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?


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