This article is inspired by recent events at a place where I am currently working in a temporary capacity. I work with two women, one who is about ten years younger than me, and another who is exactly twenty-one years younger than me. We have a big personality conflict, partially because of a generation gap, partially because I'm not perfect and make my share of mistakes like anyone, but mostly because they have chosen to reject me socially for whatever reason even though they've only been acquainted with me for the short two and a half weeks I've been there.
It's not the first time, by far, that I've suffered this sort of thing from people who really don't know me that well. I've been through it many times, and even changed my first name to take on a more empowered Christian identity so that I could better cope with this cross that seems to be particularly designated for me in this life. I got baptised and changed my name, so that I could deal with this as a new creation in Christ instead of the weepy, indefensible person I had been before. In taking on the name of the archangel Gabriel for my confirmation, I took on a dedication towards modeling myself towards his qualities and attributes as a follower of God--insofar as a human being can with the help of God. St. Gabriel is, after all, an archangel, which gives him a certain advantage over me. :)
But the qualities of the Archangel Gabriel and my attempts to imitate those are a subject for a different article. This article is about how to handle the nasty situation of social rejection and passive-aggressive, catty behaviour that can get thrown at us by those who don't understand us or those who fear us.
Because I don't have the gift of telepathy (thank God!), I am unable to say what exactly has caused people to fear me, despise me or otherwise want to make a living commode out of me. I know that God has granted me a great many gifts, among which is an IQ that probably measures somewhere between 140 and 150, and an abundance of musical talent that rendered me a child prodigy when I was growing up. This is not meant as a boast, just an empirical fact. As a kid, I was what is commonly referred to in psychological parlance as an intuitive genius, a person with very quick-firing brain synapses which can result in having unusual talents or abilities. I was a child who was writing music for piano and small symphonic ensembles at age nine and who was winning piano and composition competitions right and left, a child who started writing an opera at age nine and finally finished it at the age of fifteen. My ability to compose music, which was almost something I had to do obsessively to have any amount of inner peace, peaked and culminated when I was between the age of eighteen and twenty-one. Then, at twenty-one, I had what is referred to as a burn-out. This is similar to a stroke; the synapses just stop firing at the lightning speed at which they were originally going, like a rope being burnt up quickly by a flame. When it's over, at least in women, it can leave an inability to create/compose/paint/whatever on the same scale as before. It can leave a woman with an enormous memory, causing her to shift from being an intuitive genius to becoming a cumulative genius, someone who stores and remembers an enormous amount of information, like a living encyclopedia. A woman who has been through a burn-out can eventually regain her abilities for short periods of time, little spurts of creativity. However, a male who goes through a burn-out generally never recovers the abilities he had before; the damage to his brain is more permanent. Men who lose their abilities due to a burnout will often break down emotionally and be susceptible to serious mental problems. Women will go through a lot of depression. The loss of abilities is never a good scenario for anyone of either gender. Any kind of stroke really stinks. The time in which a burn-out occurs in an intuitive genius is between the age of 20 and 35. If an intuitive genius hasn't had a burn-out by 35, his/her unusual abilities will not suffer in the least. Mozart is an example of an intuitive genius who never had a burnout. So is Einstein. Intuitive geniuses have a 50% chance of having a burn-out.
Anyway, these divergent facts aside, the fact is that geniuses of any stripe are often afflicted with great struggles when it comes to the development of social skills. So it was with me. I didn't actually develop the ability to hold a normal conversation or perceive group direction in conversation until I was about thirty-five years old. I still struggle with certain things. My experience in life has always been that people either really love me or really hate me. There's little in between. I have never, and will never likely win a popularity contest. It's something I've learned to accept over the years.
But there is one thing that I've also had to learn definitively not to accept: the idea that I'm somehow less worthy of love or possessing of less human dignity because of these things. God made me the way I am, and made me this way for a purpose. Therefore, to try to make myself fit into a nice little box so that everyone will "like me better" is to act against the way the Lord made me, not to mention the great fault in acting against the old adage "To thine own self be true." Really, no human being should try to make him/herself fit into everyone else's box. Everyone is a unique creature, a unique person in the Lord, just as the Lord Himself is uniquely Three Persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Being a person who has often had to cope with social rejection and passive-aggressive bullying (mostly all from women, which is why I'm really hard on my own gender and might seem sometimes as though I have a really low opinion of it), I have learned some things about handling these sorts of situations. I've learned, for one thing, not to put up with it. Never be anyone's commode, that's what I always say. Don't put yourself in a position to be crapped on. In other words, if people reject me, I'm going to walk away from them. Trying to get them to accept me when they have already made the decision to reject me is like that little puppy in the Looney Tunes cartoon who keeps hanging around the bulldog that always slaps him alongside the head. The puppy runs enthusiastically alongside the bulldog, saying, "Hey, Spike, wanna play? Huh, huh, huh? Wanna find a cat to chase?" The bulldog says, "Nah!" and slaps the puppy to the side of the road. The puppy then looks at the audience and says, "Spike's my pal!" Really? NOT! Anyone who is abusive of others is not a pal in any way, shape or form, and must be spurned not only for the sake of safe-guarding oneself against abuse, but also for the preservation of common human dignity. So, once someone treats me like shite (pardon the expression--no other will do) and I've ascertained that's it's not just because of having a bad day or menstruation, I walk my merry way and avoid that person from that point on. If someone craps on me once, shame on them. But if someone craps on me twice, shame on me.
Learning to avoid abusive people and situations is very important. However, the best things I have learned about coping with these situations, I have learned from the Lord. When the Lord Jesus Christ came into my life, He put all things into perspective. He also helped me learn to get outside of myself and try to actually reach out and love others. That's not always easy for someone with an artistic, creative personality and temperament. Sometimes, reaching out to others can be hard because of having a high ego about one's creative accomplishments. I started fighting against these egotistic tendencies when I was eleven years old, because I thought that if I didn't, I would surely land myself right in hell. Pride is a grave sin. So, sometimes pride can block an artist from reaching out to other people. But more often, it's not ego that makes reaching out to others hard for people like me. More often, it's having the tendency to be deep within oneself in the constant process of creation. Some people refer to this as "being in your own little world." It's also, frankly, not always knowing how to reach out and therefore choosing instead to retreat back into one's comfort zone. It was being baptised, coming to a true knowledge of Christ and being part of the Church that finally started bringing me around to some semblance of normalcy in social interaction with others.
In my present situation, I was starting down the path of despair because I thought that surely, at the age of forty-four going on forty-five, I should have arrived socially by now. How could I, in the throes of early middle age, still be in a situation where people were socially rejecting me? I said to the Lord, "There must be something wrong with me, Jesus, because I'm forty-four, and here I am back in the same place I was when I was nine, eleven, thirteen, eighteen. What gives?"
Well, Jesus answered me through a talk I had with my pastor this past Saturday. I told my pastor my frustration that it seemed I still had not arrived socially, after all my labours to learn the ways of social behaviour in Western society. He said, "Of course you haven't arrived, because you're heading for the wrong destination!" He reminded me that my destination was not that of worldly approval, but rather, the destination of the heavenly Jerusalem that awaits all who follow and stay true to Christ.
Today started as a day of suffering, a morning of being in situations where my efforts at conversation fell flat in the face of the two women deciding to ignore me and pretend I wasn't there. But around noon, I had a chance to pray, and I asked the Lord to deliver me from the despairing thoughts and pain that had invaded my heart. Note that I said "invaded."
Allow me, as an Orthodox Christian who must daily engage in spiritual warfare, to tell you a secret about the invisible world. When people treat us badly or we perceive that we are being treated badly by others, the demons take full advantage of that. Despair is one of Satan's most common weapons, and a powerful one. Look what it did to Robin Williams! Anyway, when someone treats us badly, this is what happens in the invisible world: a flock of Satan's demons surround us and these demons make all sorts of negative and terrible suggestions to our minds, telling us how mad we should be at the person who hurt us, or how broken up we should be because we're so despicable that everyone hates us. Of course, anything the demons say is naturally going to be a lie, but more often then not, we think these are merely our own thoughts instead of demonic suggestion. But I can assure all of my readers that a great many negative thoughts that suddenly pop into our heads are not actually from us, but from the invisible forces around us that want to lead us away from Christ. You can tell whether it's the demons or your own thought by descending into your heart and examining it: if your heart feels the emotion that goes with the negative thought, then it's probably a thought coming from you. But if your heart is revulsed at the very thought itself and you find yourself thinking, "How could I have that thought? That's not me!", well, guess what: it's not you. It's the evil one trying to make you feel like you have no access to God's grace, and like getting any better as a person is impossible. But we must always remember that with God, all things are possible.
But I digress. What happened after I prayed to the Lord Jesus for deliverance? What happened after I also asked His Mother, the holy Archangels and various holy saints to pray with me on this matter? (Note, I said "with," not "to;" Orthodox Christians pray with saints, to God). Well, very quickly, I began to be healed in my heart. I remembered that all of my dignity as a human being is defined by my relationship with God, not my relationship with man. This is what I learned today, which I also shared with some friends earlier this evening. I quote my earlier words:
I am not one of those people who believes that
suffering has a specific purpose to teach us some sort of lesson
(because if it did, that would be a violation of the free will God has
given us); however, I do believe (and it's affirmed in the
Church fathers) that when we turn our sufferings over to the Lord, He
can use it to help us or strengthen us in some way. There are two
things I've learned today from suffering social rejection and cattiness, from my most recent experience: (1) I've seen
myself in all the past times I've ever been unloving to others or
rejecting of them: all the times I ever got annoyed or grouchy at
someone and showed it, all the times I was ever mean to anyone when I
was a kid or later in my adulthood, and all the times I've ever failed
to respond to someone who was seeking my conversation or company. These
moments came back like a movie playing in front of me. Having been
shown this by the Lord, I pray that I may be better in the future at
being Christ-like. (2) I've learned that any concern or worry over
social acceptance is a worldly thing, apart from the things of God.
It's like my pastor said to me recently: I may not have a place at this
school, but I do have a place in the New Jerusalem. I may not be
accepted by all human beings, but I am accepted by Christ, His mother,
His holy saints. . .the Church triumphant and the Church militant. And
that's what's most important. The rest, really, is nothing but vanity.
I am reminded of Philippians 3:8: "I count all things but loss for the
excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have
suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may
And that's what I have to say this evening! Glory be to Jesus Christ our Lord, now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen!