People can be so mean.
Seriously. People can really go out of their way to fuss, cuss and generally put others “in their place.” I think maybe we’re in love with being that person in the movie who shouts down the antagonist or sits in comfortable smugness after telling off someone who was clearly wrong. I think we are programmed where any infringement on the sovereign territory of “our calm” should be met with a jolt of anger, hatred and meanness. Mess up my coffee order and I break your face. Ask me for something and I roll my eyes, laugh about you to my coworkers and not care if you hear me or not.
The meanness can show itself in many subtle forms. It can be a curt email. It can be several audible sighs during presentations. It can be in a condescending attitude over the phone. There are glares, frowns, head shakes or snide comments…all sorts of stuff.
The thing is it’s not necessary. Now, I’m saying this as a man who has endured a few infuriating customer service situations and a couple of bummer circumstances with military SNAFUS. Meaning I’ve had a lot of opportunities to fill up with righteous indignation. Many of my friends have looked at how calm I attempt to remain during these trying times and say, “You’re a better man than I.”
And while I appreciate that they are indirectly saying I need to get angry more often, I persist that a calm response is the wiser approach in situations.
I mean, seriously. Srsly. It takes as much effort to engineer a jerk thing to say as it does to let things go. It takes as much time (sometimes more) to chew out and curse than it does to say “thanks” and move on. What do we get out of one of these tirades? Satisfaction? Some sort of revenge? Fulfilment? Is there some committee out there silently keeping score? Does it get us a better job? Does it give us more friends?
When I was working retail and jobs in the service industry, I had a few doozies when it came to angry customers. Hell, as an Army journalist, I’ve been chewed out by every rank from E1 to O6 (parents of high school athletes are the most vitriolic). Every once in a while the situation was because of something I did, but most of the time the person was raging against circumstances completely out of my control.
When the angry customer was done telling me I’d never amount to anything and that I was an oxygen thief, that I had ruined Thanksgiving (actual story) or whatever else they had pent-up, I went about my day. I still had other customers to get to or other stories to write. I don’t know what the angry person thought would happen—maybe that I would collapse and weep, maybe that I would burst into flames. Who knows. After each tantrum, I would say my obligatory apologies and go about my life.
The Kingdom of God was still intact. I still had however-many credits toward a degree. My mom still loved me. I was good.
And, on the giving end of such an exchange, the few times I have blown my top and called down columns of fire from heaven to swallow up my bookstore-cashier-adversary, what have I really accomplished? I’ve satisfied some twisted prideful need, but I’m not any better of a person. Other than a few times with bullies in school, it’s not like rage or anger ever protected me or made me into a better person.
So when my coworker talks about how evasive, mean and terse a colleague is over the phone—how a simple “can you send me XYZ?” turns into a back and forth exchange where my coworker has to defend how and why her boss wants XYZ from our colleague’s boss—I shake my head. Why does it have to be so difficult? Why do we, the normal people—not prime ministers, not executives, not kings/queens, princesses nor princes—but people who aren’t bound by national consequence and are free to live and love as freely as the birds—why are we so mean?
Call me too patient all you want, but that’s not really an insult. I’m immovable in my self identity. I’m damn proud of where God has put me after 29 years. He’s even seen fit to bless me a bit—give me a job, a good clutch of friends. If I don’t see fit to erupt into a fit of rage at the Blockbuster guy, maybe it’s because not only would anger not resolve anything, but maybe it’s because I’m more of a guy who thinks the world could do with less meanness.
This past weekend, an old friend of mine was in town. “Old” as in we’d known each other from a few years back, yet not “old” as in known that well.
We spent a month together, attending an asinine Army school known now as Warrior Leadership Training, but back then as Primary Leadership Development Course.
The idea is that troops need to know how to be noncomissioned officers. And they (we) do. There’s a lot to cover, going from just another dude to someone who is part parent/disciplinarian/mentor.
So this course was the Army’s answer to that. There were some good tidbits among the month of random cleaning details, uniform inspections and hour upon hour of monotone lectures; but, by and large, PLDC or WLC (depending on how old school you are) is something that is endured. And this friend of mine and I, did just that.
We laughed, we laughed more and we cried from laughing. Apart from the course itself, we had a pretty good time.
Anyways. She was in town visiting a clutch of friends of hers that still hang out in the area and wanted to catch up. She also had her 17-month-old son, who was a cute kid. Many of her friends also had young children. So I spent my weekend in the bosom of young parenthood, among the fights, poopy diapers and frequent screeches.
Which, as you might know, is a very different atmosphere than I’m used to.
Apart from my family, whom I am blessed to be loved by and love wholeheartedly, I have been alone for my whole life. As a military child, I learned to start over every couple of years. There is no home. There is no childhood friendship. There really is nothing consistent other than change.
This is good in that it can make a person very self-sufficient, but it also teaches someone to remain very emotionally distant.
I’ve also been completely alone in my “adult” life—not for lack of trying. Call it bad luck, call it awkwardness, who knows, I swing and miss with the whole relationship thing.
It folds in with the motif of the street urchin looking in someones window to a family enjoying warmth and laughter. It’s just a different world.
So the weekend was a little jarring, to be honest—a good jarring, though.
In little bits, I had someone in my life for a few hours a day. I watched the little guy play. I kept him from falling. I carried him around. It was nice.
I also was completely exhausted after she put him to sleep. Hats off to parents—especially single parents. I knew it was excruciating, but wow, yeah. Still, it was only my first day-ish. I imagine it’s just like running, I’ll have to work up to the longer-distance thing.
So now, back at house, no kids, alone is more alone than ever. Quiet is more quiet. My thoughts resonate too much. There’s no one else to bounce ideas off of. There’s no one to share in things.
Alone has always sucked, to be honest. Sure, there’s freedom in aloneness, which I’m sure is missed by those tied down, but there’s also a cold emptiness, a pins-and-needles numbness from standing in a snowy evening too long. Things are stiff. Laughing at a movie screen feels weird. Sitting by the kitchen at a restaurant never gets fun.
I know God has a plan, and, ultimately, I do trust in it. I throw impatient spats now and again. I just didn’t expect the winter to be so long.