I had a heart-felt talk the other day with I’ll call Sue. It was a good conversation on several levels until she began to talk about a mutual acquaintance who I’ll call Betty. Sue thought Betty was singling her out and picking on her. There was some justification for that, but Betty had also been struggling behind the scenes. I pointed out to Sue a few things to show Betty in a more balanced way. I pointed out Betty’s personal demons, struggles, and challenges. Surely establishing common ground would help interpersonal understanding, right? Wrong. Sue left the conversation saying defending her own superiority and that saying Betty was mentally ill.
The whole conversation left me feeling dirty and confused. Where did things go wrong? What could I have done differently? Sue’s bizarre view of mental illness is limiting, but something I didn’t cause or encourage. I had quickly challenged her conclusion. Her need for superiority is also outside my control.
I wondered how I could have avoided feeling bad afterwards. I finally realized that my motives were questionable –I wanted to help Sue understand someone she wanted to hate. By believing Betty was persecuting her, she could stay in victim mode, ignoring her own responsibility. I should never have talked to her about Betty, no matter how much she persisted. To avoid feeling unhappy and a bit repulsed, I should’ve disengaged. I should have avoided feeding the fire, no matter what my motive. Those aren’t my monkeys; that isn’t my circus, right?
I’ve learned to grade any kind of activity by how I feel afterwards rather than how I felt at the time. A walk in nature? Do it again and again — because I always feel great afterwards. Conversations in which I hear someone disrespecting anyone in a concerted attack always leaves me feeling worse. Note to self: next time, disengage. Nothing I can do can change that kind of situation. When someone is hell-bent on justifying their conclusion rather than being open-minded, there is nothing I can do. Just stop feeding the viciousness.
The whole conversation made me feel at odds, going in a different direction