Our Best Path Usually Begins by Acknowledging That We Do, in Fact, Have a Choice

Observation Is the Superpower Which Informs That Choice

Learn Through Stories
Learn Through Stories

Merel never liked people who passed comment on other people’s appearance. But it seemed to be an acceptable practice – among people she knew, including family and friends, and people she didn’t know – conversations she overheard or things said in the media. All of these people considered themselves good people, and mostly they were, but they were also engaging in unkind behaviour. 

Merel had never called this out as such, she hadn’t engaged in the conversations, and she had distanced herself from individuals and groups of people, preferring not to spend time with them. But she had never spoken up or out about what she was feeling. 

She didn’t know how to express why she didn’t like it. Being around people, it seemed to Merel that it was something they all thought was OK to do. 

Being quite reflective, Merel always thought through things and why they impacted her in the way they did – positively or negatively – people and situations. There have been many times in her WorkLife when on reflection, she’s thought, “I wish I’d said this, or I wish I’d said that. If only it had come to me in that moment. If only I had known what to say.”

Albeit delayed reaction, this time of reflection allowed her to take herself back into the moment, to get a stronger sense of what had been going on that had caused the strong reaction she had experienced. This allowed her to observe herself and the people around her in that moment and situation.

Then she had a realisation that concerned her. By staying quiet and not contributing to the conversation, or by not spending additional time with these people, she had, in essence, sent out a message that she was OK with people who passed comment on other people’s appearance. Because she hadn’t spoken up or out against it, she hadn’t said it bothered her in the moment, and she hadn’t said that was the reason she was no longer spending time in her company.

Two particular instances brought this self-awareness, as Merel reflected on what had happened, and observed the situation, almost as a spectator looking on.

  1. Merel’s sister, Jenna, had come to visit. As they sat having their first coffee, ready to catch up on what was going on, Jenna said, “Sophia has put on so much weight, she’s always struggled with her weight, but she’s really let herself go this time.” Merel was horrified. She didn’t know what to say, and so she didn’t say anything. 
  2. Merel had been doing an acting class. She was doing the class for fun and as a way of meeting people. Other people were doing it because they aspired to become an actor. It was pretty sociable – a Saturday afternoon class, after which they’d all head to the pub together. The previous week, over a few drinks, the conversation led to talking about a recent film that a few people, including Merel, had been to see. Merel said how outstanding the lead actor’s performance had been. Tina, one of the women, said, “Yeah, he was so fit.” The other’s laughed, and looking at Merel, Raul, one of the men, said, “I can see you agree”. Once again, Merel was horrified. Once again, she didn’t know what to say. Once again, she didn’t say anything. 

Merel knew the next time this happened, she needed to speak up and speak out, to let people know their behaviour isn’t acceptable, and it is, in fact, unkind. For both situations, she knew she would have an opportunity to do this quite soon. And she was right.


It wasn’t long before she saw Jenna again. And on meeting, it wasn’t long before Jenna spoke negatively about Sofia.

This time Merel did know what to say. This time Merel did say something. This is what she said:

“Jenna, I’ve never responded to these remarks before, Because I’ve never understood why people feel the need or right to comment on someone’s appearance. I consider it to be an Ism – Bodyism, and I don’t do Isms. Sofia is a beautiful girl inside and out. Her beauty is what draws people to her. She is kind, funny, caring, smart and never talks negatively about anyone.”

Jenna was stunned into silence. She was horrified and said she hadn’t meant anything bad by what she had said.

Merel didn’t say anything further. She had said what she had wanted to say. She had gotten across to Jenna that her behaviour wasn’t acceptable to her. 

The following week after the acting class, as the group sat in the pub, the conversation came around to the film again. Once again, Tina said how fit the lead actor was. Once again, everyone laughed. And once again, Raul said, I can see Merel definitely agrees with that.

This time Merel did know what to say. This time Merel did say something. This is what she said:

“I have never in my life objectified someone for how they look. I never have, and I never will. Whatever you think you see, Raul is coming from you – how you think, your experiences in life. Own it as that, and please don’t push it onto me.”

Turning to the rest of the group, Merel continued:

“I find it so disingenuous to be sitting with a group of people, many of you who aspire to a WorkLife in acting, and you’re objectifying actors for their appearance. Actors who have put blood, sweat and maybe even tears into delivering an amazing and truthful performance, and somebody will objectify them for their appearance – “He’s fit.” “She’s beautiful.” “Did you see what they were wearing on the red carpet?” Coming from anyone that’s bad, but coming from someone who wants to become an actor just beggars belief. Anyone who thinks or behaves in this way should get up and walk away now because you’re not worthy of the profession.”

The group were stunned into silence. They were horrified. Raul and Tina said they hadn’t meant anything bad by what they’d said. 

Merel didn’t say anything further. She had said what she had wanted to say. She had gotten across to Raul, Tina and the rest of the group that their behaviour wasn’t acceptable to her. 

Words of Wisdom 

Merel had embarked on her best path. She had done that by acknowledging that she does, in fact, have a choice in responding to behaviour that she doesn’t like. Whether that behaviour seems acceptable to other people is not important. What is important is speaking up and speaking out about behaviour that is not acceptable to her. Her time of reflection and observation had informed that choice. 

Reflection and Observation Assignment 

When people or situations cause you to feel uncomfortable, take time to reflect on what it was that made you feel that way. 

Do this by replaying the moment in your mind, observing what was going on around you – what was said, how people were behaving.

As with Merel, you may know in the moment what has caused this unease, or you may discover through replaying the situation.

Either way, by taking time to reflect and observe, you will come to learn what you can say when the situation or something similar arises again.

Because your time spent reflecting and observing will inform your choice of words and actions. It will remind you that you do, in fact, have a choice. A choice that leads you to your best path.

If you found this post helpful, you may also like to take a look at The School Of WorkLife books, which are designed to help you fine-tune your learning, development and growth in the areas that are most important to you.


Published by Carmel O' Reilly

Carmel O’ Reilly: WorkLife Learning Practitioner & Writer Author of WorkLife Book Club, Your WorkLife Your Way and The School of WorkLife book series. Created to help you manage your WorkLife Learning. Blogger & Podcaster: Telling people’s powerful stories about WorkLife challenges & successes Founder of www.schoolofworklife.com My guiding statement is to help people pursue their WorkLives with greater clarity, passion, purpose and pride by creating continuous WorkLife learning programmes that are accessible to everyone.