Recently I was reading my favorite advice column, Dear Prudence, and there was one sentence in an answer to a letter that struck me to my soul. Here is the letter and Prudence’s answer.
I’m an elementary school teacher and I just found out that root of my co-worker’s five year grudge against me is for something I didn’t do. I had an awful student teacher who I complained about. It turns out my colleague was mistakenly told my comments were directed at her. Now I know why this other teacher threw lesson plans at me and has given me the silent treatment since then. Fortunately we worked in different buildings. But she alienated everyone in her building and was transferred last year to teach in my building—everyone here knows about her problems. Her behavior toward me continues to be terrible. She refuses to even respond to my “good morning” at faculty meetings, even with other people around. Should I try to clear this up? I don’t want her bizarre grudge to make people think I’m part of the problem. But I can’t imagine going to my male principal to explain this ridiculous situation. Should I accept that there’s nothing I can do about this crazy co-worker?
—Trying To Be the Bigger Person
I hope someone at your school is concerned that such a paranoid, explosive, and immature person instructing our youngest citizens. I doubt that someone who alienates an entire building of colleagues is capable of setting an example for the kids. But you should try to straighten things out with her. Though she’s not speaking to you, ask her to join you for a cup of coffee. Even if she refuses, tell her on the spot that you heard there was a misunderstanding between you two several years ago. It turns out she mistakenly was told that you were talking about her when you were actually describing a low-performing student teacher. (I don’t buy this story, by the way. This woman seeks out enemies.) Maybe that will be enough to get her to treat you with minimal courtesy. If not, go to the principal. Given her reputation, he probably won’t be surprised he has a teacher in his midst who is capable of carrying on a five-year tantrum.
Ooh boy, “this woman seeks out enemies.” I stopped reading immediately after that sentence and sat and reflected on this. Are you the kind of person who seeks out enemies or friends? This is probably a good question to ask ourselves from time to time.
My maternal grandfather was one of the most wonderful people I have ever known. Every one I know who knew him held him in high regard. People instantly respected me when they knew I was Vic’s granddaughter. He worked as a door greeter at a popular discount warehouse in my town after he retired and the frequent customers of that store loved him. When he finally quit that store in his mid ’80’s, the store manager sent a limo to pick him up on his last shift, when he walked in all of the employees were there giving him a standing ovation, there was a party and cake, they hired a Big Band to play his favorite music, they gave him a gold watch and a lifetime free membership to this store, and had him sit in a recliner for his entire shift while he greeted customers. Whenever I was in his presence, he made me feel special, loved, beautiful, and secure. Why did people love my grandfather so much? Why was he adored and respected? Because his life philosophy was that he had never met a stranger, he only met friends. He was a man without enemies.
I always look back on my grandfather’s legacy of humor and kindness and want to emulate it in my life. He was a peacemaker and could not stand contention, and I want to be like that. I’m more of the philosophy that peace will only be superficial as long as the underlying problems are never addressed. I want to root out the problems and fix them before I can feel like there is real peace. But there is something to be said about my grandpa’s approach of letting things go, lying down your load, accepting things as they are, and being happy regardless.
So, seeking out enemies…why do others do this? Why do they delight in “hating” others? Why do they want to build walls around themselves so that they never have to get close to anyone? Why is it easier to find faults with others and wait for them to screw up so that we can be justified in being angry with them? I don’t know. I’d rather seek out friends than enemies.
If I were Prudence my advice would have been a little different. I would have told the teacher that it doesn’t matter if the other teacher believes 5 years ago she may or may have not gossiped about her, this woman, as evidenced by her behavior of alienating everyone around her, would have eventually found something to be mad at her for so she could hold it against her the rest of her life and never forgive her. I have sympathy for this teacher who’s life is so awful she has to make others miserable. Someone must have really hurt her and now this is the only way she knows how to cope — by alienating everyone around her. So this other teacher who is trying to make this spurned teacher understand that she wasn’t gossiping about her needs to leave it alone, let it go, and be happy regardless. No matter what she does, this other teacher is seeking out enemies. It doesn’t matter if they did work things out over this one issue. Next week this teacher will find something else to be mad at her for. And eventually she’ll alienate everyone in her life so that she is alone in her unhappiness. She seeks out enemies. Leave her alone. There is nothing you can do. Be happy regardless this situation or this person ever changes because you can’t change her.