I have been accused of being a Facebook addict. In fact I have had people contact me and say “Is everything OK? I’d wondered, because I hadn’t seen you on Facebook for a few days”. So yes, I do check in pretty frequently. It’s my way of keeping an eye, of keeping in touch. And with a few people, I do literally use it to keep in touch, as an essentially “Free” communication method. I “touch base” with them in the “Private message” section fairly regularly.
The other night I sent a casual “Hey, trust all is well with you” greeting to a friend and received immediately back: “No. Feeling suicidal to be honest”. My immediate reaction was “Are you somewhere where you can talk?” “Can I ring?” “5 mins.” “Call me. PLEASE”. My friend did. Had she not, I would have. Repeatedly. Until she picked up. We talked. I didn’t clock-watch and I didn’t care what time it was. She is important to me. She is important – full stop. Important. Unique. Special. Valued. And needed to hear it – know it.
Part of our conversation – and what had triggered her feelings of depression in the first place – was her seeing somebody looking cheerful and indeed pleased with themselves. What is the matter with that, one may ask. Well, in itself – nothing. All power to them. But, in this instance, the person was someone who had wronged and contributed to hurting my friend.
I counselled her that this person may not even have had any conception of exactly the effects of their actions. And certainly now – some years after the traumatic incident, were unlikely to be reflecting back on it and considering their contribution. That person – and others involved – had seamlessly moved on with their lives. Had continued in the same trajectory. While part of the reason why he – even a photograph of him – had the power to hurt and “twist the knife” for her was that his hurtful actions – and those of others at a former time had far-reaching consequences for my friend. She had not “carried on as usual”, as if nothing had happened. Because, for her, something DID happen. Which altered the course of her life. Which she has still not fully recovered from. Which she still grieves.
The Biblical Chapter of Luke 23 details the final hours of Christ’s life. He is placed on a cross between two criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Is ignorance, though, truly an excuse? Are the people who hurt us completely ignorant of what they do? And do we forgive them solely on that basis? If I have been “a victim” does this give power to “an aggressor” simply because they may be “ignorant”, at least from my point of view? I remembering lamenting to a close friend at a very problematic, low point in my own life, when I was having a particularly difficult time and struggling desperately with one individual: “I hope she is getting something out of destroying another human being, because I’m certainly not enjoying it much”.
Many years ago, a very wise woman suggested to a study group of which I was part, that sometimes, no matter what we do, there are people that, try as we might, there is nothing we can do to change a person or their attitude to us – that it is truly a case of “It’s you, not me”. And that, in his instance, the way to reassure yourself is to say silently “He/She is a D.P.”. I asked, innocently, what the initials “D.P”. stood for and I was told they were short for “Difficult Person”. At the time I had a prickly colleague who I tried hard to please. Somehow, saying to myself “Kylie, you have done your best, but she is a bit of a D.P.” assuaged my natural guilty conscience and reminded me there were probably things far beyond me affecting this lady’s demeanour and attitudes.
Having started this piece with (almost) admitting to being a Facebook addict, I do tend to pick up on various things that “Go Around” on “Newsfeeds”. About a month ago a few people posted this:
I must say that I do not agree with this in many cases. My reaction was: What if “Their Situation” is that they take no responsibility for their actions? And that you wish them no personal ill but they continue to hurt YOU, over and over? Is it “Maturity” to be a continual victim?
Instead, understanding that the perpetrator is possibly a person with self-esteem issues who lives a life in which they continually need to prove to themselves that they are someone, should help to forgive them. Often we then have to extract ourselves from their sphere of influence though.
One can “understand”, but for self-preservation, sometimes Separation is the only answer. “Maturity” needs to happen on both sides. If the Perpetrator of hurt never sees it from any point of view than their own, you can be as “understanding” as you like, but it is foolish to remain in the line of fire. Even in the Bible in Matthew 10:14, Jesus instructs his 12 Disciples: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”
There are some people in life who do indeed seem to have the world “revolve around themselves”, who indeed even fit the profile of the “Sociopath next door” in Martha Stout’s excellent book. [This puts forward the rather frightening scenario that about one in twenty-five individuals are sociopathic, meaning, essentially, that they do not have a conscience. It is not that this group fails to grasp the difference between good and bad; it is that the distinction fails to limit their behaviour. The intellectual difference between right and wrong does not bring on the emotional sirens and flashing blue lights, or the fear of God, that it does for the rest of us. Without the slightest blip of guilt or remorse, one in twenty-five people can can do anything at all.]
Or these traits might be symptomatic of, or mask some inner actual insecurity, that such people actually try and look important and make themselves feel better, more secure or important by wielding authority over or even bullying others. But this is hollow, because genuine respect and loyalty is earned, not demanded and I do not believe true leadership can be commanded.
There are still others, though, who aren’t necessarily “Bad People”, who are caught up in situations not totally of their own making, or are “part and parcel” of a difficult time or situation which holds negative connotations for us. But they were not the “aggressors” as it were. Still, for us, they are connected with a bad situation or negative time. For us, the hurt person, they are part of the negative past. And they too may have moved on.
The last week or so has been interesting for me. I only half-joke that I am “working on my Aversion Therapy”. I do find physically going to the school where I worked for 8 years more or less difficult at different times. I cannot avoid it because my two children attend there. And currently I do the “school run” – drive them there and pick them up, daily.
Paradoxically, my main difficulty is it is all so familiar – I know the place like the back of my hand. And having left there only recently, the vast majority of the staff and many of the students are also known to me. On my son’s first day of school it was extremely busy in the carpark. I met a friend, so we shared coffee and caught up in the onsite Café for an hour. After a short time the High School Staff all spilled out of the adjacent auditorium. We realised that the High School Students did not all commence until the next day, so the Staff were likely still in Assemblies and meetings. Some went by and waved. One came up to my table and had a lovely conversation with me, expressing how nice it was to see me. Through the window I could see dozens of others all in earnest conversation. All known to me. All going about their business. All at work. All moving on……
Getting my own kids back to school has meant trying to establish some sort of routine and finally getting some “Head Space” in an empty house. And the phrase “Physician Heal Thyself” has rung in my ears since my late night conversation with my distressed friend.
Earlier I mentioned Christ on the Cross where he referred to those persecuting him, saying: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The passage goes on to say: 35 And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
Now, Heaven forbid that I should claim any special status for myself, but there is also the secular idea of being able to “dish it out but not take it”, and I have realised that I do tend to give out much advice.
And this week has been interesting, in that I have had not only the important exchange I have mentioned, but a number of other conversations with various people all seeking my help, advice, or just a listening ear.
I also am blessed with very wise people in my life who are much more sensible than I. Who I lean on and they look after and advise me. But do I really soak in their advice and live it?
One such person, who I respect greatly, once gave me these words to think on:
- Listen more, talk less
- Every question does not require an immediate answer
- You give too much of yourself, keep your own counsel.
When people ask me how I am, and what I am doing at present, I tend to say “as little as possible”, as I am yet to find a specific “day-job”. That said, although I have made applications, I have concentrated on spending time with my family during the school holidays.
And also, I have decided to be more pragmatic. In a couple of cases my instinct has been to chase after something imperfect, but then I have stood back and decided not to. To not force something, lest it become another difficult situation or trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole”. Because if something is “meant to happen” I believe it will. That is not to say I will just sit back totally passively and expect the world to come to me – that is not in my nature.
But I need to learn to listen more, in more ways than one.
To not just jump into what might be “easy” but perhaps look to the more lateral.
But still, look to gradually “fill”. Because I believe that one of the reasons we fail to “move on” is that emptiness caused by loss, by essentially grief, is not filled by other things. One situation cannot exactly replace another, but, as noted by the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colourless, odourless air.
Thinking about vacuums (the scientific type, not the cleaning sort!) helps us to understand the importance of what Paul was saying to the Biblical Ephesians when he prayed that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith and that they would “know the love of Christ . . . that [they] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19).
In a practical sense, we truly “Move On” from things which have hurt us, grieve us, pre-occupy us, even those unresolved things which are “running sores” by working on replacing the vacuum of nothing with new and positive things to occupy that space.
Because otherwise it is all too easy for the negative to rush back in, in the form of anxiety, worry, negativity, and dwelling on the past, and being “stuck”. Being unable to get “past our past”.
So, positives for the last week or so for me, ironically, have come out of negatives.
Being unemployed, yet having my children back at school six hours a day, has meant I have had, finally, uninterrupted time. I have spent this tackling some organisational work for some projects mid-year. When those friends have contacted me with their own concerns I have had the time to listen and counsel.
I am being given the opportunity to “Serve, not to be served”.
A final thought. Adversity, in all its forms, is hard understand, and it’s easy to say “Why me?” and be ground down by unanswerable questions such as “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
But life is full of contrasts. And to some extent, it is in contrasting one thing against another that we can truly see where we are indeed blessed.
Featured photo credit: with Thanks to Alistair Ross-Taylor.