She came to me for advice. No, actually, she wanted more than advice. She wanted a solution. Her life was in a mess. She wanted help in dealing with a difficult person in her life. The relationship had gone sour a long time ago and despite all her attempts to put honey on the situation, it didn’t seem to be getting any sweeter. We explored a number of “solutions” but I quickly realized this sourness was deeper than simple remedies. I really believe she was looking for something that wasn’t going to be found.
What do you do with such situations? No seriously, what do YOU as the reader do with such situations?
I think sometimes we have to come to face the reality that not every relationship is fixable. Not every engagement can be turned sweet by any amount of gyrations or additives. Really? Yes.
But there is point somewhere between amicability and hostility. We may not be able to find amicability in every situation but we do need to be careful to not allow hostility to dominate the horizons of our lives. Somewhere in the middle ground between the two is the state which I call civility. It’s the place of politeness. It’s the place where two adults don’t degenerate into eight year olds scrapping on the school yard whether literally, verbally, or emotionally. Sometimes you have to find that ground and stand on it even if all your inner impulses are screaming at you to fight or flee.
I am teaching a seminar right now on balancing life’s outer and inner demands. One of the paragraphs in the course deals with VIP’s and VDP’s inviting the learner to differentiate between the two. Basically I say there are “very important people in life” and “very draining people in life” or in some cases, “very damaging people in life”. Though we have the luxury of determining which people we spend time with, sometimes our life situation doesn’t allow us to categorically exclude all we people we find draining or destructive. The key is to realize who is what, and to be prepared for people we find draining or destructive and treat them with civility.
But what about if the person we are engaging isn’t civil? That’s okay, they don’t have to be. But you do. You have to limit your engagement with such folk because being civil is far more difficult a position to hold than you first think.
The story is told of General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Rebel Army in the American Civil War. He was known as a gentleman. The commander of the Union Forces was General Ulysses S. Grant, a man of different public reputation. One time General Lee was asked of his opinion of General Grant to which Lee replied, “he’s a fine soldier, a great leader, and certainly a credit to his military career”. The enquirer responded but “General Lee, do you know what General Grant is saying about you?” to which Lee responded, “you asked for my opinion of Grant, not my response to Grant’s opinion of me”. That was civility in action.
We can’t control people in our lives, but we can be civil to them…in reasonable doses.