January 19, 2013

I Hate It When You're Mad at Me

Once, when I was about twelve, I went to a birthday party.  The birthday girl got a scarf.  It was knitted, red, with tassels on each end.  For some reason the other girls had gone into another room.  Alone, I sat down on the couch, on the scarf.  Somehow, in the act of sitting, I pulled off one of the tassels.  I was mortified.  What should I do?  I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing.  Later in the evening, when the damaged scarf was discovered, the girl scolded the dog.  I was saved from confessing.  I felt guilty, but I  said nothing, even as the dog got an undeserved rap on the nose.

I place a pretty high value on telling the truth.  I like to think of myself as an honest person. But something much greater than the truth was at stake for me.  Someone might get mad at me.

In case you've never tried it, I'm here to attest that trying to please all the people all of the time is a fool's errand.  It can't be done.

That hasn't stopped me from trying.

The first step is to read everybody's mind.  Don't laugh.  I'm better at it than you might think.  What a useful tool!  I know what you want before you know it yourself.  And I'm going to prove I love you by giving it to you.  Except when I can't.

But by then you've come to expect it, because that's how I trained you.  Now you're disappointed.  And maybe angry.

So you know what I do?  I get angry back.  Or first.  I'm angry at you for being angry with me for promising to give you what you want, even when I have no way of doing that, because I'm afraid you'll be angry with me if I don't.  I was just trying to be helpful.

What I'm learning about helpfulness is that it often isn't all that helpful.  I'm not just selling what you might not want to buy.  I'm giving it away!  I'm insisting you take it.

But what if you don't want it?  What if my "help" is interfering with what you really need or want?  What if what I intuit you want is what you want, on the surface, but not what you really want, underneath.

On the surface, we all want the same thing, I think, most of the time.  We, I, want things to be easy.  I want to feel happy and not sad or angry or afraid.  I want peace and not conflict.  As I've attested, I'm willing to do almost anything to get that result.  That's why the dog got rapped with the newspaper.

It's bad enough I do it myself, but it's what I'm doing to you too, when I'm being so very helpful.  I'm encouraging us both to cut corners to keep the peace.

It's a lie and a cheat.

The hard path is not always the path of peace.  When Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 to turn the other cheek or give your cloak when asked for your tunic or walk the extra mile, we often hear that as a form of non-violent protest.  In fact, those acts were ways of stirring the pot.  (Wikipedia offers a nice summary of why.)

Sometimes keeping the peace is not the righteous thing to do.  We don't celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.  because he kept the peace.  While he didn't repay violence with violence, he wasn't afraid to stir the pot.  He made people mad -- mad enough to kill him.

No one is threatening my life, only my feelings or my ego.  When I tell the truth and allow people to feel their feelings, I lose control.  You might get mad at me for ruining the scarf or not telling you what I know you want to hear.  Then I might feel sad or scared or angry, and I have to live with that.

The truth might force us into the wilderness, where we don't control the journey and we don't know where the road might lead.  The music rises unpredictably, and we're not sure whether -- or if -- the resolution will ever come.  Maybe it won't.  And then what?

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