The other day I found myself in the midst of a controversial discussion – my least favorite place to be. Due to my overall discomfort, I mostly just let the other person talk. When I finally found some courage and words that I felt could help, I began sharing. Only a few words in, I heard the other person talking very loudly over me. I looked over to see him stand up straighter, his body looming over mine – his voice booming over mine. The point I was in the middle of making was instantly stomped out, irrelevant under the power of this man’s bravado. I like to speak in such a way that I am heard, which has led me to be discerning of the people whose ears are deaf. I guess this wasn’t a “conversation” after all.
But I wasn’t mad. I didn’t try to talk over him talking over me, I just let my voice trail off and instead watched in astonishment as his rudeness transpired. I have met this type of person so many times – the type that must be right, even when they are wrong. The type so self-righteous, yet insecure, that any person daring to pose a differing viewpoint must be overthrown. I felt this in slow motion: I realized that he was yelling over me to prove I was wrong, and then realized that he thought he could prove I was wrong by yelling. This is weird, I thought, and then I let him “win”; I stopped talking and allowed him to take back the stage. Why waste my breath and vocal cords?
I didn’t always have this perspective and ability to disengage. In my early 20’s, I got caught up in everything. I was constantly swept away in the drama of disagreement. I was very sensitive, and when I felt that someone (a customer, boss, friend, stranger at the grocery store) was unhappy with me in any way, I would be overcome with emotion. I always gave away my power, never able to stand firm in myself. I would fret incessantly to ensure that I didn’t make people mad or ruffle any feathers, doing all that I could to try to please an unpleasable person. And, of course, bullies can smell this weakness, so I was an easy target. This sensitivity got me into trouble for a long time; my past holds many despairing moments where I felt completely powerless. Trying to regain what power I lost, I attempted to fight back, only to lose more.
After letting one too many people get the better of me, I eventually got to the point where I wasn’t okay with that anymore. Little by little, I found my footing, my strength, and my own voice. This voice doesn’t always say something aloud to the offending person. But the voice always speaks to me, letting me know that this offense should not be internalized or acted upon.
What I have learned is this: tension and disagreement are inherent in life, and I will never be able to sidestep all those moments, but I can move through the ones that do show up with intentionality.
Key quotes when dealing with someone who cannot be pleased:
“If a wise person takes a fool to court, there will be ranting and ridicule but no satisfaction.” – Proverbs 29:9
“Not every hill is worth climbing up and dying on.”
Probably a hundred times a week, a hill to climb up and die on presents itself. Often, the hill was built by a fool. Be smarter than the fool; realize that you don’t need to climb hills because your life’s path can, with some effort and mindfulness, circumvent the hills and take you in a more beautiful, peaceful direction.