How to Do the Right Thing
I'd like to start by introducing you to someone very special. She's nine years old, in the fourth grade, desperate to fit in, but always a little odd and out of sync. She talks so much, keeps her desk messy and deeply wants to be good and accepted. She's me, many years ago.
When I was in the fourth grade I was deeply involved in church. Church was everything to me. It was the place I found all of my best friends, the place I felt most accepted, and the place I turned to for guidance. Especially with my young, formative mind, I absorbed everything I learned at church and earnestly tried to apply it to my daily life. Sometimes too earnestly, as you'll soon be able to tell.
At school, I was constantly getting in trouble for talking too much. I've always been a quick learner and fast at completing worksheets or exercises. When I would finish an assignment before my peers, what can I say, I got bored. Often this would lead to me talking to my neighbor or distracting others. It wasn't malicious, I just needed something else to do.
After getting in trouble for talking for the thousandth time, I decided to try and change my ways. Unfortunately, my friend (we'll call her Jenny) didn't exactly get that memo. She always wanted to talk, especially when she thought I could help her with the answers to questions I had already completed. So the cycle would continue as I gave in and started chatting away with Jenny, and of course ultimately got punished by my teacher for talking during class. Epic fail.
I didn't know what to do about the issue, and exercising self-control certainly wasn't an option. I searched and searched for a solution to no avail until, one day at church, my beacon of hope appeared. A solution presented itself during the sermon.
I remember the pastor telling us about friendships and how important they were. Friendships, he said, could make or break us depending on if the friend was good or bad. Nine-year-old me nodded along emphatically to this, taking notes in my miniature notebook. Of course, I thought, this is the reason I'm always getting in trouble in class: Bad friends.
Then, we were told exactly what we should do about our bad friends.
You shouldn't be friends with people who are leading you astray, instead try to find friendships that are positive and uplifting.
This was my Aha! Moment.
Here's something you need to know about this smaller version of me, I took things very much to heart, especially coming from a pastor. If someone told me I needed to stop being friends with someone in order to be a good person, I would actually (try to) follow through, 100%.
So what was a girl to do other than cut this toxic friend out of my life.
Upon returning to school the following Monday, I knew what I needed to do. I wrote a little note to Jenny explaining that I could no longer be her friend because she was a bad person leading me astray. I asked her not to speak to me anymore, and I delivered this note with a great deal of ceremony during lunch.
The next thing I know, Jenny was crying and crumpled the little note into the trashcan.
And the next thing after that involved one of the guidance counselors fishing that note out of the trash and calling me promptly to her office.
Here's something else you should know about me then and now: I hate disappointing authority figures. If a teacher, parent, boss, older person of any kind is disappointed in me, that's just about the worst feeling you could imagine. I always, without fail, will clam up and probably cry.
This counselor was someone I respected and looked up to, also an adult, and trying to explain to her that my church told me I shouldn't be friends with negative people went about as well as you'd expect during the circumstances. I was forced to repent for my actions and apologize to my friend, who remained my friend throughout elementary school.
I'm not totally sure what the takeaway is, even though I learned a lot from this encounter. I learned that there's nuance to doing the right thing. While you probably shouldn't be friends with people who are actually negatively influencing your life, you also probably shouldn't be a b-word to people or tell someone you don't want to be friends anymore through a note (or a text!!!!).
I'm still learning about communication and confrontation. It's a lot easier to write down the reasons you don't want to be someone's friend on a piece of paper and make your friend deliver it to them than it is to actually talk to someone about your feelings. I've done this many times in my life. I keep re-learning this lesson every time.
With technological advances enabling avoidance, I've personally sent texts and Facebook messages to people I had an issue with instead of talking it out with them face-to-face.
And guess what? That sucks.
You are not the bigger person if you're unable to go through with confronting someone.
Despite what you tell yourself to make yourself feel better, sending a text is not softening the blow. It's just letting you off easy and probably hurting someone else.
Now, I'm trying to be better about this. It's definitely not the easy thing to do, but there's a lot of maturity in being able to discuss your issues with others. What if I had simply talked to my friend, Jenny, way back then and asked her to stop distracting me during class? Or, what if I had talked to the teacher about my struggle and asked for help?
Would both of those things have been hard and humbling? For sure. But it would've make me less of a jerk-face to my friend, and it probably wouldn't have ended up with me getting in trouble in the middle of lunch that day.
There are some lessons we can only learn with time and through failure. I wish I could say I learned this lesson about confrontation when I was in fourth grade, but sadly, I didn't. I'm hoping I'm closer to learning it now, though. I try my best to have hard conversations even when I don't want to, and it's uncomfortable or awkward or sucks. I hope we can all do the same and be better friends to the people around us.
What tips do you have for having difficult conversations? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
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