My friend Dane told me more than once I had too much patience with people. On one occasion he was referring to my knuckle-headed attempt to give a problematic roommate of mine one more chance. Recently, it seems, a seemingly remarkable person visited and vanished. Thing is, I understood some of what my old roommate struggle and have some understanding of transience. That said, having patience doesn’t mean your absent the feeling of anger towards a roommate or disappointment and anger when transience destroys.
There is a saying that goes, Don’t mistake niceness for weakness. Another accurate one could be, Don’t mistake patience for weakness.
Those who know me well know it would be a mistake to experience my niceness or patience as signals that I’m unwilling or unable to right-size or step into someone when need be. I have little patience for cruelty, for heartlessness, for bullies. Not surprisingly, this brings me to the heartless, spineless, racist bully currently occupying the White House.
This self-absorbed white nationalist visits stagggered-by-Hurricane-Harvey Texas, doesn’t thank first responders, doesn’t offer condolences to those going through living hell, doesn’t mention those who have died so far, and visits none of the flood victims. Instead, his White House sends out a press release with a link to buy a white cap with USA and 45 on it like the one racist was wearing. Not a surprise the hat was white.
My old roommate would be more than welcome to my life, so would the recent visitor. Both would be welcome in my admittedly modest home. And, yes, it is true, I’d welcome Trump into my home, but only because I’d like to kick his ass privately, and more than once.
We’ve all endured behavior from others we didn’t deserve. Some of us recognize this the moment it happens. Some of us for various reasons have a more difficult time recognizing when we are accepting disrespectful and, in some cases, cruel and abusive treatment from others. For too many years I was in the latter group. Still am, at times, though rarely. The reason I almost always immediately recognize when I’m being badly treated is an easy-to-apply strategy that occurred to me nearly a dozen years ago.
Now, anyone who really knows me knows my father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann, holds the most sacred place in my heart and soul. He was and is the greatest gift my life has ever given me. Although he died at age 55 when I was 15 his continued daily presence in my heart and soul has, on more than one occasion, helped me get through difficult times. Having at least one parent who loves or loved you completely simply because you are you can be a life saver. Sometimes literally. When I was held up and shot in the head in 1984 and found myself on the ground dying it was the very real presence of my father in my thoughts that gave me the strength to stand up and get the help I needed to save my life. So it didn’t surprise me when my father’s presence in my life resulted in a strategy that helped me disengage from someone years ago who was emotionally abusive. My personal struggles at the time along with some of the more wounding elements of my history were making it hard for me to realize I was letting this person get away with behavior no one should get away with. Then one day the following thought occurred to me: What would I do if I this person treating my father like this? Bingo! That was it! I knew (instantly) if I saw anyone treating my father like this I would have driven them off by any means necessary and protected my father with all my might. Then and there I realized I’d happened on a fool-proof way of recognizing when I was permitting myself to be treated in a way I didn’t deserve.
We all lose our cool at times and say things in the heat of anger, stress or pain that we later regret. If we apologize to each other and mean it, okay then. Wounds can heal. We’re only human after all and the words human and perfection have never been and never will be synonyms. But, if we don’t hold ourselves and each other accountable for our choices and sincerely apologize when we’ve hurt someone, the wounds won’t heal. They’ll simply fester. If mutual respect is too much to ask for and a sincere apology is too much expect, what’s the point?
So, as you continue your journey in life, think of someone who is for you what my father is for me. Maybe this person is one of your parents, a sibling, your child, a grandparent, friend. It doesn’t matter as long as it is someone you love and cherish with all your heart. Once you’ve identified who this is bring them to mind next time you think you may be accepting behavior you don’t deserve. If you realize you would not allow this person to be treated the way you’re being treated, then the strategy has worked. What you do about it when you realize this varies. Sometimes, not always, the answer is to completely disengage from the person or persons wounding you. Sometimes making it clear you are disengaging from the behavior rather than the person or persons is the healthy choice. There is nothing unhealthy about letting someone know that while you value their presence in your life, there are certain things you will not accept. Some have given me more than one chance, so very often others deserve the same, if, and only if, they recognize and take responsibility for their behavior. If they don’t, better to disengage.
One last thing. The person you love with all your heart who you’d protect with all your might that you’ve chosen for this strategy? You deserve the same level of respect and protection you’d instinctively give them. No doubt they’d be the first to reassure you this is true.