Don’t Play With Mean People

May 21, 2012

The crying came from outside.

Through the open patio door, through a kitchen littered with leftover cereal bowls still needing to be washed, through wood-floored hallway and into my office.

I stopped tap-tap-tapping on my keyboard. Listened.

When it comes to child cries, there are three kinds: (1) I’m injured, (2) My feelings are hurt, and (3) I hope mom hears and I get some attention.

This cry was definitely a combination of the last two.

I waited for another minute, allowing time for the littles to work out whatever trauma had caused the tears. Only one child cried; the other two remained suspiciously quiet.

The crying grew louder, forced. As if that would fix whatever was broken. Still I waited, hoping the desire to play would overtake the compulsion to wail. Come on, buddy. Work it out. Just play, have fun.

The volume jumped again. This time I got up, left my office, walked past the cereal bowls and into the war zone known as my back yard.

“Sweetheart, come here.” I called the crier to my side, noting not a single tear on his face or in his eyes. Impressive theatrics.

“Why are you crying?”

“Because they being mean to me.”

I’d heard this before, of course. But I asked, just in case: “Are you hurt? Did someone hit you?”

He looked at the ground. I knew his answer before he gave it. “No.”

I’d address the mean girls in a minute. For now, he needed to know he had options:

“I’m sorry your feelings are hurt. That’s not fun. But guess what? You don’t have to play with them. If they’re being mean, calling you names or treating you unkindly, you have two choices: You can use your words, tell them how it makes you feel and try to work it out. Or you can walk away and go do something else. It’s up to you.”

This time he decided to stay, work it out. Within minutes, laughter floated in through the open patio door, through the kitchen and into my office. Next time maybe he’d walk away, find something he enjoyed doing that wouldn’t be spoiled by a couple of mean girls.

How about you and me? How much energy do you spend trying to play with mean people? Maybe it’s one or two in a your organization, your church, your circle of friends or—heaven forbid—your family. Do you follow your critics around, trying to convert, trying to please? Sometimes I do. I spend stress-filled days and sleepless nights working to soothe the irritated, satisfy the critical. And when they don’t respond, sometimes I even throw a fit, cry and holler hoping someone with authority will pay attention.

But that doesn’t accomplish a thing. We may have to work with mean people, live in a neighborhood with one or two others, maybe even share fried chicken with one at a family reunion. But the marrow of your life is yours to choose how you spend it. And who you spend it with.

You have two choices:

  1. Use your words. Speak the truth, share from your heart, and try to work it out so you both can get back to living.
  2. Walk away. And find someone else to play with.

But you don’t have to play with mean people.

P.S. Neither do they. So play nice.

How do you typically respond to difficult and unkind people in your job, neighborhood, family?



  1. Crystal

    Michele…I only know you incidentally because of a writers conference at Glen Eyrie but I’ve been following your blog since then. You know what? You’re a good mom. I think sometimes that moms need to hear that more often, and when I see or read or hear something like this, well, I just want you to know. For all the moments when you don’t think you know what you’re doing, remember this: you’re a good mom.

    • Michele

      Crystal, thank you. I have plenty of moments when I doubt my ability, feel completely ill-equipped to do this mothering thing. Thank you for a dose of reassurance.

    • Kay

      Crystal, you made me cry. And Michele, I completely agree with her!

      • Michele

        Thank you, Kay. And thank you Crystal for making my friend Kay cry. 😉

  2. Tammy

    Great advice for our kids and also us! Thanks for sharing.

    • Michele

      Tammy, you could probably see a literal light bulb turning on above my head as I talked to him. 🙂 Why did it take me so long to learn this?!

  3. Heidi Kreider

    Thanks for this, Michele! I think we all need this reminder from time to time. Sometimes I forget that I don’t need to play with mean people… and neither do they (um, yeah!).

    • Michele

      Exactly, Heidi! That’s what I kept thinking as I wrote … Uh-oh. I need to play nice!

  4. Danica

    Great post, Michele! I think we forget we have a choice in dealing with mean people.

    • Michele

      Thanks, Danica. Me too, and knowing that I have a choice (as do they) changes how I respond. Freeing!

  5. Michael Hawkins

    Michele – I try to see the best in people, but, bottom-line, there ARE mean people in the world. And I do not have to be part of their negative-ness.

    Sometimes, when I’m a stressed out, I tend to get ‘mean’. I have to stay aware of that and not let emotions get the best of me. Easier said than done some times. ; – )

    Thanks for sharing the story.

    • Michele

      Michael, I used to view another person’s bad behavior as my problem, something I needed to fix. Crazy as it sounds, I assumed (wrongly) that I must have done something to provoke it or deserve it. Now I realize another person’s poor behavior is their choice, not mine. And my choice is how I respond to it. Thanks for your comments and insights. I appreciate it!

  6. Brent Dumler

    Great blog…and very true! I usually ask myself 2 questions when dealing with people who are content with being unhappy. 1) Is my relationship with this person necessary in my life right now? 2) How do I make adjustments to the answer to the previous question? Honestly, though, I usually always find a way to limit (at varying levels) the amount of interaction I ‘must’ have with these types. Simply put, I refuse to let them drag me into their black chasm of misery.

    • Michele

      Thanks for stopping by, Brent. And thanks for the two questions. I agree, we have to set boundaries on how much audience we give the black-hole-people in our lives. There’s a difference between those occasional moments when we all say or do something insensitive, and making a lifestyle of it. When it comes to those types, I’m learning to find new friends. AND I’m praying that God keeps me from being a black hole!

  7. Elizabeth Flora Ross

    I love the way you handled this situation! Fantastic! And great advice for all of us.

    • Michele

      Thank you, Elizabeth. It’s easier to give the advice than to do it myself, but I’m making progress!



  1. Grace for the Haters | Michele Cushatt - [...] bag. But solid boundaries lined with generous space to be their imperfect, in-progress selves. Meanness doesn’t have to be…

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