When I was a kid … well, all through my life, actually … when I would lament to my mother that other people of my acquaintance seemed to prosper despite being shady, arrogant, abrasive, manipulative, unkind, or even outright criminal, she would gently admonish me, “don’t be like them.” I cannot count how many times she said those words to me.
So while I was careening wildly across town late yesterday afternoon in search of fresh crab, I passed a reader board that nearly made me stand on my brakes:
It’s a constant battle to be true to yourself and your own beliefs and values when others use those very beliefs and values (such as being non-violent or generous or forgiving) against you. It’s tempting to drop to the level of those around you who seem to be getting ahead by the meanest of tactics, or at least play their game by their rules. If they hit you, hit them back twice as hard! If they betray you, throw them under the bus! If they frighten or threaten you, annihilate them in return!
But that would make you just like them, wouldn’t it?
It’s hard to be the bigger, better person when doing so brings no reward or imposes penalties. They still come to you with hat in hand and expect you to help them, but they never speak a word of gratitude. They seek your advice at every turn, then refuse to follow it and blame you when things go bad for them. They bitterly envy everything you have and are, even though they had all the same opportunities that you did but made different choices that took them down a rocky road. They live their lives forever in chaos but push you away every time you try to help them.
At what point do you just walk away and say “enough is enough, let them sleep in the bed they’ve made”? Does doing so mean you have to stop being you–the generous, loving, compassionate person that you truly are?
I don’t think we have to continue engaging with people who hurt us. It’s okay to walk away in self-defense. But we still have to stay true to who we are, and not let our emotions force us to act in ways that contradict our deepest values.
Mom never told me to “be like you,” but of course that’s the unstated corollary to “don’t be like them.” She’s always known that.