As a college student one of my acquaintances introduced me to the website for Homestar Runner . Being fond of things that are silly, I found much to enjoy on the website. One of the characters, Strongbad, answered fake e-mails in a dry and entertaining way, when he wasn’t busy working on his drawings for the “Teen Girl Squad,” which were also entertaining but thankfully not the subject of this present discussion. At any rate, one of the e-mails Strongbad answered concerned the privileges of his pet, whom he affectionately called “The Cheat.” A certain number of meritorious deeds earned The Cheat an upgrade in his privileges, allowing him to sleep in the crisper drawer of the fridge, among other benefits. This particular reference comes to mind not only because it is odd, but also because it provides an example of the way that I operate that other people do not always appear to recognize or respond to very well.
Yesterday evening I had a series of interactions involving the upcoming senior brunch in a neighboring congregation. With extreme reluctance I agreed to be the point person for questions about the event, largely because after my hectic weekend  and my recent change from hourly to salary, I really need some rest. I used to be able to spend both Sundays and Fridays relaxing a bit more than usual, but neither of those days has been particularly relaxing of late, and as someone not blessed with a particularly large amount of energy relative to the demands that I place on myself, I am feeling more than usually frazzled as a response, especially since I have not had a good night’s sleep in ages. As it happens, one person was looking for a ride, someone who lives in an inconvenient location and who does not represent the most enjoyable company. With as much delicacy as possible, I communicated that I would give a ride as a last resort but that I was concerned that it would not be an enjoyable experience for me in light of her conduct on Pentecost. She replied that she thought we were close enough friends for her to be free engaging in negative commentary, even though she was mistaken.
This appears to be a common problem. I am not a particularly easy person for others to get close to. The passage of time does not improve intimacy or ease previous difficulties in the absence of communication and a change of behavior. People who know me only superficially will never get beyond a certain superficial level of friendliness. Those who show themselves not to be particularly gentle with me will not find me opening up to them. As I have commented on various occasions , I am the keeper of a fortress to protect my own sensitive heart in a world that has not been particularly kind. There are a great many people who appear to think that I enjoy hearing people give what they consider to be harsh truths, when I have little interest in receiving any communication that even remotely borders on harsh unless someone has proven repeatedly and consistently their own loyalty to my best interests and their own kindness towards me. Most people simply do not understand the low trust in which I hold others, and they are not equipped to respond thoughtfully to this. Such people may only be thinking about how they can be considered to be experts capable of sharing from their store of wisdom and not on how that supposed wisdom is going to be received. That is a problem that none of us is immune to.
How do we know where we stand with other people? Most of the time we have a pretty good idea from how we are treated relative to others, but there may be people whose bland politeness does not give a great deal of insight in how they feel about others. Perhaps the best thing to do is to ask. If one has in mind some sort of constructive criticism, or one has the desire to say anything that could be taken negatively, it is a good idea simply to make sure that one has that sort of privilege. It is likely that many times people simply engage in communication that other people simply are not interested in listening to and that will only serve to offend. Without a doubt I have done this at times being a person with a fairly relentless sense of personal expression. What sort of privileges do we have with regards to other people and what sort of privileges do others have with us? We would do better to ask before we offend, and perhaps even the act of asking will demonstrate a respect to the sensitivities of others that cannot but help make our world at least a little bit less full of conflict. There are enough negative things we all say and write that we would not suffer by saying less.
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