Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Perspective

It’s amazing what a shift of perspective can do. It can take anger and disdain and transform them into sympathy and love. Yes, love. Because it’s nigh impossible to understand someone without loving them.

So this gal, I’ll call her Belinda, is completely maddening in nearly all ways possible. She talks to the exclusion of everybody else, wears shirts cut down practically to her navel, shares intimate details about her medical issues (even if you tell her you’d rather not know!), and her parenting frequently makes me wince. One of her children got frostbite this winter and she said it served him right for refusing to wear his mittens. He’s only four years old! Suffice it to say that she is not the most perceptive or thoughtful of women.

Probably what rankles the most though is that she thinks the world owes her support and help, and takes advantage of people without any thought. She has little or no gratitude in her. She expects rather than thanks. So, she’s a very difficult woman to like. But I can’t avoid her. In a church congregation of forty people avoiding someone is next to impossible.

I spent a year and a half detesting this woman.

The last few months have seen a change it those feelings. She and her husband bought a house, as they’d been evicted from their apartment and couldn’t find another willing to take them on. The house had to be fixed up in 30 days or they’d lose it. One of my closest friends watched her kids, another did her laundry, my husband helped arrange moving parties, dry walling parties, etc.

It was a rough month.

Through a series of seemingly unrelated experiences, my attitude, my perspective, began to shift. I saw the ways in which my friends were being blessed for the service they’d given. Inexplicably good things kept happening for them, and they swore it was because of the service they’d been giving to this family. Huh. I kept having experiences that seemed specifically tuned to teach me about being more patient, tolerant, and loving. I was pretty much forced to face up to my feelings for Belinda and deal with them in a more positive manner.

I realized that the source of my ill feelings toward her was anger. I was angry that she took advantage of my friends and offered so little gratitude in return. I was angry that my husband’s time was so absorbed by her family’s needs instead of his own. And deep, deep down, I found an even less pleasant feeling. The feeling of anger over the fact that she, who did everything wrong, was getting all the attention.

Not pretty, people. Not pretty at all.

I spent several days just mulling things over, taking every aspect of her that made me angry or disdainful and trying to twist it around. Her immodest dress? Quite possibly because healthy problems have contributed to her being overweight. The poor girl was trying to feel better about herself. Her parenting techniques, while disturbing, were better than many. She was loving with her children, provided for them as best she could. All too many children in this world of ours have it worse off. Hers could even be counted as lucky for having come into a home where they are loved and wanted, if not always taken the best care of. Perhaps I could do more to help in that respect? Spend more time with her? Set an example instead of sitting in judgment?

I got thinking about her lack of gratitude and her expecting all manner of help. And then I thought about her difficulty in understanding some simple things (like when people’s eyes glaze over you should possibly change the subject) and the fact that her little family is always in some trouble or other. People are forever leaping to the rescue. How can she help expecting what she’s always been given? And how can people do anything but help when help is always so urgently needed?

Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by pity. This poor woman has so many earthly struggles. A diminished capacity for understanding. A life that has dealt countless blows to her physical health and her family’s finances. Every day is a struggle for her, and like most of us, she wants to be looked up to and admired. Envied even. Hence the talking. The insisting that conversations focus on her and her alone.

I confess, I still don’t enjoy her company very much. She came up to me on Sunday and commented on how tired I looked. I was surprised, thinking she actually remembered that I’d had a rough week (I had a miscarriage a week ago) and was going to offer some sympathy. Instead she launched into a bitter diatribe about how her daughter is keeping her awake at night. I was late for class because it took awhile to get her attention and let her know I had to go. Instead of being angry though I felt keenly how fortunate I am to have so much outside of myself to be interested in. She doesn’t currently have that blessing in her life. Her life is all struggle and strife, and I am so keenly aware now how fortunate I am in comparison to her. I’m pretty well taken care of. I’m blessed to be able to turn my attention outwards (only sometimes of course, and not as often as I should).

It’s amazing what a shift of perspective can do. It can take anger and disdain and transform them into sympathy and love. Yes, love. Because it’s nigh impossible to understand someone without loving them.

I’m grateful for perspective. It makes for a much happier life.

4 comments:

heather said...

I enjoyed this post. I wrote one on a similar kind of note the other day. Good for you!

-and I'm sorry about the miscarriage. Those are so tough! Hope things in your life smooth out soon!

hayngrl101 said...

Yah, I am sorry to admit that I've had similar feelings toward certain people in my life... here's a different perspective to consider.

I have a special needs daughter, and work with special needs kids, and have some Parents who are also special needs. For all intents & purposes, some of the parents I mentioned seem to live similar lifestyles to what you describe. Its become (for me) less of ill feelings to more of a spectator thing where I feel detached and can think 'wow, so that's what ____ (insert syndrome, illness, etc.) looks like in an adult.'

Keeping this possible 'cause' for such behavior (is that PC? to say) helps me to not have a bad attitude and to also motivate myself into doing more service, finding more compassion, and being grateful that I have a different lifestyle... and also feeling intense happiness that people- adults- with special needs can enjoy the same blessings I do. Like having a family, living independently, etc. even if its not up to par with the standards I keep for myself.

heather said...

So I commented on your "regular" blog about your authenticity. I needed to comment about it here too. Because we all struggle with people such as "Belinda" and most of us are left only in the frustrated and angry phase, gossiping about the latest antics of the Belindas in our own lives. But the truth is that the Belindas really do have a painful story and that is what you wrote so eloquently about. It would bode well for each reader to consider their Belindas as people less fortuante. Unfortunately annoying. But less fortunate.
That perspective really does take love and without love I guess we'd all get stuck in the angry phase. So, um. I guess I'm saying thank you.

Sarah said...

Well I feel inspired! I don't know how many times I've had feelings just like the ones you've described, and I end up all in the dismals because of it. What a good perspective YOU have. Thank you for your words. Not only did I feel bad for Belinda, but I think I can see others in my life with that same perspective and do better myself.