By Dr. Harold Sala
And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. Matthew 5:40
Life is full of difficult people. They cut in front of you in traffic, put their trash on your property, accuse you of dishonesty, cut you no slack for being human, steal your newspaper, and seize upon every opportunity to do something to irritate or demean you. Some do it unconsciously; others do it deliberately and with malice. They return merchandise which is half worn out, asking for a refund because something doesn’t fit right or was defective. The list of what difficult people do to irritate you is endless.
So what do you do? A lot of merchants play “Mr. Nice!” They know they are being ripped off, that the customer has taken advantage of them, yet they go along because they want folks to come back and buy something which they will keep.
Others choose to treat difficult people with kindness. When one family bought a small farm, their next door neighbor came over and said, “Hey, when you bought this place, you also bought a lawsuit, ‘cause your fence is on my property.” The new owner responded, “We always have good neighbors where we live and that’s what I would like here, so have the fence moved, and send me the bill.” Taken aback by the man’s cooperative attitude, the hostile neighbor eventually became a friend. Sometimes you disarm the difficult person with unexpected kindness. In other cases, your kindness is interpreted as weakness and it only leads to more difficulty.
What are your other options? You can respond to the difficult person, thinking, “Two people can play this game.” Remember the old adage, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?” But an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves you both blind and toothless. Jesus knew the law, yet He said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31). When someone mistreats you, you can plot your revenge but it is never sweet.
A far better response is to first try to understand the difficult person, pray about the situation, asking God for wisdom in knowing how to deal with it. Then confront the difficult person in your life. You can choose the time, the manner, and the place of confrontation. Jesus told us that we are to go to the difficult person and confront him or her in private. Before you confront, think through what you intend to say. Remember, you want to solve a problem, not escalate it. (See Matthew 18:15). Your attitude can defuse the potentially explosive issue. You can begin by saying, “I have a problem which I’d like to discuss with you.” You can explain your feelings when Mr. or Miss Difficult treats you the way he or she does.
If the confrontation doesn’t eliminate your problem, you then have to back up and ask yourself how important winning this battle is to you. Don’t gunnysack your emotions and hostilities. Let them go. In short, forgive the difficult person and ask God to use you to be a catalyst for change in the life of that person. Remember, you may well be the only genuine person who has ever graciously confronted him or her.
Someone once wrote to the USDA and complained that he could not find a spray that would effectively kill the dandelions in his yard. He explained that he had sprayed them, dug them, and tried everything he had heard of and still had them. The USDA agent replied, “Dear sir, if you have tried everything you have heard about to kill them and still have them, you had better learn to love them.”
That’s true not only of dandelions but of difficult people as well.
Resource reading: Hebrews 12:1-15.