Boundaries and Expectations

I was homeschooled until grade two, having spent the previous couple of years traveling as part of my parents’ Great Adventure road trip.  Up to that point, I had experienced people of different cultures, played with children who spoke different languages, and learned that people come from all different walks of life and live differently.  What I had not learned about were greedy, entitled little girls in elementary school!

I had not been at school for very long before one particular little girl started trying to boss me around and borrow my art supplies, never returning them to me in the right condition.  I was a shy and well-behaved student at school, but was at my wit’s end dealing with this annoying child who sat in front of me.  I came home from school and vented to my mother, and she replied, “You teach people how to treat you.”

Well, the wheels in my little mind were spinning trying to figure out what on earth that meant.  I teach people how to treat me?  Shouldn’t they just behave themselves, as I did?  I had no idea what my mother meant, or what I was expected to do.  Finally, she explained, “If you keep letting her take your things and neglect and abuse them, she will keep doing it.”

Now light bulbs were going off, and at the age of seven, I learned a valuable life lesson.

Sometimes the bad behavior we see around us only goes on because it continues to go unchecked.  If someone can get their way all of the time by being a jerk, they will continue to be a jerk because it has been successful for them.   But we can teach people to treat us better by not allowing it.  That doesn’t mean engaging in conflict, it means setting a different expectation. 

Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change writes, “I teach people how to treat me by what I will allow.”  If you allow yourself to be a doormat, get ready for people to walk all over you.

That little girl told on me when I dealt with her the next time she tried to borrow my things, but the teacher was on my side.  Perhaps she was grateful that someone finally stood up to that little girl.

Setting boundaries with others demonstrates the respect we have for ourselves.