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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

You may call it being pushy; I call it caring

Stefanie Pettit Correspondent

I’ve got this East Coast-West Coast thing that I need to get straightened out.

I grew up in big cities on the East Coast, the child of pretty recent immigrants. Everybody was involved in everybody else’s business, especially when it came to emotional business, like it or not.

When I married and moved to Spokane, I found that people here were more distant about that sort of thing – not less caring, just less intrusive. Of course, back East, we never considered it intrusive. It was just the way it was.

Here’s how it works.

Out here, if you ask someone you care about how she is feeling, knowing darn well that something is amiss, and that person says “fine,” you accept that gracefully. The rationale is that if the person wants to tell you, she will, and you respect her choice. And you wait.

Back there, if you ask the question and get a “fine,” you tell that person you don’t think so, thank you very much, and then you reach down that person’s throat, metaphorically speaking, and squeeze out the real answer. It may be more nuanced than that, but it is persistent and unrelenting and most often (though not always) gets to the truth.

That doesn’t sound very respectful, but it’s only something done with family or close friends, not casual acquaintances, and the result is that whatever the problem is gets into the light of day quickly. No festering. The person may not choose to discuss the matter with you, but once it’s identified, the network kicks in and whoever the right person is for the discussion emerges rapidly. Conversation follows, or maybe just listening, and while a problem may not get solved, it gets aired, and often the discussing of it with a friend/family member/clergyman/whoever makes it smaller and seems to take some pressure off.

That’s good, isn’t it?

In the West Coast version, the real story often comes out eventually, and relief – to whatever degree possible – is found and life goes on. It just takes so much longer. How is that good?

I’m sorry, but I really don’t understand this waiting-around thing – knowing that someone you care for is in pain or having difficulty or suppressing a good cry. Just jump in there. You’ll find out soon enough if it’s too much.

My husband, raised in a small community in Alaska, is such a West Coast guy. My family made him gasp when he first met them, and while it was so not his style, he did recognize that no matter how annoying it was to him, it did come out of love. Way too much love for him, but love nevertheless.

I’ve been out here a long time now and have toned down quite a bit. No, really. But sometimes I get so frustrated when a friend confides that he or she is worried about someone or some situation.

“Did you ask that person directly?” I’ll ask. Well, kind of, but no real response was forthcoming. “Did you press?” I say. Well, no. “Maybe they don’t want to burden you and they just need a little push.” Gasp.

I understand that being raised out here may not predispose a person to respond well to the full-court press, an approach which has often labeled us back-East folks as pushy. And, of course, as my husband says, there’s more than one way to skin a rabbit. I do concede that pushy isn’t always the way to go.

Still, what’s wrong with trying to fast-track the path to emotional pain relief?

I leave the discussion with a final observation. Some of my Spokane friends have had situations where their concern levels rise so high, but they just can’t take that next step. Then I get a call: “Stefanie, would you go see what’s really going on?”

And so, I roll up my back-East sleeves, and I get pushy. I don’t know how not to.

Contact correspondent Stefanie Pettit by e-mail at
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