What if someone bad gives you something good?
Or worse, and more confusing, what if someone good gives you something bad?
We have a lot of proverbs and sayings that talk about this dilemma. "Don't shoot the messenger." "Don't judge a book by its cover." "Never look a gift horse in the mouth." But we do shoot messengers who say stuff we don't want to hear. And we pick up books with attractive covers, and we inspect the quality of the things given to us and we do judge the giver by what we find. That's why the conversation between Jane Bennett and the formidable Miss Bingley rings true. Miss Bingley is trying to convey something Jane very much needs to hear, but Jane can't hear because Jane despises Miss Bingley.
It has become more and more apparent to me that the difference between childish and grownup is the difference between an ability vs. an inability to separate things. Jane needed to know that the truth can come in pleasant and unpleasant packages. So can lies. This is a matter of growing up. Children can't tell the difference between safe and unsafe situations, and so they're not supposed to "take candy from strangers."
But when you grow up, you can start to assume certain things - like, for instance, the candy samples at the VanDuyn's Chocolates store are safe. (I mean, the candies aren't likely to drug you or entice you to go home with the person handing them out. They're not so safe as a steady diet.)
Okay, so what needs to be separated out when you hear - when I hear - again - for the forty-eleven-thousandth time that I'm "hard to get along with"? I have heard this again. Yesterday. And all at once I'm fifteen years old, and some friend is pissed off because I won't sneak off to the movies without asking my parents first. Or a teacher who didn't understand the question and doesn't know the answer is getting really irritated and embarrassed because I keep trying to rephrase it because I really want an answer.
But I'm not a kid anymore. I need to get past this reaction, and I need to keep growing up. It doesn't matter who said it if it's true. But ... who said it can give me a hint sometimes.
There are more sayings and proverbs about this situation. "Consider the source" is one of them. And I love this one: "What Peter says about Paul says more about Peter than it does about Paul." In this instance, I know Peter. This time, Peter's a person who is easily frightened by anyone who stands her ground on anything anytime anywhere. She saw me do it once, and I will probably always be "hard to get along with" because of that. Those are her lenses, and that's her report.
Okay, fine. That's who she is. And Miss Bingley was an obnoxious elitist snob. But she was telling the truth. So I still wonder about me. Does what Peter said say anything about Paul? Is it always true that "where there's smoke there's fire"? Maybe not always - but sometimes that is true. And the recurring, ever-present accusation of being "hard to get along with" is something that sticks to me like a burr - surely there's fire in there somewhere. Am I doing something wrong? Should I be doing something else? Is this Peter a bad person giving me something good (an honest evaluation of a real situation), or is she a good person giving me something bad (her own fears)?
Since hearing this summary judgment (again) I've been trying to separate all of the parts into their truths and falsehoods.
And now I'm old enough to know the answer to the nagging questions. The answer to all the "should I change?" and "am I doing something wrong?" questions is almost never the simple yes or no!! (This would have been a shock to my younger self.) And that's how you untangle the strands of this rope that tries to hang you. When people say the same thing about you for years and years, and you want to get to the truth of it, you find out that the answer to all the "should I?" questions is: "it depends on what you want."
Two Rules of the Universe I have learned:
1. Everything costs something. (Or, as Sesame Street's jubilant song sings it, "You gotta put down the ducky if you wanna play the saxophone.")
and, 2. No man can serve two masters. Ever. And you know who your real master is by what you choose to serve. (Great movie line from The Devil Wears Prada: "You know, in case you were wondering - the person whose calls you always take? That's the relationship you're in.")
So you gotta pick. What are you willing to spend for what you're buying, and who are you really serving? This time, what did Peter see me buy? In all honesty, I have to realize the truth. I was buying the right treatment of children.
I'm fairly single-minded and bull-headed about this issue. I will not stand by while children are mistreated. Period. I don't care who it is, or what position they hold, or how much power they're supposed to have, or anything else. If you're proving how tough you are by being horrid to a child - especially if you're messing with that child's access to God - I will stand in your way. And you won't like it much. Years of practice have taught me a lot. Since that's what Peter saw, that's what Peter's reacting to. And Peter's a scared old woman who has oddball attachments to authority figures. Thus, in that context, I'm hard to get along with. I decided that the possible fallout on my own head was worth it. I put down the ducky of approval, and I calmly and deliberately played the music of the powerful song "How Dare You."
Okay, but is there really something in there? C'mon, little miss hero of your own story, be honest. Other people simply don't have this problem. I can think of lots of people who never get it said about them that they're hard to get along with. Think. Just think about it. Who's easy to get along with?
Can I count on those people? When it really matters, and something is at stake? Is the acclamation "easy to get along with" the final master to serve?
So here I am again. I'm back where I started to get to this place, and I do now choose it all over again.
I'm nice -- but don't bully the children. I can get real hard to get along with.