• Stephanie Hammond

What will people think

A major hurdle for me in life continues to be a fear of what people think of me. Over the years I’ve learned strategies to deal with this fear and today it’s not such a problem. Writing parts of my story and sharing my writings is scary. I’m glad I’m doing it though, because the process shows me what is important to me and where I’ve come from to be the person I am today. It also is a wonderful reminder that some people will always love me, no matter what I write about. This gives me courage to go on sharing.

But gaining this knowledge has been hard won. I have learned to pick my battles. And I’ve learned to walk away from conflicts that are not based in core principles. And I’ve learned to think before I speak - not always, granted, but more so than in the past.

Some experiences always return to mind when I think along these lines. I was in a parents and teacher meeting, off in the corner breast feeding my baby and listening to the discussion about the end of year party. Ways were being discussed as to how best to involve the fathers who seemed to be not interested. The general consensus was leaning towards having the party at the teacher’s home. This way alcohol could be served and the fathers would come.

I sat there thinking and waiting for someone to say that wasn’t appropriate. Then I realised that ‘someone’ would have to be me. So I disengaged my baby and came into the centre of the group. “I just have to say that if this is the decision, my family won’t be coming. This is the children’s party and for us we don’t serve alcohol at our children’s parties.” To my surprise, most agreed with me and it was decided to hold the party at the school. After the meeting several people thanked me for saying what they were feeling. The party was a roaring success AND the fathers came and enjoyed themselves as well.

When I was attending my writing classes, one of the teachers was fond of inviting questions. All of us rarely asked. Then one time he said: “It’s better to look a fool for asking a question than being one for not.” Needless to say, we started asking our questions after that - in every class. Years later when I attended university as a mature student, I remembered this comment and was a hit with my fellow students who themselves often had the same question but were too shy to ask. Then when I tutored, I in turn shared that quote with the students to help them feel more relaxed about asking their own questions that might appear foolish to them.

Sometimes I’d see something that was insensitively handled. This was the hardest (probably still is) thing to speak out about. Then one day I was being served at the local Thomas Cook Travel Bureau. Sitting there, in full view, propped up against the glass partition separating me from the representative serving me, was the details of a foreign money transaction for a colleague of mine. I have those sort of eyes that read everything in sight when I’m standing in line. Maybe no one else would have seen it. But I did. I stood there mustering up the courage to say something - in front of the people waiting and my adult daughter standing beside me. In the end, just as my transaction was completed I told the young woman “I know that person and I’m sure he would be unhappy that I’ve seen his personal business on display here for everyone to notice.” I’m not sure if it changed her practices, but I had said my peace. My daughter said something about that being brave of me. I showed her my hands, they were shaking.

Saying my piece hasn’t always brought me peace, or respect. But bit by bit it’s taught me that I can make a difference in my little corner of the world. And it’s given me a self-respect that’s more valuable to me and helps me feel OK about myself when others would prefer I held my tongue. I still have those thoughts of ‘what will people think of me’, but now I’ve got years of moments like these few I’ve shared above that reassure me that it doesn’t matter, so long as I’m acting from a space of honesty within. “Be true to thyself …”

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