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Patching Cracks


December 11, 2019

Before coming to Big Sandy, I worked with kids in a mental health facility. Most of the kids were pretty ordinary but had abusive or difficult upbringings. The result of their terrible life experiences was often a great deal of anger and dysfunction.

It was a difficult job because we worked with kids that lived at the facility. Their parents weren’t there to care for them, so we had to fill in the best we could. The hardest part of the job was that we had to deal with clients at their worst. It became very easy to shift our mindset from one where we were helping a particular kid heal and grow, to being their adversary.

This was because we would deal with their angry spells and bad days. Usually as their staff, we were the target of their wrath. This made it easy to see them as “the enemy.” The more you saw them as the enemy, the more they became difficult because our attitudes could pour gas on the fire of their crankiness. That, in turn, would make us more geared up to see them as the problem. The best trick I learned during my time at the home was how to hit the brakes and look at myself in those situations.

In the end, the kids were kids. On their best day, kids aren’t great at dealing with their feelings or making great choices. I had to realize my response made things worse. When I realized I was coming at the situation wrong, I would reorient myself to see the behavior problems as something I was trying to help them overcome.

It wasn’t personal, and I was mistaken to make it personal. This has been a great tool for dealing with people in the years since. I’ve found that the same tendency can easily creep into my friendships, work relationships, marriage, parenting, etc. It’s easy to see the other guy as the problem and myself as the hero. This is a losing proposition because it always turns into a cycle of worse and worse interactions.

In marriages, this is what causes relationship “cold wars” that last years and years. One spouse begins to see the other as the enemy and responds to everything as though it is an attack. Minor problems become huge ones because the emotional stance of opposition amplifies everything.

This even results in anger and suspicion in response to kind or loving acts because the defensive stance doesn’t turn off instantly. Typically, you have to look at yourself and intentionally “turn it off” or it won’t get better. In my world, this involves two things.

First, I have to set aside my knee-jerk emotional response to things and think about how I am going to respond to things. I have to choose to not see other folks as the enemy. This is a daily reminder. Sometimes it’s an hourly one. However, it works well.

The second thing I do to deal with this attitude is from the teachings of Jesus. He advises his followers to bless folks that curse them and love their enemies. When I get wound up and settled into an adversarial relationship with someone, I look for ways to love and serve them.

I find ways to do good things for them so I can be a blessing. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright difficult. But, I’ve found that the effort put into serving the other person is less painful than the agitation and anger I experience over the long term. A happy marriage or pleasant work life is worth the pain of being nice to a jerk. Plus, I have found that this has the added benefit of making me more into the man I want to be. It takes effort, but it’s worth it.


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