Meanness surprises me.

Sometimes I stumble onto blog comments (not here, thank you) laced with enough vitriol to make my eyeballs burst into flames. Even Facebook can become, at times, a harsh, venting free-for-all excused as “authenticity.” And, as much as I wish it weren’t true, I know of a few people do NOT think I hung the moon and make sure I know it.

(My husband reassures me everyone has a couple of these, yes?)

Overall, people are kind and well-intentioned. I’m surrounded by a positive, affirming group of friends and co-workers, both online and in person. But occasionally I read a malicious blog comment or post, or personally endure a rebuke or icy cold rebuff. When that happens, I stand gape-mouthed and wide-eyed. Did he really say that?!

Why, yes. Yes, he did. I revisit it again, try to wrap my mind around it. Then I recoil in shock and mutter, indignant: Who gave him the right? What’s his problem? Where in the world is his MOTHER?!

The more I write and speak, the more public my life becomes and the more I’m tempted to shrink into some private, guarded corner. I have no desire to be the bloody carcass of someone’s bad day. I am not tough. I’m a sensitive, people-pleasing pile of fragile goo.

I was taught to play nice. Respect topped the list of character traits drilled into my mouthy skull. And although I’ve blurted words for which I later had to apologize, this concept of kindness and respect remains a core message of what I believe is good and right and, hopefully, who I amโ€”or, at least, who I am becoming.ย 

So what are we to do with the haters? Shrink and cower, in an attempt to avoid all persecution? Tempting, trust me.

Lately, rather than raging or running away, I feel my axis tilting in, leaning ever so slightly, because of another core belief:

Even haters need grace. Not excuses, not a human-flesh punching bag. But solid boundaries lined with generous space to be their imperfect, in-progress selves. Meanness doesn’t have to be endured or tolerated. But I can buffer myself and my heart with an ample cushion of grace. After all, the transformation of a mean heart can only happen at the hand of a merciful God.

This place of billowy grace is not so much for them as me. I need room to keep the cruelty from disrupting God’s rebuilding. I could choose an impenetrable, bitter wall, which would provide ample distance but leave me in isolation. A cloak of grace wears better. It provides just enough distance and cushion to protect, but not petrify.

If you’ve received a hurtful email, cruel review, or harsh rebuke you just can’t shake, here are the truths that walk me out of the guarded corner (Note: It works best when spoken out loud):

  • I give [NAME] permission to dislike me (or my work).
  • I give myself permission to be hurt, but not consumed, by [NAME].
  • I am not responsible for altering her opinion.
  • Her response tells me something about her, not me.
  • How I respond, however, says something about me.
  • If I choose grudge over grace, it’s only a matter of time before I become [NAME].

How do you deal with an unkindness?