She comes across so rough, harsh and even foul at times. It appears she has a vicious temper. Most suspect she could even be violent if pushed. Her vocabulary, her flailing arms and her statements such as, “I can’t stand people,” keep most others at a safe distance.
As bold and outspoken as she is, you would think she is full of confidence and fully at peace with herself. No, she’s not. She actually thinks very little of herself, and thinks most people judge her. She’s been hurt before by others’ judgmental words, so she puts up this barrier to protect herself. She doesn’t want to hear about other’s negative opinions of her, so she pushes everyone away by putting on a front that she doesn’t like people.
The truth is she cares more than most realize. She cares what others think of her – despite the fact she constantly says she doesn’t care what others think of her. She cares about other people as well. She’s just been hurt so badly by people she had genuinely loved, she now tries to keep people from getting too close. It hurts too much to let that happen again. So, despite her appearance of being at peace with herself, she has many restless nights, feeling very alone.
One day, two of her peers got on her nerves. They were youthful and loved to laugh around each other a lot. The brash one blasted each one, saying things such as, “Would you shut up? You’re so obnoxious. I can’t stand people!” I saw their expressions each time she verbally attacked them. They looked crushed, not knowing how to respond. Until that moment they thought the brash one liked them. Not now. It felt more like hate.
When I had somewhat of a private moment, I spoke with the harsh one, asking her for a favor. Fortunately, she seemed receptive to me up front. I told her I didn’t think she realized how mean she sounded when she spoke, and those other two she had attacked likely thought she now hated them. I told her they were innocent and probably felt crushed by her words. I also told her I wanted them to feel safe around her and me — safe enough to laugh and enjoy life. I didn’t want to destroy their happy, joyful and laughing tendencies. So, I asked her to try to fix things by being extra nice to them. She simply said sheepishly, “OK.”
The crazy thing is she did exactly as I asked, but went out of her way to do it well. She greeted them compassionately and engaged them with genuine niceness. Soon, they were all three enjoying each other again.
I thanked her for going out of her way to accommodate my request without giving away to the others what I had asked her to do. She quipped back with, “No problem,” but then added, “I just don’t like people.” The other two who were laughing just before she said that stopped and looked afraid, not knowing how to react.
I said to the harsh one, “I think you do like people and care about them. Do you want to know why I think you say you don’t?”
She said, “Go,” as if to challenge me.
“You have been hurt by others so badly you put a wall up around yourself so you don’t get hurt again, so you say things like that,” I replied.
She told me I was spot on.
Look past people’s walls they put up to protect themselves. Love them anyway. They need it. (see Luke 6:32-42)
Jeff Adams is pastor for Paramount Christian Church. His column appears weekly in the Nisqually Valley News. Email him at email@example.com.