They are like the fragments of eggshell overlooked when preparing an omelet. They interrupt the pleasure of living. We’ve all met and known at least one person who is rude to others and nearly impossible to impress. On a good day, she/he is simply, brutally honest and harbors no illusions and freely shares her/his frank opinion about you to your face. You try to make excuses for such behavior, but in the end, your softness only encourages more harshness. Since time immemorial, such people have always populated civilization.
Unlike the pieces of shell in an uncooked omelet, such people can not always be avoided or shunned. The person could be a parent or sibling. You may have encountered such a person in school like a teacher or the class bully. In daily life such an abrasive person could be the supervisor or a coworker. Perhaps a politician or media commentator comes to mind. Despite all efforts to return rudeness with kindness, the toxicity remains or escalates. If we do not have the option of leaving, we must stay and learn how to cope with the psychological storm.
Humanity is not a monolithic species. We have various thoughts and reactions to events. We grew up under different circumstances. These life experiences affect people in a myriad of ways. We develop our own, personal truths to help us cope and hopefully thrive. However, when coping mechanisms include harming others through slander or harsh physical treatment, great damage to individuals and society begin. Efforts towards equity and compassion are brushed off as mere “political correctness”. True empathy and concern for the welfare of others from such an individual is improbable. Being near an aggressively harsh person feels like being threatened by a mental forest fire. Such individuals burn whomever they touch. Meantime, their inflexibility feels stagnant and frustrating. The inflexibility acts as fuel for the harsh inferno. If one cannot form a firebreak, all one can do is evacuate, if possible.
Anyone who has encountered or had to endure sustained coexistence with such people will describe their experiences as struggles. One reaction is that victims of inflexibility and harsh behavior is to self-isolate and cocoon themselves. Within such a place they hope nobody will cause harm. In turn, the isolation can inadvertently fuel inflexibility and protectiveness within the victim. It takes a great deal of mindfulness and contemplation to overcome unintended harshness. For some, a certain sanctuary is found in forming a quirky, irreverent, off-the-wall type of behavior. They use this unusual approach as a positive, constructive way to deal with a cruel, unfeeling world. They entertain themselves and others by exploiting their own eccentricity. We might say that such people have learned how to positively channel their experiences without going into a state of denial.
There is a certain amount of resilience that is either innate or learned that can keep us focused and energetic. Despite harsh, inflexible critics, we can shed victimhood and not allow toxicity affect our vision. Breaking free of self-protective isolation, we again seek out true allies who encourage and support us to strive towards our dreams. In a way, we disprove our harshest critics.
As we live out our lives, we hopefully learn that stubborn, inflexibility is not permanent and must crumble to the forces of reality. Impermanence and flexibility win the day. Even the most inflexible, harsh person is not immune to ultimately experiencing the fruits of kindness and understanding.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the Indian industrialist, philanthropist, and a former chairman of Tata Industries, Ratan Tata. “As you grow older, you become–everybody becomes–less inflexible and a little more accommodating.”