We all deal with difficult people. In my life, sometimes that person is me. The following fiction, however, is about someone else having a turn–an adult situation ironically recast on the playground.
Once, I noticed a toy in the corner of a sandbox half buried. After I dug it out, no one was much impressed. Rust tarnished its features. After much effort and elbow grease, it looked new. Kids noticed its bells and whistles; their interest grew. The response pleased me since this toy required many hands on the controls. One girl seemed most interested, so I asked her to assist. Without a word, she climbed into the driver’s seat and locked the doors. As levers and flaps started to move, heads turned. She drew interest and needed help but preferred flying solo. Several times I waved to get her attention, but she was busy turning dials. The moving parts were more than she could handle.
After a few fruitless days in the schoolyard, I knocked on the the window and motioned her to come down. She sensed my frustration. Our exchange began calmly enough, but soon all my supposed expertise poured out. Understandably, she got her feelings hurt.
Later a message came to me through other people the girl was upset. I decided to do something radical for a my age: apologize in person. Of course I didn’t want to do it. I thought she owed me an apology, which also was true. She had been disrespectful. But I wasn’t responsible for her behavior. I have a hard enough time being responsible for mine. In her moment of futility I thought only of myself, pointing out her failure.
With great difficulty, I left my apology at her feet and walked away. It felt like giving back ten dollars I’d borrowed from someone who had taken twenty from me. Sadly, my efforts were not reciprocated. Two-way reconciliation broke down because she was motivated to forgive but unwilling to be forgiven (to paraphrase James Berkley). However, in the wake of this lopsided outcome, I had the opportunity to see myself more clearly. Was I content to do what I believed was right, or was I only content when doing the right thing did something for me?
1) Own your percent.
Everyone trusts their objectivity in a conflict. We confidently assign 51% of the blame to the other person, letting ourselves off the hook. Pay what you owe. Every debt we pay is to a debtor.
2) The one who hits back gets caught.
People will provoke you and then fault you for your response. The hard part is they may be hypocrites, but they’re also right.
3) Hold tight. “The truth will out.”
Half truth eventually runs out of steam. It’s like someone sitting in an awkward position and pretending they’re relaxed. At some point, adjustments will be necessary. Resist the strong urge to defend yourself. As Shakespeare said, “The truth will out.”
What would you add? (click comment above)
Joani Jack says
I have a fictional friend too. Our conflict wasn’t over a toy, but over mismatched expectations and poor communication. I built up offenses based on my own needs; my friend took what was convenient and left the rest. Over time, the relationship seemed to be headed for extinction… after all, life is busy enough, and friendships along the way are kind of “extras”… so when they get hard, why not just forget it and move on?
But then I found a passage that spoke to me. “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” Colossians 3:13
It was just simple enough, and clear enough, to give me a new perspective and strategy. Every time I was hurt or offended, rather than try to figure out who was at fault, I would just pour out to God what hurt and ask Him to help me forgive. It didn’t require any participation from my fictional friend, who tended to check out of conflict rather than work through it.
Lo and behold, two things happened. Just as in your story, I had the opportunity to see myself more clearly. But I also started to see my friend more clearly. I began to realize, as God changed my heart, that this is a truly remarkable person. I began to see the ways that this friend contributes to the friendship — a LOT of ways. And I began to see the needs of my friend that require a respectful distance without so many expectations coming from my end.
The result has been a breath of fresh air… deepening trust… and, oddly enough, more commitment on both sides.
But it all started with, “Make allowance for each other’s faults…..”
Thank you, Tim, for starting my day out right. Joani
Tim Filston says
You win the prize! Yes, the story is a metaphor. Great point about how responding well can change the lens through which we see a difficult person.