A somewhat different version of this post was published previously.
I used to get calls from a sort of friend of mine. I call him a “sort of” friend because he only called when he wanted to complain about how terribly the world was treating him — or, as my friend Todd says, to “vomit on me.” Always problems; never solutions, and this had been going on for years. We all know folks like this, in and out of the program.
Anyway, we’ll call him Saul, since that’s not his name. In one of our last conversations, Saul was quite upset because he asked if he could help someone at the place where he volunteered and they said — quite abruptly, according to him — “If I want your help I’ll ask for it.”
Saul felt that he was badly dissed, and that he was “entitled to an apology”. Since that was unlikely to happen, his sponsor and I both pointed out that the allegedly rude behavior was about the other party, and that he should accept that people have bad days and forget about it.
Clearly that was about Saul’s self-esteem, not a rude comment from someone who quite literally had no power over him. He was obsessing over the matter and making himself miserable.
I tried to point out to Saul that the other person’s opinion of him is none of his business. He doesn’t seem able to handle that concept. I’ve seen this a lot over the years. Some folks just don’t understand that we can’t control what people think about us (or anything else) and that it really is none of our business. You get a lot of push-back on that, but how can what goes on in your head possibly be any business of mine? Do I have some sort of right to know? Can I just walk up to you and say, “Hey…I demand to know what you think of me!” and expect a useful reply?
Sure I can, but — expectation or not — I probably won’t get a straight answer. You will say what pleases you, depending upon your mood at the time. You may tell me either what you think I’d prefer to hear. Alternatively, if I’ve annoyed you enough, you may tell me what you’re thinking at that moment, which most likely won’t be something I want to hear. The fact is, we all withhold information about stuff like that, because, as they say, manners are the grease that keeps society moving along. It’s the only way we’re able to get along with other people at all.
And do I even want to know what you think of me? I’m an addict. You can tell me 99 things about me that you think are wonderful, but if you happen to mention that you were sitting next to me at a meeting six months ago and it seemed I might have needed a shower, the only thing I’m going to remember is that you said I stink. Or, let’s say you tell me 99 things that you don’t like about me. My denial will kick in to protect what little self-esteem I’ve got, and I’ll decide that you’re an asshole, and who cares what you think anyway.
Of course, a sober person probably wouldn’t behave like that, although we all have bad days occasionally. She’d probably realize that people have moods, their own problems, and their own stressors. How I react to my cat if he jumps on my lap when I’m trying to hash out a problem with my writing is likely to be rather different from my behavior if I’m gazing out the window at the lake and contemplating the social habits of the Moorhen.
We’re all rude sometimes. Some folks are rude a lot. (Especially Saul — surprise!) Finally, social norms differ among populations. What seems rude to me might be perfectly normal where you came from. I might think you “should” know better, but that’s on me.
We have choices about how we deal with rude folks, as well as with life’s other minor problems. We can choose to find our way past the little bump in our path, or we can make it into a mountain and spend a lot of time trying to mold it into a statue of us on our high horse.
The solution to unhappiness of any kind is all about us. If we don’t want to wallow in our misery any more, we can learn to do otherwise. The Twelve Steps aren’t about changing folks who disagree with our plans for world domination, they’re about changing us.
I tried to explain that to Saul. He doesn’t call me anymore.