Defining “Laid Back”

Note to locals: Please read to the end. All comments welcome.

Here in the West, we boast about our laid-back attitudes, far removed from the East Coasters’ drive for success. We make it sound healthy and productive – WE don’t stress about getting stuff done. WE don’t let ambition take over our lives. WE don’t get annoyed. But some people take it too far. From what I’ve seen in Seattle, people use the “laid back” label to legitimize a host of irresponsible acts.

What’s the difference between laid back and irresponsible? Here’s a perfect example. My husband and I like to throw parties. We’re having a Super Bowl party next week. So far, I have received one positive R.S.V.P. We invited our entire social club, more than 200 people, plus friends and coworkers, and a week before the event, only one has responded. I know she won’t be our only guest. We usually host about 40 people. And if I could be laid back about this, I would, but I have to make sure we have enough food and drink and seats for everyone. In this case, laid back translates to inconsiderate. In a place where you can’t get through a four-way stop because everyone’s too polite, the rudeness doesn’t make sense. And I know rude. I’m from New York.

After our first party and the frustration that ensued, we started withholding our address until people responded. That’s just sad. We are grownups, and we should have some sense of responsibility.

I’ve talked about this issue with some native Seattleites and they just accept it as a way of life. I asked one, at a dinner she’d planned for six people, as the three of us who showed up sat at the table, how she handles this, and she said, “That’s just the way people are.” Maybe it’s my New York uptight attitude, but I can’t accept that.

Although it’s annoying, maybe I could get used to starving our guests or drowning in leftovers after a party, but the laid back attitude shows itself in the workplace too. Not in my workplace, because I’m the boss and the only employee, but I hear stories about people who take 10 vacations a year without a thought to the effect on their job or their staff. That’s right, 10. And they wonder why they get bad reviews. If only I could be so laid back.

All this blasé behavior makes me wonder, what will happen when Rose goes to school? Will they expect her to hand in her homework on time or will they just say, “That’s ok, Rose, bring it tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.” And what about unacceptable behavior? “That’s ok, Rose, you can hit your friends, just don’t do it too hard.” Believe me, I’m all for being laid back but I don’t want my daughter to embrace the lackadaisical attitude.

And we consider ourselves laid back. Maybe we’re laid back in an East Coast kind of way. We work hard, meet deadlines and promptly , and R.S.V.P. to invitations. But we also decide what to worry about and what to let go. That’s laid back. We don’t worry that no one’s responded. We have faith and go ahead with the party. That’s laid back. We participate in the “You go. No, you go. No you go,” at intersections. But we know where to draw the line. We don’t use our laid back lifestyle as an excuse to be inconsiderate or irresponsible. I love what my friend said about this: “I see being Laid Back as not letting anything ruffle your feathers, which actually makes a person more responsible, especially with others’ feelings.”

Unless some great paradigm shift shakes up Seattle, I guess the irresponsibility is something we’ll have to get used to, but it’s not something we’ll embrace. We’ll teach our kids to show up on time, meet deadlines and consider how their behavior affects other peoples. And somehow, we’ll figure out a way to know who’s coming to our parties.

One comment on “Defining “Laid Back”

  1. No you are not TOOOOO New York ,,if you are then I’am also ! I was born and raised and still live in Maryland ! We have a Lot of friends the same way ,,,,my hubby says don;t worry thats just how they are . It makes me so mad and I agree 100%.I have threatened not to do all the extra food that you need for 30 ,,,even if I only heard from one or two and they always say we are really going to try. B.S. either you are coming or stay HOME lol

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