger women are on championship basketball teams. They think everything’s a game, to be managed, and they are anticipating the next girl’s moves and trying to defeat that girl’s team. It would never occur to them that it’s personal. There is something so clean in that. Weird, but clean.
So, here’s to the young women who elbow one another as part of the game, without malice, like pros. And here’s to the older ones who don’t always understand it, but who really enjoy it, and who had to work to know that in life, as in basketbal1, it ain’t personal, honey, it’s business. Or politics. Or life.