When to be assertive and when to let go


Recently an acquaintance borrowed one of my favorite jackets at a hockey game and later returned it to me with a large rip in it. In a separate incident, recently my cleaning company tore and ruined one of my tapestries when it got tangled in the vacuum. Is it their responsibility to replace it or to give me the financial equivalent?

There are some unfortunate certainties to being human — death, taxes and losing or ruining some of your favorite items.

For the latter, it’s the law of probability: These are the things you use the most (unless it’s a sacred object that stays mounted on your shelf, museum style). When there’s attachment or sentimental value you’re obviously less likely to shrug it off compared to the junk you simply don’t care as much about.

In answer to your question, the short answer is yes, it is technically their responsibility. This is even more evident with your cleaners, given they’re a business (but they might have a policy that waives them of responsibility).

I suggest you start off by evaluating just how much the objects even mean to you. If its absence is not going to impact you much, try to let it go.

I’m no monk but I do like the Buddhist concept of non-attachment, which could be useful for you here. Non-attachment is about recognizing that everything in life will come and go, and that we cause suffering to ourselves when we grasp or cling to people or belongings nonetheless.

Buddhist teacher Noah Rasheta stated, “… don’t think of non-attachment as a form of indifference or a form of self-denial. Think of non-attachment as a way of not allowing things in your life to own you (emphasis added). Giving up the attachment to the permanence of things is the key understanding here.”

But it may be about the principle for you: The fact that it is common courtesy to at least offer to repair or replace something the borrower ruined — in which case I suggest you mention something or it might nag away at you, leading to resentment.

A simple, direct, clarifying question makes sense. Start off by asking if they’re even aware of the fact that they damaged your jacket or tapestry. It might be obvious to you, but not to them (although a vacuum sucking something up is hard to ignore).

If they did not notice the damage — or are too embarrassed to admit they noticed — explain to them the state of your items and ask if they can try to repair it (if it’s not past the point of no return), replace it (if it’s still available for purchase) or offer you some money in return.

If it’s hard for you to have this conversation, then it’s a good time to check in with yourself about whether direct communication, boundaries and being assertive are a challenge for you. Some people would rather suffer in silence, developing bitterness, just to avoid confrontation of any kind than have a simple conversation about the matter at hand — even if it could clear the air.

This is more often the case for women, given they’re socialized with messages that a woman is aggressive when she’s direct, whereas a man is just being forthright, a straight shooter. Don’t get me started …

At the end of the day, remember you need to first honor and validate your feelings. But then it’s about picking your battles and eventually saying “C’est la vie!” and moving on.