John slammed the car door and yelled, “Fine, I’ll just walk home!” and with that the car sped off while John fumed, “Uggggggggghhhhhhh!!!”
A hop, skip, and a jump away was a gentle looking older man sitting at a bench who, ironically, would not be able to hop, skip, or jump because of his age. While John was pacing in a circle talking to himself (the kind of crazy moment you have after an extra terrible fight with a spouse) the old man sat intently watching with a big smile on his face. After what must have been fifteen minutes of John flailing and screaming unfinished sentences like, “How can she… Why does she always… Marriage… What?” he collapsed on the bench beside the old man who continued to happily watch him like John had been singing a cheerful song and not acting like a member of a mental hospital. After a few minutes of John holding his head in his hands, the old man leaned over slightly and with a glisten in his eye cheerfully said, “I know a guy.” Suddenly, there was an awkward silence in the air. After a few minutes of this awkwardness, the old man cheerfully repeated himself, “I said I know a guy.” This time John slowly lifted his head out of his hands just enough to check to see if these words were being spoken to him. That’s when he saw the old man looking at him with a big smile on his face. John was confused. He was still spinning from the fight he had just had and now there was this cheerful old guy saying a very strange sentence. The old man cheerfully added, “It’ll make your problems disappear,” and he started nodding very happily.
John really confused asked, “Like to kill someone?”
The old man quickly replied, “I never said that,” and then winked.
“So this guy you know will…”
And the old man, while smiling brightly, slid his index finger across his neck in the throat cutting motion, and then started laughing to himself. John didn’t know how to respond. What do you say to someone who offers such a terrible thing with such a big smile on his face? He also didn’t want to offend this guy because he clearly knew a guy.
The old man added, “If you’d rather, he could just threaten the person. Maybe leave a note that says: “Breathing is good. If you don’t start being nicer, you will lose that pleasure.”
John sheepishly replied, “I think I’m good.”
The old man shrugged, “It’s your funeral,” and with that comment the old man chuckled to himself, “Funeral.” After this conversation John didn’t know how to leave, so he sat there in awkward silence until the man leaned over and said, “I have another option.”
Scared and curious at the same time, John replied, “Yeah?”
“I know a guy…”
“Yes, we’ve established that.”
“Who will go to the person and make fun of them.”
John repeated the man confused, “He’ll make fun of them?”
“Yeah, he’ll make fun of them good. He’ll call them stupid and worthless, and make them feel terrible.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure that’ll be very helpful,” said John a little disappointed with this follow up suggestion.
“You’re probably right,” admitted the old man. “Besides, I bet you’ve already tried doing the insulting route yourself.” John shot the old man a look, but before he could say anything, the man added, “I have one last suggestion.” Hesitant, John was still intrigued. It had to be better than the last idea. The old man continued, “I know a guy… who will make fun of you. He’ll call you stupid and worthless, and make you feel terrible.”
John was now more confused than ever, “Why would I want him to make fun of me?”
“That’s a good point. You probably already have that covered too.”
John could feel his anger rise again, “What does that mean?”
The old man coolly replied, “I bet as angry as you get with others, you get even angrier at yourself. I bet you have a constant nagging voice in your head that tells you you’re a failure. One of the reasons you get so angry with your spouse is her anger triggers the fear that you will never be good enough. You’re only angry because you’re afraid that everything your negative voice says about you is true.”
John’s anger was now replaced with awe. This old man went from sounding like a crazy mobster to a wise sage. What was going on?
The old man continued, “The answer to your problem is simple. You need to start believing you’re a good person who people love. No matter how good you are, sometimes these people who love you can’t express this properly because they’re hurting too much and they need you to show them love first before they can show you the love you want.” John just stared. “What you need to do is go home, apologize, say to your wife you love her, and promise that you will work harder to show her the love you have for her instead of letting your fear get in the way.” John’s jaw was now metaphorically on the ground, and the old man finished, “It’ll make your problems disappear.”
“But,” John started, “But why do they get to yell at me and call me names? Why do I have to be the good guy?”
“Why should you be able to yell and call them names? Why should you be the bad guy?”
John pleaded, “Because they started it.” As these words came out, John realized how incredibly childish he sounded.
The old man replied, “People mirror what you do for them. If you yell, they’ll yell back. If you insult them, they’ll insult you back. If you want to stop the cycle of yelling and insults, you need to fight the temptation to mirror what others do to you. If you, instead, help them feel understood and loved, they’ll be able to calm down and eventually give you the love you need. When people first start dating, they’re great at this, but they forget to do it when they get married. It’s like saying ‘I do’ is permission to start being a jerk. But as you now know, if you’re a jerk, they’ll be a jerk back. So I say be nice and people will be nice back, and if that doesn’t work, you can feel good about yourself for being the better person. Some people have bad days and other people just suck. Know the difference. If you’re nice, a bad day will only be a bad day. If you’re always mean, a bad day will become a bad week and a bad month and a bad life. If you’re nice but someone just sucks as a person, remember, I know a guy.” And with that the old man got up and started to leave while he laughed, “‘I know a guy,’ it’s funny because it’s true… I miss my neighbour.”
Still slightly confused, John got up and started walking home considering what it would mean if he started believing he was truly a good person who is loved and what being nice to his wife when she’s hurting could do to change his marriage. He also wondered if doing this was even worth it, which is the question we should all be asking. Is being nice, worth it?
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, Learning to love dumb people