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Things I worry about less as I age: Making nice

Saturday, June 20th, 2009 by kara

When I was younger, I was a social butterfly.  I used to want everybody to feel comfortable around me, and like hanging out with me.  In order to make people feel at ease, I’d hold off on expressing my true feelings about what the people around me said or did.  Don’t misunderstand, I was just as judgmental then as I am now–I was just better at hiding it when I was younger.

I think we’ve all experienced those moments when, during a casual conversation a companion expresses a viewpoint that is shockingly different from our own.  When something like that comes out, one can either express their disagreement and try to change the other’s mind, or walk away from that person, or just ignore the disconnect and change the subject.  It depends on the issue:  Some issues are merely irritating while other issues are morally crucial.

For example, I have friends whose political views differ hugely from my own, and since I know they’re not going to change their minds and I’m not going to change mine, we just don’t talk about politics.  On the extreme end of the issues spectrum, I believe that animals are sentient beings and should be cared for as such, regardless whether they’re domestic companion animals or livestock;  people who disagree and feel that animals are merely property and thus aren’t due the consideration and care that we humans are mandated to provide for them are usually unpleasant enough to me in that and other ways to make it worth my while to avoid them completely.  If I’m that uncomfortable with a person’s values, then I shouldn’t force myself to associate with them if I can avoid it.

But I didn’t always recognize that my values were valid reasons to terminate a relationship.  When I was younger, I enjoyed being a part of a diverse crowd and as a result, I would overlook comments that truly irritated me in the interest of maintaining a polite comfort level among my companions.  I became an expert at masking my shock and/or surprise at stupid comments and changing the topic swiftly.  Sports is usually a harmless and neutral topic, and back in Michigan a reference to the Red Wings was usually sufficient to redirect the conversation to a less-irritating area.  Unfortunately, the Wings don’t play all year long, and I’m not really a sporty-minded person, so I’d have to think quickly and choose the sport appropriate to the current season

Nowadays, I’m just not as eager or willing to hide my bemusement.  No longer do I have the willpower and self-control necessary to hold back the “Holy crap, you just said that piece of stupidity out loud” facial expression.  I’m less patient with people who strike me as annoying or ignorant, and I didn’t really know why I becoming less-tolerant–until it occurred to me that it’s okay to express my intolerance of stupidity.  Lord knows that no one else bothers to hide their intolerance of what they perceive as stupid.  And it feels good to let someone know that I disagree with their point of view–when I voice my own opinion, I validate my opinion.  And if the other person is offended, that’s fine because I don’t really want to spend time with that sort of person anyway.  Dissembling (i.e., ‘making nice’) is a form of lying, and it bothers me to lie.  I don’t ‘make nice’ very well as I grow older and become more honest.

Time is short!  Why spend it with someone who irritates you?  Why hide your umbrage when that’s greater than the satisfaction you get from that relationship?  Shakespeare’s Polonius advised his son, Laertes, “This above all:  To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”  I look at it like this:  Even though you may offend someone by being truthful about your feelings for them, you’re doing the right thing in the long run.