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Last week I spoke to a group of employees at a manufacturing company. The topic was “Dealing With Really B~A~D* People”. No one is immune to these “challenging” individuals. They appear in our place of employment, our communities, our churches and most unfortunately our families. I’m no exception.
The group was mid-sized, about fifty or so in attendance. As I glanced around the room, I noticed a familiar face: the next door neighbor and close friend of my “B~A~D” family member. Oh, sugar-plum -fairies! Now what? I always reference my own personal experiences when lecturing. While respecting the identity of the parties I am referring to, I share intimate details of my life and the challenges, mistakes, injustices and triumphs I’ve encountered. I do so as a way of authenticating the lessons I am teaching. Speaking from my heart allows my audience to better relate to what I’m saying and find validity in it. It also gives them the opportunity to witness first hand how to apply my techniques to their particular situations.
Regardless of how some family members have treated me, I know they are very private people and would not want their personal agendas revealed in public. I thought about abandoning the idea transparency before this group and speaking strictly from my head. But it would be unfair to those present to omit any aspect of my program simply to protect the identity of the offenders. I made the decision to give my all. There would be, however, a fine line which I must take great care not to cross.
I began the lecture, making very broad references to my family experiences. Disguising the offending parties as different members and genders permitted me to speak candidly without revealing any identifying characteristics. And then the mother of all surprises happened: the neighbor/friend raised his hand. He shared a current family situation that hit really close to home. Wow, this is awkward, I thought. I could have responded “I know exactly what you mean. I’m going through the same thing in my own family.” But I didn’t. Instead, I maintained my integrity and presented a generic response. “I’m so sorry you’re in this situation,” I responded. “Whether it’s someone spreading rumors about us, speaking in a mean or hurtful way, ignoring us or showing favoritism, it’s important to address your concerns with the other party in an attempt to rectify the situation. Here are some steps I used with my family member.” I proceeded to provide a few tips on boundaries, communication and conflict resolution. I was comfortable with the way I navigated my way through a very precarious moment, confident I protected the true identity of my offender.
When I returned home that evening, my sister called me for an unrelated matter. I shared with her my delicate experience. “I don’t know why you bothered to protect _____. They already told the neighbor years ago they can’t stand you.” Really, I thought? I had taken great care to shield the other when clearly their behavior was not reciprocal. “Doesn’t matter”, I told my sister. “I need to live my beliefs and be true to myself. I’m not a hateful person and refuse under any circumstances to behave as such.” If I don’t admire certain traits in another, why would I ever emulate them? Don’t I become exactly what I don’t like? Be authentic. Live your values, regardless. Never allow another’s bad behavior determine who you become.