Assertiveness to me means believing in your right to the power and talent within you. It means having fire behind your beliefs and protecting your moral compass. It means knowing what is right and wrong, and it means setting the criteria by which other people define you.
Whereas aggression focuses on confrontation, I believe assertiveness to be more about tolerance. This is why I think assertiveness is essential: without strength behind what you believe, virtues are hard to maintain in the modern world. Stick with me here.
As I see it, the world is full of loud voices. Different voices crowd us out: on social networks, in newspapers, through the TV and radio, as well as in our everyday environments. The digital age has allowed more people than ever to access more people than ever. But these voices are not necessarily a guide to virtue – to what we ought to do. This is a problem when it is our virtues that make us our best selves, telling us right from wrong, helping us make a positive difference in the world. Without strength to cement our view of right vs wrong, we are left to be influenced by those who shout loudest from the rooftops. Assertiveness allows us to anchor ourselves, to withstand testing times and a multitude of often conflicting voices.
One of the reasons I have chosen to reflect on assertiveness is my personal experience of growing up in a household very different from those of my peers, which at points left me feeling like I didn’t belong. This is was particularly true in primary school – a time when I was not yet confident in my own beliefs or my way of life.
While my family is South Asian, my friends growing up were predominantly White. Cultural differences often proved difficult. Being invited to birthday parties and sleepovers was agonising for me. These sorts of social gatherings were not the norm at home – whereas I regarded going to them to be a necessity, my family considered it irrelevant for a young girl getting an education. As a child, I struggled with this. When I turned down an invitation I wouldn’t be honest about the reasons behind it. I feared that if I did, I wouldn’t be invited again – and to me at that time, not getting invited at all would be infinitely worse than turning it down.
Thankfully, this changed as I entered secondary school. Partly this was because my classes were more ethnically diverse, and there were others in similar situations. Partly, I had friends who would ask why I couldn’t join them outside of school. Crucially, this was never malicious – the enquiries were genuinely rooted in wanting to get to know me. I learned to share the reasons I wasn’t going to a birthday party, or wasn’t that active online. I could also explain more about my homelife, the things I loved about it. I stopped making excuses and started to feel confident in the family and cultural dynamic I belonged to.
When I look back, I understand that my family never wanted me to feel excluded. They were protective and caring, and didn’t understand the set of social expectations I was being faced with. My value of assertiveness has come from how transformative it has been to be able to own my beliefs, understanding of the world and the relationships I have. This strength and ownership, has helped me learn more about my closest friends. It has made me realise just how many commonalities I share with them – as many in number as the differences. It has brought me closer to my family. Assertiveness, expressed as this sense of self, has helped me understand others better. But importantly, it has helped me to understand who I am in the context of the world.
This is why it is my sacred value.