Thursday, January 2, 2014

Who Can I Trust?

When I was a sophomore in high school, it became apparent that, in order for me to graduate on time and complete the classes I needed, I would have to take a class during the following summer.  The lead special ed teacher wanted me to take an Outdoor P.E. class, but I wanted to take chemistry instead.  When I first told her that, she simply said, "I don't think that's a good idea," but, I continued to press her, and she later said, "They don't even offer it." Though the former statement may have been her own opinion--which she is entitled to--the latter one was actually a lie, as I saw a list of students taking chemistry the first day of summer school, which just infuriated me.  As usual, I vented my frustrations to anyone who would listen, and told people that the teacher had lied to me.  My mom said I was mistaken, because she believed that said teacher had never said they didn't offer it; my sister and brother-in-law, as well as at least one other person, said that my teacher must have been mistaken, because, as they put it, "A teacher's not going to tell a flat-out lie to a student." I wasn't convinced of either defense, though; I knew that woman said what I quoted her as saying, and she was too smart to be mistaken about such a thing.  Instead, she probably just lied so that I wouldn't keep pressing her about taking chemistry instead.  Thanks to her little fib, I sustained the worst injury I've ever had in my life.  Not only that, but...previous teachers--as early as kindergarten; no joke!--said or did things to me or others in my class that many of you older folks would consider unthinkable...but most of my coeval friends would not be the least bit surprised by.  That's not to say all teachers were that way; some of them were wonderful, even going out of their way to look out for me, and those who fall into that category would likely find the misdeeds of their colleagues/co-workers a besmirching of their profession.

It isn't just teachers, though; I often find that people who are in a position where there is some sort of propriety and/or decorum expected fail miserably.  No doubt you've seen or heard stories about police officers, politicians, actors/actresses from kids' shows, and even preachers who have messed up big time.  True, some of them realize their mistake(s) and make an honest apology; however, it seems like, in many cases, you can't tell someone not to do or say whatever, because that's judging.  Such people fail to realize the meaning of Romans 12:18: "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (NIV) Still, whether it's unbusinesslike conduct while on the job or "twerking" in front of the entire planet, it seems like caring about others' feelings has gone by the wayside.

I'll be honest: One of my biggest problems throughout my life has been paranoia.  If anyone said something that turned out not to be true, I automatically assumed he/she was lying; I was afraid to open packages of uncertain origin because I thought one of my enemies might be sending me a bomb; when I misplaced something, I almost always believed it was stolen; I refused to do certain things--Relay for Life, for example--solely because I was afraid of what my peers might do.  I've even gone as far as making enemies out of people who meant me no harm.  A friend replied to a blog post about tolerance with this statement: "One thing to keep in mind is that tolerance goes both ways.  I know some people don't tolerate you very well, myself included sometimes.  But it also appears that you don't tolerate some people at some times either.  Something to think about." Though I may not have realized it at the time, she was exactly right; when you go as far as changing your seat to avoid even seeing someone's face, even though that person had never done anything to you, that is intolerance for sure.

It's no secret that there are plenty of people out there who don't mind taking advantage of others.  People will sell items that they say are in working condition, even when they know that's not the case; others will be given money to purchase permits in order for a festival to be legally held, only to take the cash with no intention of actually using it for its intended purpose, which hurts thousands of would-be attendees; still others will get new release DVDs through likely illegal means and trade them in at MovieStop or elsewhere only because they know that they're worth top dollar credit, even though a simple background check shows there's a warrant for their arrest.  Those of you who use the Internet regularly know about secure and non-secure websites, and how to tell on your browser of choice which is which.  Unfortunately, when it comes to people you encounter in real life, it's much more difficult to tell.  Some people have a rule that starts with, "Never trust anybody who..." Some years ago, when I was asked what my version of that rule was, I said, "Never trust anybody who isn't God." The people in the room with me were offended, because that implied that I didn't trust any of them.  Honestly, there are some people I trust, such as family members and longtime friends; in fact, there are times when I've been too trusting.  I once asked a somewhat older female Facebook friend for advice about a situation she knew nothing about previously, only because she had just added me that day, and never has met me in person.  When I was explaining the details, she asked, "Why in the world are you telling me this?" I trusted her--and, therefore, was "telling" her that--for several reasons, actually: She was a woman, a Christian, somewhat older, and there was no one else online at the time who I trusted to give me advice for such a situation.  Unsurprisingly, she unfriended me a mere few weeks later.

One thing I do not want to do--but seem to end up doing nonetheless--is to question a true friend's intentions.  I say that because of what happened with my former best friend, Emily.  Before you get all up in arms, I'm not going to bash her, because I now realize that she did absolutely nothing wrong.  The problems we had were all my doing, because my attitude was completely wrong.  All we did was talk about my problems, whereas I couldn't have cared less about hers; when she was invited to a social outing by another alumni from our high school, I got offended by the fact that I wasn't invited, even though I didn't really hang out with Emily, the one who invited her, or really anyone when I was in high school; when everybody else was happy for her upon her engagement, I was furious, especially since I'd had a premonition of sorts about it, but hoped it was wrong; and, some of her statements seemed to contradict each other, even though the only reason I found any contradictions was because I was looking for them.  Unfortunately, though it'd be easy to say that I'd learned my lesson on that, I honestly haven't; I've despised people who never meant me any harm, usually out of jealousy: Why is he/she married, and I'm still just as single as I always have been? Why is he/she awesome at everything he/she tries, yet I fail miserably at almost everything? Why does he/she get to travel the world, when I've never even been outside of my own time zone? Not only did I say that I wasn't going to do that anymore, but...when you really stop and think about it, it sounds silly, right? Still, such feelings eat away at me so badly at times that it's tempting to just scream, "I don't like you; get away from me!" right in said individuals' faces, at the top of my lungs.  The only thing that stops me is knowing that doing so would get me unfriended, and not just in the Facebook sense.

I remember watching an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where Ray meets his cousin Gerard, who annoys Ray quite badly.  That night, Ray vents his feelings to his wife Debra as they're getting ready for bed, and she says that his cousin is just like him.  When Ray talks to his parents, they admit that he is annoying, but they love him anyway.  The writers probably didn't realize it, but that actually serves as an illustration of Matthew 7:1-5, which talks about not judging others, and the speck in your brother's eye versus the plank in your own.  My NIV Study Bible has this to say about said passage: "The traits that bother us in others are often the habits we dislike in ourselves." When it comes to questioning others' motives and wondering if they actually have a dark side, it's probably rooted in the fact that I was completely different person at home than I was anywhere else.  I was once discussing an issue about a then-friend supposedly lying to me with a high school teacher, and she told me that, because of the way my mind works, I have a black and white sense of morality--that is, it's right or it's wrong--and, for people without my condition, who she herself called "slobs," lying would fall into a gray area.  When I think about that, I realize that she apparently didn't know how I behaved at home.  At school and elsewhere, I may have been the innocent kid who loved the Disney Channel and Christian music, but at home, I treated everyone with disrespect, and, if something didn't go my way, I'd cry and scream, sometimes even turning violent.  No one who knew me at school would have believed that was the case.  It's true that I did have the kind of sense of morality that my teacher talked about; yet, it seemed that, at home, I did what I knew I wasn't supposed to do.  Yes, my behavior has improved since; still, the influence of my past causes me to doubt others.

I will end by saying this: One of my longtime fears is loneliness; in fact, the ever-present habit of me talking to myself is a product of being lonely, as my own voice was the only one I'd hear that didn't come out of a speaker or headphone.  When I was younger, I feared that, when I got in high school, I wouldn't have any friends...yet, when that time actually did come, I had plenty of friends.  Though I have lost some of those friends in the years since we graduated--and, in right many cases, I have no clue why--the friends I have at church and elsewhere more than make up for those unfortunate unfrienders.  Still, if I mess up--and we all know I can and have!--I could stand to lose those friends.  If I continue to doubt everyone's intentions and try to find their mistakes and self-contradictions, it'll likely end up that everyone except for my family members will abandon me.  I can't let that happen...but I also don't want to naively assume that everyone I encounter is my friend and is telling me the 100% truth.  That's the kind of attitude that gets your wallet, and maybe even your identity, stolen.  During the aforementioned problem with Emily, one friend said that wondering why my then-best friend added me on Facebook was "looking a gift horse in the mouth".  I understand that's a figure of speech; still, if I press my other friends as for details why they're even my friends in the first place, I'm asking for trouble.  People generally like me, and it's not right for me to assume that they're doing me wrong.  Now, if only I could stop doing so...

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