Dealing with people in contentious situations was a real problem for me for most of my life. There were people who were always reminding me of things I had done wrong in the past. There were people who I felt had wronged me and I held a huge resentment for. There were people who owed me money and were showing no signs of paying it back. There were people who I felt were out to hurt me, who were lying to me, or who were taking advantage of me. And there were people who I felt were getting in the way of my doing what I wanted and other situations. I have discovered that all these problems actually have very easy solutions that, in time, work.
Family, both from birth and marriage, I think has the tendency to be the most difficult to deal with. Where birth family is concerned, these are the people who are quick to remind me of all my shortcomings. My reaction to such things in the past has been to become very defensive and argumentative. There were other times a family member would try to draw me into an argument. In each case I made a basic mistake. First, all I needed to do was to remember my short-comings and own up to them. Secondly, when an argument was being started, I needed to stay out of it. It is really hard to have an argument when I do not respond. I think all families are famous for both such situations and I have certainly been involved with my share of them. I used to have such altercations with both my birth family and my in-laws. Now neither happens. I have taken total ownership of my past shortcomings and when one of them is brought up I simply acknowledge that I was guilty. That has had the effect of short circuiting all possible problems. And I cannot be in a fight I do not join in.
I think the most personally poisonous thing I can do is to hold resentment. I have found that resentments almost always come from two things. First, someone has done something that I find offensive but which I have not addressed with that person. That has made it my problem but I walk around thinking badly of the other person when I have done nothing toward resolution of the perceived problem. The other source is when I feel resentful that someone is being narrow, unreasonable, arrogant, or something else, when in fact, I have the tendency to act the exact same way in those very same situations. I am of equal guilt but I have been unwilling to accept that and have allowed a resentment to form. It is my obligation to search for the actual source of that resentment and deal with it. Having a resentment is like me drinking a poison and waiting for the other person to die. In the end, I am the only one hurt by such foolish feelings.
I have found that when I have wronged someone, at the first instance I realize such a wrong I do what I have to do. I am obligated to acknowledge that wrong to the person I have offended. I cannot say their response has always been wonderful, but I can sleep at nights. Such things take no space in my mind.
It is my experience that most people, including me, abhor confrontation. We get into our heads about the possible confrontation and come to one, if not many, conclusions about such a confrontation, all being very negative. I think the two worst conclusions we come to is we will either hurt the other person’s feelings or lose their friendship. The basic problem with that is we are being dishonest both with ourselves and the other person. But even before that, we have decided that we can figure out how a situation is going to go. That is total foolishness because we are making assumptions about what the other person’s actions and reactions will be. There is no way we can make such predictions. The first thing we need to do is accept that we have an obligation to the other person to honestly speak to them about our concerns. We must accept that feelings can get hurt and friendships ended but that is the risk we must take in conducting ourselves honestly. Anything less is dishonest. A good friend may become angry with us but in time they will get past it and the friendship will continue. Also, we are not responsible for another person’s feelings when there is something we are morally obligated to tell that person.
Throughout my life there are situations when I have felt unjustly attacked by another person. Then there are other times when I see someone who always seems angry, who seems impossible to please, or who seems to always be at the center of controversy. Such people, when confronted, may be unwilling or incapable of telling me what is going on with them. They may even lie about it and say all is well. It is my experience that if I am to give such people the benefit of the doubt; I need to see them as someone who is fighting one or more of their own personal demons. I had a friend a few years ago who seemed to be troubled but when I asked her about it she simply said that things were going pretty well. Then one day someone found her dead in her apartment from a drug overdose. Other people who knew her asked me what I thought. I responded each time that I believed she was dealing with her demons but for some reason was not able to ask for help. I changed my thinking about these troubled people from very negative thoughts to a strong belief that they are fighting their demons. It helps me keep things in perspective and allows me to be open to helping them when they coming looking.
I have found a lot of peace in practicing the principles above, and others, that I have embraced. I realize that I first need to be the best person I can be. I need to take ownership of all my shortcomings and actively pursue a resolution to them. I can honestly report that I have made a lot of progress on that front but I also have a lot more work to do, and I doubt I will ever finish. My responsibility to other people is to always be honest with them and to be available to them when reasonable. I have no right to judge any other person’s actions, an extremely difficult task. If I do not like how someone else acts I can simply not associate myself with them if I find their actions to be that wrong.
I think I need to be willing to be hurt and to be disappointed by people. That means, in my attempts to have good relationships with other people, if I offer myself up to them I have to accept they may well reject my offerings. It might be personal but I have no right to take it that way. Offering myself to people is a gift and their rejection of the gift is not a commentary of me as a person.
I no longer lend money to anyone. I do give people money but I always tell them they must not say they will pay me back. I have found that such promises, when broken, cause hurt and resentment. If I have no expectation of repayment I cannot be hurt nor feel resentful. I tell such people that their repayment happens when they give money to someone else in need and I do not want to hear about that either.
It is very difficult to offend me these days with words directed at me. I can respond by either saying “I am” or “Why do you think that?” and such a response seems to quash anything more that might come my way. It leaves people speechless generally.
I think that covers many of the more common situations I encounter with people in my daily life. I still fail in carrying through on all these principles but they are never far from my mind. I hope that some of this might be useful to anyone who reads this.