There has to be a line between being nice and a walk over.

I have found that my mother and father can take the most basic of conversations and turn it into a teaching moment. That moment happened last weekend when my mother schooled me about being assertive.

The cold front that plunged South Africa back into winter after sunny days last week was very unwelcome for me. The cold front turned Barkly East in the Eastern Cape, where my aunt lives, into a winter wonderland with snow.

The pictures she took were shared on our family WhatsApp group. Upon seeing the pictures, like a typical last-born child, I began whining about how I could never survive in such cold conditions.

My mother responded with, “Chusta, the world out there is very cruel. You need to stand up for yourself, otherwise abantu (people) will destroy you.” At that moment that comment appeared random and irrelevant to the conversation.

Thinking about what she had said later, I realised that my mother has known me for 22 years and she knows what she is talking about.

She knows better than anyone that I have had a lifelong problem with drawing the line between being nice and polite, and letting people walk all over me.

As a young girl, my mother would always tell me that I needed to stand up for myself, and the moment when I finally internalised what she had always said happened in grade seven. The bell for break had rung and I had bent over to tie my shoe laces before leaving the playground.

A classmate had been standing by and proceeded to nudge her friend and tell her, “Watch this,” while they walked towards me. The girl said, “Chulu, tie my shoes for me.”

Instead of telling the girl to respect me and tie her own shoe laces, I got down on my knees and tied them for her. The girls walked away laughing.

It hit me then that there had to be a line between being nice and letting people walk over you until you’re a joke.

The situation may be an example of primary school bullying but it was a wakeup call.

My mother’s lessons came back again during my first year of university. My former fling and I were in the same friendship group. After our relationship had turned sour, he and my friends began talking about me behind my back.

I was told that there were whispers in the circle that I was “thirsty”, clingy and that he wanted to sleep with my close friend as revenge on me for remaining calm when our fling ended.

I was livid because all of this was being said behind my back but nobody would address their issues with me to my face.

Within an hour, I had summoned all of them to a meeting and I confronted them one by one about what I had heard. I was fuming inside, and all I wanted to do was cuss out everyone but outwardly I remained calm. I sat with my legs crossed, hands placed calmly on my lap and maintained a neutral and level-headed tone.

The responses I received were filled with excuses and manipulation, but it didn’t matter anymore because I was done with them and the situation.

That night signalled the end of that friendship circle and I walked away knowing that I had stood up for myself and my character.

I made it very clear to them and myself that I would not be undermined, walked all over or even destroyed.