MCKNOTES ON GETTING ALONG
Every day we interact with people. Some of them we like, and others, not so much. I think most of us would agree that it’s best to make an effort to get along with others, while protecting ourselves from being trampled. Some people are adept at getting their own way, and that can make things difficult for people who are not naturally aggressive enough to stand up for themselves. The biggest conflicts come when we run up against people who have the same flaws we do. Looking in the mirror is the easiest way to find imperfections, but looking at others and seeing their faults sometimes allows us to fool ourselves. Maybe we avoid that by looking at others and seeing their faults. It doesn’t occur to us that attitudes most bothersome in others are often characteristics that we also have.
Many people enjoy pointing out the shortcomings of others. I don’t really believe that anyone does this to cause problems. It’s frustrating to be told we’re wrong, or that we’re doing something in the wrong fashion. Of course, there’s more than one way to do just about everything. My mother and sister used to deride me for the route I took from one end of town to the other. I had my reasons. I knew where I was going. It may not have been the most direct route, or the one with fewest stop signs. I wasn’t going the wrong way, just a way they would not have chosen, for whatever reason. If I’m behind the wheel, it’s my prerogative as to which path to take. I’m also to blame if I get us all lost.
That doesn’t mean that every time we offer suggestions to other people we’re trying to change them. Sometimes we’re just trying to clarify that we want them to know we’re willing to help them and it would not be an imposition to ask for our assistance. If I offer to drive you to the doctor’s office, it doesn’t mean I don’t think you can make it on your own. It just means that I wouldn’t mind helping you out so that you don’t have to worry about it. It doesn’t mean I think you don’t know how to drive or that you can’t figure out that calling a taxi is also an option.
I don’t think that any of us wakes up and decides what we can do to hurt another person’s feelings. It burns when we are told that we are wrong about something. We all really like being right. Don’t correct me, especially if you don’t know what you’re talking about. But it doesn’t make sense to be angry if someone offers an option in a caring spirit.
If I am a guest in your house, I need to be aware that you make the rules. Sometimes people like to make rules that just don’t make any sense. Most of us grew up wondering why our parents would say, “Because I said so.” That’s not really a fair response, but it’s difficult to back off from rules or commands we have imposed on others, even if it’s in our house and we are entitled to make the rules. The best way to approach “infractions” is to explain how you like to do things in your own home. If you have a really good reason why, that can also help.
Most people will respond best to gentle corrections. If you want a drink of water and reach for a glass in the cupboard in a house you are visiting, it makes you feel foolish if your host barks at you that you’re using the nice dishes and they are not for everyday. It goes much more easily if our host explains that they forgot to tell you that they just don’t use those glasses for everyday and asking if you’d mind using the glasses from a different shelf.
The other side of this is that if you are corrected by your host, don’t take it personally. Everybody has a lot on their mind. They may jump in too quickly to correct you, but that’s something we should all be able to get over. They may be thinking about how they’re going to pay the utility bill. Never just assume they’re “out to get you.”
Not all that long ago, I was told that I was “a bit of a prickly pear.” I’m not sure what that meant, but I was pretty sure it was not a compliment. Furthermore, I needed an example. What did I do that made another person say that to me. This was a situation when a person who had participated in a chorus that I direct was quitting. It was fine that they were quitting. We have quite a lot of turnover, and people’s lives change from month to month or year to year.
I didn’t feel that it was a great parting comment. If a person has come to the conclusion that they no longer want to be a part of the group you’re directing, so be it. If the departing individual wants to offer a bit of advice, or a reason why they don’t choose to continue, that’s fine too. There’s just no reason to be rude.
Recently I changed my profile picture on my facebook account. One of my relatives wrote that I looked really old. Ouch! I think this person meant that she didn’t like the length of my hair, or maybe my beard, and that it made me look old. Hair can’t really make a person look old. I looked at the photo, which is the one I use for my blog presently. If you look that picture closely, and perhaps a somewhat larger copy of it, I do look old. I suggest that it’s the lines around my eyes that make me look old. I had taken that picture when I wasn’t feeling all that well, so it’s not a surprise that I didn’t look all that well. Personally, I thought it was rude for my relative to tell me I looked old. There are a host of other things one could say without lying that would be less hurtful. I wrote back that I was surprised I looked old, given my life of ease. I should have let it go. She quipped back, “I’m just sayin.’” I guess it bothered me most that this was all done on a public forum. Anybody could read these comments on facebook. Send me a private message. Also, if you really care about me, drop me a personal note once in a while that is not a put down.
What my kin said to me regarding my picture was hurtful, but my response was unnecessary. I’m not really vain, or at least not that vain. I could have come back with all kinds of insulting comments. I’m glad I didn’t do that. I should have just let the comment roll off.
The important thing about all of this is that we need to be really careful of each other’s feelings. If we make a mistake, which we are all inclined to do, we need to learn to let it go, unless we truly want to break ties with the other person. That is rarely the case.
Sometimes we say things in haste. Our intention is not to over-direct people, boss them around, insult his or her intelligence. Sometimes, even if a person says something that you know is untrue, the best way to handle it is probably to just let it go, or to slip in the correct information at another time. It’s easy enough to observe that what they said is interesting, and that most people you know would say it differently.
We don’t need to be phony. Neither do we always need to be right. Conflicts are never one sided. It is almost always a two way street, and bad feelings will just escalate until someone realizes that a more gentle approach is due.
When in doubt, do unto others that which you would have them do unto you.