NON FICTION: Have A Problem Asserting Yourself? I Do.

Asserting yourself - Angry Cat

Photo: Fuyong Hua

When it comes to scary moments—at least to me—in life, I’ve definitely sampled a fair share of them. This discounts the usual daily triggers, such as talking to strangers, going to lunch with distant acquaintances, and having a chatty Grab driver.

Off the top of my head, I could probably list a few situations that’ve put me under significant duress: there’s that time I fought in a cage, my first standup gig, and every time I’m about to fall from 100 feet when rock climbing.

The thing is, as much as these situations scare the shit out of me, they all pale in comparison to the times I have to stand up for myself.

I can take a broken arm, but not tell off a loud person in a cinema. I don’t mind bombing during a standup set, but I’ll sure as hell do when reprimanding someone for cutting the queue. It’s all right if I fall to my death… you get the point.

I have no idea what it is about being assertive, but when it comes to voicing out, I just shrink away and accept that it’s a part of life to be taken advantage of.

Maybe I hate being seen as the bad guy. Or perhaps I’m avoiding the uncomfortable adrenaline rush of confronting people. Surely, I can’t be the only one who feels this way?

So when my neighbour started riffing on his electric guitar at midnight, my first reaction was to just deal with it. I mean, there’s always earplugs, right?

The thing is, earplugs do little to prevent amplified renditions of Sweet Child Of Mine, and I was pretty certain that wasn’t just because I was his next-door neighbour. Everybody in a 20-meter radius was probably basking in this noise as well.

I tried to sleep it off. Nope. I tried moving downstairs. Just as loud. I tried drowning out the sounds with the television. Didn’t help one bit. And when the clock struck one, I figured that I didn’t have to deal with that shit. It was as if a separate entity inside me decided to take over.

So I walked over to his front gate, my heart thumping louder than a particularly enthusiastic lion dance drum troupe. Let’s make this as quick and civil as possible, I thought.

I rung the doorbell. It didn’t ring.

All rightMaybe just a liiittle noise.

So I rapped on his metal gate and managed a squeaky hello.

He kept playing, so I screamed a little louder.

More guitar, a little louder.

This escalation continued for minutes. What started out as a “hello?” had turned into “HELLO, HELLOOO?! HELLO GODDAMMIT.”

The other neighbours were starting to peek out their windows, because the only things between them and a peaceful night were an amateur’s Guns N’ Roses cover, and some guy screaming into the night.

By some miracle, Mr. Guitarman stopped playing and looked out his front door. The next moment, he was at the gate, staring at me like some kinda midnight salesman.


“Well, uh… I was wondering if you could turn it down a little…”

“No problem! No problem at all! I’m done playing, actually.”

“Oh. Okay. So… okay?”

“Uh, yes.”

And that was it.

Months of suffering (it wasn’t the first time he indulged in some evening rock), trying to sleep through badly-timed music, all culminated to this—a two-sentence solution.

I spent the night wondering if I had needlessly suffered through life. What other setbacks could I have avoided with similar solutions? What potentials could I have reached, had I spoken up more? Was I shortchanging myself?

It was uncomfortable as fuck, but for once, I had managed to work things out as an adult. And as Sir Newton would have it, an object that’s in motion stays in motion. I figured that I’ve built some momentum to fight the daily injustices in my life.

No more will I back down when it comes for asserting myself.

So when the 7-11 cashier forgot my change the next day, I took it as an opportunity to speak up.

“Uh… I think you still owe me thirty cents.”

“No,” the cashier said. “I gave you your change.”

“No,” I replied. “That didn’t happen.”

“No, no, no. I gave you change.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“No, I did.”



In our momentary Mexican standoff, I almost thought of asking him to pull up the CCTV footage.

But I left the store thirty cents short.

Ah well, I guess one out of two ain’t bad.

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