Being Nice When They’re Not

I have to deal with some rude people in my line of work. They’re demanding. They want special treatment. They want extra explanations. “Please”, “thank you”, and “I know this is extra work for you but…” just aren’t the way they go about things. You know the type?

It’s no fun. These folks are not just random passersby. I have to work with these folks long-term basis. My life would be sooo much easier if I didn’t have to deal with them. But that’s not an option. These aren’t people I can fire.

Fortunately, I have a high tolerance for such people, and it’s been that way for a long time. I remember a critique a couple decades ago from a colleague: “She suffers fools way more than she should.” It’s true now, was then, and had been for some years before that. It’s difficult for me to keep that frame of mind when I’m more stressed and more overworked than usual, but being nice is my natural state.

Part of my response comes from a high degree of empathy. I can envision being so stressed that any bureaucratic anything (and bureaucracy is what I do, like it or not) is unpleasant. I can put myself in their shoes, and apply the Golden Rule. But that’s not the only reason I respond without rudeness.

I go to a traditional Church, where every Sunday there is a prayer asking forgiveness for what you have done, and what you have left undone. There’s more to it than that, but the prayer is followed by a blessing and absolution from the minister. Your contrition is acknowledged, and you’re forgiven. Soon after that, you’re invited to join in the Holy Eucharist. Words and actions bring you back into relationship with the rest of the congregation, the Church.

As part of the exchanges of e-mail with these difficult colleagues, I’ll provide more information. Usually they’ll engage, we’ll exchange another few e-mails, and there will be a meeting of the minds. I am no longer an obstacle, but a provider of information, a partner in helping them achieve what they’re trying to do. I won’t see an apology, but the e-mails change tone. The relationship is a little better.

Going to Church on Sundays reinforces the idea that we all make mistakes. We all do things that aren’t very nice for the people around us. And, since we’re saying that confession every single Sunday we show up, it’s clear we’re not cured in one shot. We keep being a bother to someone, maybe the same someone, maybe the same way. But we’re forgiven every time. We’re invited to improve and sustain our relationships with the people around us.

I know some people, myself included, find reasons not to go to Church. They don’t like the politics in the Church leadership. They don’t like the message from the pulpit. They don’t like getting up on a Sunday morning. They’ve got other things to do at that time. But attending Sunday worship in the Episcopal Church for years now, I’ve found that I get at least as much from the repeated prayers as I do from the one-off sermons. Those prayers help me to be a better person in Real Life. And isn’t that what going to Church is all about?

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