When Not Nice Things Happen to Not Nice People

August 18, 2008 by  
Filed under CANCER

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I read the New York Times Best-Seller, by Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, way back in 1981. It’s been reissued several times since. While that book proved a comfort during the time of a sudden loss in my life, I admit that some of the biggest struggles I have faced have been dealing with the “not nice” people in my life who are going through disease challenges such as cancer.

You know exactly who I am referring to.

It could be Aunt Marge who humiliated you by mentioning that you have gained weight when you brought your new boyfriend to the family reunion and asked if you had breast implants just as dessert was being served and you were reaching across the table for a cupcake.

Or that coworker who has stabbed you in the back so often you no longer bother to suture up the wound.

What about your cranky neighbor who purposely lets her dog relieve himself on your lawn and left the evidence there AND denied it, though you saw the entire thing live from behind the living room curtains.

Sure some of these scenarios are humorous, but in reality they aren’t very funny.

This post has taken me weeks to finish precisely because it also isn’t very PC. It isn’t a topic we like to discuss let alone fess up to.

I recently decided it was time to deal with the person in my life who was going through a cancer battle while all the time maintaining the amazing ability to annoy, irritate and push my buttons.

Magnanimous, moi, reached out my hand in a gesture of detente, only to have my entire appendage bloodied and bitten off up to the elbow.

On to Plan B.

First I considered Jonah and the Whale. It’s a fable that rings true no matter what your spiritual background.

It is the story of the reluctant prophet who really didn’t want to have anything to do with those nasty Ninevahites.

So I learned that I am a lot like Jonah:

  • I don’t like being hurt. I tried and was rejected once and that seems like once too many times.
  • Forgive them? How fair is THAT? They’re the ones who are in the wrong.
  • It’s much easier to take superior stance than to get down to their level, which is obviously way down there. After all I have my pride to think of.

Of course Jonah wasn’t really victorious until he overcame these obvious issues and went ahead and sucked it up and did what he was called to do and helped the Ninevahites.

Then I thought about a chapter from

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey.

You know the one…where Stephen Covey is on a bus and is perplexed and more than a bit annoyed by the man who seems oblivious to his wild children who are running amok. Of course it turns out that the man is in shock. He is returning from the hospital where his wife just passed away.


Stop for a minute and consider this reverse in perspectives.

This was used as example of Habit Number 5:

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

“Be an empathetic listener. The key to empathic listening is to genuinely seek the welfare of the individual to whom you are listening. As you learn to listen deeply to other people, you will discover tremendous differences in perception.”

Viktor Frankl who lived through the horrors of German concentration camps, is one of my personal heroes. He shared this in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

“…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

So what am I concluding here?

I made a decision to be the person I know I am. A decision to live UP to the person I know I am despite what my feeling were saying in response to that other “not nice” person.

I am the only person whose responses I am responsible for.

In the end, my response or lack thereof did cause a warming from the “not nice person”.

Sure that was gratifying– but only for my selfish self. It is more important that I learned that my responses are based on my perceptions and the bottom line really is all about choices.

When “not nice things happen to not nice people” my response should be as empathetic and caring as sincere as they would be to anyone else.

Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible,
and of changing himself for the better if necessary.”–Viktor Frankl
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