The Weekly Dream: Habitual Line Steppers

Good Day Sirs and Madames,

I hope your holiday season is well underway.  I recently heard a ridiculous story about some houseguests from hell.  A coworker of mine related to me that she had some of her boyfriend’s friends come stay with them during Thanksgiving.  Well, the visit started off on the wrong foot.  First, they stumbled into her house, drunk, at 3AM-after walking into the wrong house first.  Then, they violated the one house rule my coworker had, which was keeping their bedroom clean.  And to add insult to injury, they ate all of the leftovers, single-handedly after Thanksgiving. 

I was in awe of the sheer audacity and lack of respect these people showed this woman, upon first time meeting her.  And it got me thinking that some people are habitual line-steppers.

Habitual line-stepper is a phrase popularized by Charlie Murphy, Eddie Murphy’s brother, to characterize the unseemly and outrageous behavior of Rick James in a classic comedy skit.  Rick James continually pushed the bounds of decency and respect, which led to Charlie referring to him as a “habitual line-stepper.”

Reflecting on this and my co-worker’s experience led me to begin ruminating on the nature of boundaries.  I came to the conclusion that it is human nature to push boundaries, especially when it comes to our relationships with others.  We start early as children, pushing our parents’ limits or testing the boundaries set for us and based on this little experiment and the severity of the fallout, we learned what our place was. 

As we grow into adulthood, we begin to set our own boundaries in addition to the ones that are handed to us.  And for the majority of us, there are very few instances where we “push it.”  Even myself, I must admit, after three and a half years of law school, I have a deeper respect for rules and law and the role they play in society.  Without law, there can be no order, without order there can be no stability, without stability, there can be no prosperity.  However, I have struggled with what makes for a conformist and what makes for just being law-abiding.  I think the balance is a conformist blindly follows the rules and course set before him, without taking into account the justness of the rsesult or the spirit of the law.  But I digress.

I sincerely believe that all relationships are based on time and experience.  I also believe that all relationships are governed by expectations and boundaries.  We spend a large part of our lives learning who we are dealing with and what is important to those around us.  But people are so idiosyncratic, you never know what arbitrary boundaries people have (read:pet peeves).  I have a friend who hates forwarded email.  I hate it when people do not squeeze tooth paste from the bottom.  These types of boundaries we sould try to manage, so as to not appear neurotic.

However, I am talking about boundaries and expectations that matter.  Basic ones like respecting people’s property, their space and resources, their feelings.  There is a saying that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  And I sincerely believe that this is the truth.  I think that the closer you are to a person, the more “liberties” you take with the relationship.  But with strangers, you tend to be on pins and needles because you do not know what they are capable of.  I think this is a great mistake.  I think we owe a higher duty to those we know. 

This also goes for the area of expectations.  A big area I see this in is in the area of consistency.  I have written before on dealing with people on their level.  Well, I have a personal system where I classify who I am dealing with, based on where they fall in my scale.  If a person is 80% consistent, meaning they do what they say they are going to do, they get quite a different treatment than those who fall in the 50% and below range.  I went so far as to have people rate me to see where I stood, to make sure I was not being hypocritical.  (If you are interested my personal system, send me a message and I will explain the intricacies.  I guarantee the amount of drama you experience will go down at least 30%.)

Sometimes, doing the unexpected and pushing back boundaries are good.  Like in the areas of technology or academia.  It can be good to challenge the status quo and eschew convention.  As King Solomon stated, “there is a time and a place for everything.”  But in the area of relationships, remember, if you push it, do not be surprised if you get pushed back (c) Newton’s Law.  This may result in positive change or it may lead to hurt feelings, so choose your battles wisely. 

But what if you are on the receiving end of being “tested.”  Personally, it depends on what day you catch me.  If I have on my long-suffering hat, I may say “forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”  If it is a day where that is not the case, then expect quick and arguably excessive justice (Haha).  (c) Samuel L. Jackson.  If you are dealing with a habitual line-stepper, they may not even know they are doing it, that is how they are.  I try to give people the benefit of the doubt.  But most of the time, when people do stuff, they know what they are doing, but they think social etiquette will save them.  So you have to educate them as to what their boundaries are with you.  And if that does not work, you can always tap that behind.  Haha. Either way, you have to condition/train/educate people to treat you the way you want them to.

So remember this little pep talk as the holidays get in full swing, trust me, you are going to need it.

Truth and peace,

Steven M DeVougas

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3 responses to “The Weekly Dream: Habitual Line Steppers”

  1. Ellen says :

    As I was reading this I found myself thinking there are two types of “habitual line-steppers”- there are those that push boundaries to find some sort of sense of security and then there are those that push with no regard or respect for the boundaries of others. Like you, Steve, I my patience level varies. I find myself much more willing to be patient with those testing the boundaries out of a desire to feel secure as opposed to those who are just plain disrespectful. Often I wonder if it is a lack of security and compassion that breeds the later form of line-steppers…

  2. fabooj says :

    My husband is a habitual line-stepper. In fact, when we saw that skit, I turned to him and said, “That’s you.” The man knows no boundaries and when he sees them, he does what he wants to anyway. Ugh.

    I have a friend who is like that too. She’ll come into our house and any food not in a cabinet becomes her food. Even when we go out, she just eats right off of my kids’ plates. I finally had to say something recently. Just rude.

    I can say that I’m up to here with the HLS and I’m no longer going to keep quiet out of some misguided sense of politeness. I’m sorry that some people weren’t raised to be respectful of other people and their property, but someone needs to teach them a lesson and I’ll be first in line.

  3. Steven M DeVougas says :

    Fabooj,
    Family and friends are the first to take “liberties” with property and boundaries. I find myself being really abrasive with them because they should know better. Its one thing to do a harmless foul, like not putting my stuff back where you found it, but its another to do something you know is going to piss me off. In tose cases, i try to make an example of that person so they know that you WENT TOO FAR! But this must be done strategically, or else it loses its effect.

    Ellen, people are of infinite complexity. Sometimes they are not consciosly aware of wat they do in my opinion, adults to me are often children with a larger vocabulary. For some, habitually line stepping is a cry for help. For others, they do it to do it. I know people like that, they just do stuff to do it. So, depending upon my experience, I may assume they are “testing” and I will inform them. The Lord is workin on my faults and hopefully the faults of others. Thanks for the commentary.

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