I overheard an exchange the other day between a school secretary and a prickly parent. I sat behind said Prickly One in a chair whose placement lent maximum advantage in terms of eavesdropping as I waited for it to be my turn. I should mention up front that one would be hard pressed to find a more lovely human on this planet than our sweet school secretary. She’s so sweet that when first you find yourself in her ministering care, you are rocketed back to the warmth of the love and kindness your own kindergarten teacher once showered out upon you. You just can’t believe how lovely this lady is. It doesn’t matter when you turn up in that office, she always has time for you. She smiles at you like you’re her favorite person. She is far, far nicer than I.
And so to hear the Prickly One speak to the Lovely One in a brisk stuccato laced with the certain notion that Prickly is on the very cusp of fury made me feel both especially interested and especially indignant. I love our school secretary. This love stems from the absolute certainty that she loves me and my children and the entire school community and that she would gently stretch a band-aid over my boo boo should the need arise. This woman would never forget the Polysporin.
I don’t understand prickly people. Do they know that they are prickly? Or are they caught inside their own skin and so are rendered unable to be objective and see how they are perceived by the world? Probably this is true of all of us, to varying degrees. But prickly people particularly intrigue me. Do they wish to push others away from themselves? Or do they do so inadvertantly and so find themselves baffled by the fact that they don’t seem to have intimacies?
If I were to venture a guess, I’d say that perhaps these misguided people view these sorts of exchanges as displays of strength. I think if we were to ask them, they would tell us that they are strong. The strident way in which they share their opinions with the world strikes them as being confident, perhaps. Maybe authoritative.
Are you a Prickly One? Do you think of yourself as being a formidable person who doesn’t take cr#$% from anyone? Let me tell you how you are sometimes perceived. This is your chance to hear some truth and to do so anonymously. Your dignity is safe here. When I’m done, you can return the favor and gently inform me how broken I am in all the various ways, for there is no question that I’m broken too.
The displays of ‘strength’ you feel so proud of are precisely why you’ll find perhaps that you aren’t surrounded by whirls of fulfilling life-long friendship. Witnessing these displays of yours is what makes others think that you won’t be the one to spring to mind next time they call a friend for coffee and laughing. Relationship with you feels a lot like work to regular folk. Perhaps you’re overly sensitive and you are quick to offend. You delight in drawing deep, pronounced lines in the sand of opinion. You like to say things like Well YOU may be comfortable with that, but I would never dream of doing such a thing.
Here’s my tip for you: Just be nice. If you’re ever tossing between two things to say, always just err on the side of kindness. You may, as I do, err from that point into the realm of saying stupid things without thinking that are construed as insensitive and/or unkind, but never do it again on purpose. You’ll find that over time, you may not feel that burning desire to share your vitriole with all the various people littering your path that day. You’re not changing their opinions anyway. You’re just assuring yourself a lonely future. That’s far less than you deserve. So just be nice. And remember that that school secretary is doing her best and that she deserves yours right back in kind.