It would be fair to say that along the way, I have managed to seriously irritate and offend a few people, such that they’re either made that very vocal, or stopped speaking to me. Thinking about this last night, it occurred to me that I am not at all alone in this. Of the people I know, the ones who are most active seem to be the ones who also catch more flack from others.
A quiet person who does nothing controversial and keeps their opinions to themselves is unlikely to make enemies. The more neatly you fit into the expectations of others, the less you ask of them and the more convenient you are, the better, if you want everyone to be nice to you. But is nice the holy grail here? Certainly it makes life easier, but as anyone who reads my posts regularly will have noticed, I don’t think ease is the most important thing.
Enemies are made when we challenge or offend people. I recall an enmity that sprang up because I said ‘I am doing this voluntarily, I do not actually owe you anything, nor am I obliged to run round after you.’ There have been several instances now where people have made it very clear they were jealous of me – a girl who felt I’d been given every chance and opportunity when she had none and who took that as a reason to go on the offensive. (I know this because she was helpfully honest about it.) There are people who, having done little with their own lives, are offended by the success of others, perhaps because it brings their own choices into question.
Of course, betrayal, acting dishonourably, cheating, being corrupt, cruel or otherwise morally bankrupt is also a way of making enemies. If you treat people badly and without respect, most of them will not undertake to love you in return. If it is not your intention to make enemies in this way, then it is important to listen to the people you offend and ponder why they may feel as they do. We all make mistakes and can cause offence by accident. If someone takes umbrage at your words or deeds, then it is important to give their grievances fair hearing. If you can see an error, then it should be apologised for, explained and amended. That’s the only honourable response. “I’m sorry you feel that way, let’s see what we can do to fix things,” is usually a good place to start. With genuine desire to mend on both sides, the damage can be undone.
However, there are times when any of us will decide that the person complaining has no grounds to do so, or that the cry of ‘foul’ is in fact an attack in its own right. It is not an easy decision to come to, nor should it be reached lightly.
I have not sought to make enemies. Where I have caused distress, I usually try to make amends. There comes a time when the same person repeatedly finding problems takes a toll, demoralising and distressing. I have learned that if you hit the point of feeling that nothing you ever do is right, then maybe that’s because you aren’t going to be able to do anything right for this person. The time has come to admit defeat and walk away.
Life is full of opportunities to learn. Sometimes the lesson calls for bending, flexibility, patience, tolerance and a willingness to change. Sometimes the lesson requires us to admit that we can do no more, and that it is beyond us to please or appease a certain person. For a person of integrity, that second lesson is by far the harder one. To be active is to risk offending someone. No one is obliged to try and make everyone happy. Making an enemy is not a thing to do lightly, but there are some people in this world who really do need offending.