"Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you- not because they are nice, but because you are."
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
I am just going to be honest here.
This is a tough subject.
I have people in my life that are difficult. I would imagine everyone does. People who tend toward unreasonable demands, who can be unkindly critical, who dislike core components of my personality.
In the past, I would deal with these types of people by being confrontational. That didn't work so well, because difficult people don't typically tend to look honestly at their own actions. (And mind you, I in no way consider myself to be innocent and perfect in any of my relationships. I am open to acknowledge my own faults and wrongdoings. Which, I know, are plentiful.)
When that failed, I would, under the guise of creating "boundaries", simply refuse to be around these types of people. That doesn't work either, because there are going to be difficult people that you have to interact with, due to the nature of their involvement in our lives. For example, if the person is someone you work with, are you going to quit your job? What if the person is a family member? Are you going to avoid family functions?
So with those options removed, I was left with another choice. Find a way to deal with difficult people and situations with integrity and kindness. (NOT that I am always able to do this well, or at all! But it is something I think about frequently, and truly strive to accomplish.) Here are some of the things I've learned:
It's not personal:
I know this seems like a contradiction- if someone is saying unkind or critical things about you, personally, how can it not be personal?? One thing I've learned is that people have insecurities, hurts from the past, walls built up that have nothing to do with me. Sometimes, after getting to know someone better, they share some of their history with me, and a light bulb goes off. They are reacting to something I am doing, not because they hate me or because I am doing something wrong, but because they have a previous issue that hasn't been dealt with. In those types of situations, I try my very best not to take the actions/words personally, and move on. Being confident of your decisions and who you are- that's infinitely helpful in this, because you don't feel as threatened or defensive. You can just chalk it up to a difference of opinion and move on.
Plan neutral topics of conversation:
This seems so silly, and feels contrived the first few times you put it into action. But when I have to spend more than a fleeting amount of time with someone who I know may bring up topics that will make me upset or defensive, I try and think up conversation starters that could lead to polite, interesting conversation. Maybe the person is interested in a certain hobby, or books, or movies. Perhaps you could ask them a question that is in their field of expertise. Try and brainstorm ideas that you can use to divert an unpleasant conversation, or fill too-lengthy silences.
Sometimes the kindest thing is silence:
Anyone who knows me is aware that I am NOT a quiet person by nature. I talk a LOT. I am opinionated. I get passionate about certain issues. I almost incessantly joke around. Those things are part of who I am. There are times, however, when I can add nothing constructive or kind in a conversation, either because I disagree so strongly with the bent of the opinions being offered, or because I know my opinion or joking will be taken in a way other than it is intended. I have found, in those times, the best and kindest way to participate is to politely disengage and be quiet. You don't always have to argue your point. Especially if you have been all the way down that road with someone multiple times. They know your opinion. You know theirs. Neither appears to be softening. Why get your hackles up? Silence doesn't always imply agreement. It can also imply class, kindness, strength, and self-control. It can allow you to still have an agreeable conversation, later, about a less polarizing topic.
Think about Jesus:
I know the whole "WWJD" thing has been way, cheesily overdone. But sometimes, when I get hurt or upset about something someone has said that attacks or demeans me, I think of Jesus. He came to earth to save us. He was and is perfect. But a lot of people hated Him. Treated Him like garbage. Lied about Him.
......and eventually killed Him.
No one is doing or saying anything to me that even slightly, remotely touch the things that were done to Jesus. If He endured with love and integrity and dignity, I know, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can too.
I won't do it perfectly. I sometimes won't even do it well. But it is a worthwhile effort.
Being kind glorifies God:
It is important to remember that being kind to someone who isn't is not intended to benefit the unkind person. It is intended to be an act of obedience that glorifies God. This is a something to remind yourself about over and over. People, including unreasonable people, see kindness and are impacted by it. Even if is seems like they aren't. Even if you feel like you're being a fool, or being taken advantage of, or looking weak. You aren't. The only thing that is going to last from this life is the relationships we invest ourselves in. Sacrifices that seem to garner nothing here will look different in eternity. Remember that. Better yet, remind yourself of that constantly.
I love this quote from Spurgeon:
"A good character is the best tombstone. Those who have loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble."
Even the seemingly unpleasant things we do while we're alive count. So press on and do the best you can to love others. Even the difficult ones.