What to do when you wake up in a Flannery O'Connor novel

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A sure-fire way for enduring (and even enjoying) the oddball people in your life

Courtesy of gratisography.com

A friend in one of the helping professions once told me, “I would absolutely love my job…if it weren’t for the people.” Then he laughed.

(Only later did it dawn on me that his laugh didn’t mean, “I made a funny joke!” It meant, “I just said a true thing and what’s funny is that you think I was joking.”)

People. Oh, the humanity we have to put up with!

Every day of my existence I have to deal with the following characters: Quirky Man, Grand-Canyon-of-Need Person, Mr. Insecure, the 24/7 Critic, and Two-Face.

And that’s before anybody else in the house wakes up.

Don’t you find that every time you venture out into the world (whether the real world or the world wide web), things get “interesting”? You rub shoulders with narcissists. Whiners. Control freaks. Moody coworkers. Drama queens. There’s the guy who always says inappropriate things. That boss who won’t communicate. That kid who won’t shut up. Namedropper Woman. Mr. Has-a-Story-for-Everything. The fellow commuter who talks almost exclusively in movies lines and smells like a survivor from a cologne plant explosion.

Some days, don’t you feel like you woke up in a Flannery O’Conner novel?

Here’s the thing…unless you go to a remote island with no neighbors and even fewer dental care providers (ask Tom Hanks how fun that is), you have to be around people. And they’re going to drive you nuts — all of them some of the time, and some of them all the time.

So, what to do when you’re forced to be around that person who puts the “oy!” in annoying?

I try to do three things — which I call it my TLC plan:

1. Take a quick trip to Imagination Land.

Someone annoys me, I just imagine my nemesis naked. No, I’m totally kidding. That’s actually what some people (not me) recommend for nervous public speakers. I’ve never tried it…I can’t get beyond feeling naked myself when I speak.

No, I imagine the source of my irritation boarding a plane for a five-year stint in Myanmar with the Peace Corps. Not really. (Okay, maybe sometimes.)

No, I try to imagine him/her as a cute toddler. Seriously. Think about it: There was actually a time when this unpleasant soul said and did adorable two-year-old things that could make even angry patrons at the DMV look up and grin. And I know if I could only see videos of those precious moments on Facebook, I would sprain my pointer finger hitting the “like” button. I would probably even share them.

And so I squinch up my eyes and imagine there’s still some of that likeability there. Somewhere. Buried way up in there. Like gold — deep in the hills, under those mountains, those Himalayas of obnoxiousness. Which leads me to the “L” of my TLC plan. I…

2. Look for the wonderful with the weird.

This is the thing about humans: we are a mixed bag. Paul McCartney was right when he crooned, “There is good and bad in everyone.” The truth is we each bear the image of our Creator. That’s more than good — that’s an amazing and glorious thing!

The bad part is that we are also broken souls with assorted hurts and hang-ups. Supposedly, Charles Dickens combed his hair obsessively, hundreds and hundreds of times of day. (Ladies, how would you like to be married to that?) Yet he somehow found time to also write all those classic books that most high school students love (okay love to hate… bad example). Scratch that.

How about the great inventor Nicola Tesla? He is said to have been a pigeon-loving, workaholic insomniac. Imagine having that guy as your college roommate! Now imagine having to imagine that in the dark — because without Tesla we might not have electricity!

I promise you, whoever is making you crazy has some upside. You just have to look harder.

3. Consider the humbling truth that you are someone else’s “annoying person.”

This is maybe the most important trick of all.

It’s normal to think I am normal; everyone else is weird.

It’s also vain. And false.

I hate to break it to you, but you are not normal, and you do rub some people the wrong way. If Tesla could have perfected his “Thought Bubble Interpretation Device” we’d all be mortified at how much some people don’t enjoy having us around.

D.L. Moody seemed to have a good handle on this truth. Rather than fixate on others’ shortcomings, he humbly admitted, “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I have ever met.”

I know when I’m focused on trying to keep my own unlovely tendencies in check, I’m less bothered by (and less aware of) the flaws of others.

St. Paul put it best, “Make allowance for each other’s faults.” 

In other words, bear with that annoying person (without turning into a bear yourself). Put up with him or her.

This week, show a little TLC.

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