Sometimes you have to know when to hush up, shut up, or just let certain things go.
I am a big supporter of standing up for values and standing up for friends. I disdain people’s cowardice in being more concerned with how they look or who is going to be mad at them when a moment obviously calls for standing up and being heard. Yet, I find myself telling callers more frequently to “stifle” themselves, in the immortal terms of Archie Bunker. Why? How can this be?
Let me give you some examples.
Unfortunately, grandmother favoritism is a frequent complaint of a lot of my callers. They often describe in gruesome detail how many more gifts and how much more attention their mother-in-law pays to her other grandchildren than to theirs — or to the non-adopted children or children who are not stepchildren. Callers want to know what to say to change the behavior and stop hurting the children.
They want magic from me, and there just isn’t any.
I explain that some people are simply small-minded or small-hearted; that some people are bigoted and self-centered; that some people just don’t care that they cause pain — even to a child.
Some people are just that way. No conversation is going to change anything.
Fighting constantly with that person, or with your spouse over that person, is useless. I recommend simply avoiding people who hurt children, regardless of their problem. Children should not be exposed to the destructive influences of cruel favoritism.
“That means that the child she is nice to loses out?” they ask. “No,” I tell them, “the child she/he is not cruel to doesn’t lose out on anything. That child gains a sense of the importance of family loyalty, fairness, and not ‘selling out oneself’ for personal gain. Learning of this sort needs to start early.”
Then there are the relatives who always seem to be annoyances at family gatherings. I always suggest never confronting them. These people have superior war tactics, and since other relatives have shown their unwillingness to deal with such difficult individuals, you must “stifle yourself.”
Two people cannot argue unless both participate. If someone baits you and you smile, make a nice, complimentary statement, and excuse yourself to chat with other people at the gathering, there can be no fight. You think this is going to make you feel like “they won — you lost”? Think again. You’ve kept your dignity, lowered your blood pressure, acted sanely, and kept the ugliness from overcoming you.
They didn’t win a thing. Everybody knows what they’re about. And since no one is going to deal with it, you shouldn’t either.
Other callers want to have confrontations with people who have not changed and are not likely to change. They yearn for something closer when nothing closer is likely to be possible. They then rattle back and forth from confrontation and begging to excommunication.
I tell these folks to face reality: There are only two meatballs in your spaghetti, even though you desperately want six. You can argue about it, but the number of meatballs won’t change; or you can eat nothing; or you can enjoy the reality of what is.
That means that, when dealing with family or friends who are quite limited in what they can or are willing to offer, you have that same spaghetti-and-meatball choice. Change your desperate expectations, enjoy the meatballs that are there, and you ultimately will be a happier person.
I believe in a good fight when it protects the innocent. Trying to make people be other than who they are is not a worthy direction for your energies.
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