Why Do We Sometimes Treat Strangers Better Than We Treat Family

Saturday, May 18, 2024

 Sometimes the people we love the most are  the ones we hurt the most. - anonymous

Have you ever experienced that to be true?  I know I have.  I recently took to email to share some 'constructive criticism' with someone I admire and respect.  As I normally try to do when communicating in a more formal setting, I carefully measured my tone and chose my words thoughtfully, being careful not to offend.  I wanted to share my experience and opinion, but didn't want this one small negative point to overshadow what was overall a very positive, and moving experience.  I've shared my  opinions with this person previously on a few occasions and each time, I felt respected and valued and just as importantly, I felt heard.  This time was no different.  These experiences not only made me feel relieved and glad I'd spoken up, they made me feel 'safe', safe to be myself, safe to be honest.  I feel confident that I can share without fear of an angry response or rejection.  

When I received a thoughtful and reassuring response to my email, I thanked the recipient for always being a safe place to vent.  His response was, "You always do an excellent job of giving feedback in a way that isn’t distasteful…which isn’t a common skill :)"   For a moment my ego puffed up a little but almost immediately I was hit with a wave of guilt - guilt because I knew in my heart that there were some people (mostly my spouse and close family members) that might disagree with that flattering assessment.  I thanked him for that compliment but admitted my guilt and the fact that my spouse may not always agree with that assessment.  If you can't be honest with your Pastor, who can you be honest with?  ;)   What was his response you might be wondering?  "You should do a blog post on it".  So here I am (and yes, he's that influential).

I'm sure many of you can relate to this story, and can admit that we are more polite and more guarded with strangers, co-workers, and other less familiar people whose opinion we don't want to tarnish.  It's the people close to us, the people who know us and accept us despite our dents and scratches, the people who have seen us at our worst that we unleash on.  Why do we do that?  Why do we let down our guards, release self control, and uncork our anger and frustration on the people in our lives who mean the most to us?  

I've been thinking about this a lot since this exchange and I realize that there are some people who have mastered the art of self-control better than others. The rest of us need work. As for the 'why'.....I think it's a couple of things. I think with our loved ones, we feel safe. We feel accepted - even with our flaws - so when we reach our boiling point, when life's failures and frustrations fray our last nerve, we've learned that the people who love us will be our safe place to fall. They'll understand that the daggers aren't aimed at them, though they may get caught in the crossfire. Sometimes our frustration is over that spouse or family member. I don't know about you, but I'm here to confess that I often don't use the same finesse or careful wording in expressing myself with the people closest to me. But I should, we all should.

Just because our friends and family accept us at our worst doesn't mean we should give them our worst.  Maybe we should work harder to treat our loved ones with the same polite respect we offer strangers and colleagues.  Because here's the thing, while we know our people love us enough to forgive us, the love that enables their forgiveness also makes them more vulnerable to be hurt by us.  I'm sure you've experienced the painful hurt that comes from the mouth of those you love the most, the ones whose love you treasure the most, the ones whose acceptance you value the most.  So wouldn't it be good if we worked harder at being kinder, softer, and more thoughtful with the people closest to us?

The last time I visited Sugarbush Lane Mercantile in Charlton (weeks before this conversation took place), my husband picked up a small framed verse that really speaks to this topic.  Here it is:


They say the world is round - and yet I often think it square,
So many little hurts we get, from corners here and there;
But there's one truth in life I've found while journeying East and West,
The only folks we really wound are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know, we please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow to those we love the best.

The framed verse had no author listed, but when I Googled it today, I learned that the poem is titled, 'Life's Scars' and was written by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.  There's actually several more verses to the poem.  Interesting to note, Ella was born in 1850 and died in 1919.  Her poetry was first published by the time she was 14.  You'll probably be familiar with her famous quote, "Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you'll weep alone".  That was published in the New York Sun on February 25, 1883, and she received $5 for it.  It seems to me our ability to hurt those we love isn't a new thing in today's world of less formal etiquette and lack of social finesse and blunt honesty.  Ella wrote about it over a hundred years ago.  That doesn't mean that it isn't something we should work on changing.  I hope this might inspire you, and me, to do better at treating those closest to us with more kindness and less prickliness.  They may love us either way, but imagine what a better world it would be if we all spread a little kindness starting with our own family.  For a little inspiration, here's the poem in its entirety...

Life's Scars
By Ella Wheeler Wilcox 

They say the world is round, and yet
I often think it square,
So many little hurts we get
From corners here and there.
But one great truth in life I've found,
While journeying to the West-
The only folks who really wound
Are those we love the best.

The man you thoroughly despise
Can rouse your wrath, 'tis true;
Annoyance in your heart will rise
At things mere strangers do;
But those are only passing ills;
This rule all lives will prove;
The rankling wound which aches and thrills
Is dealt by hands we love.

The choicest garb, the sweetest grace,
Are oft to strangers shown;
The careless mien, the frowning face,
Are given to our own.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best.

Love does not grow on every tree,
Nor true hearts yearly bloom.
Alas for those who only see
This cut across a tomb!
But, soon or late, the fact grows plain
To all through sorrow's test:
The only folks who give us pain
Are those we love the best.

Pretty wise, right?  There are many bible verses that speak of this subject, but one that stood out to me was:  Proverbs 31:26 - She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.   Shouldn't we all strive to live that truth?

If you haven't visited Sugarbush Lane Mercantile yet....you can check out my blog post filled with photos of this beautiful shop on Maple Avenue in Charlton NY....Sugarbush Lane Mercantile For more about Ella Wheeler Wilcox.....https://www.familyfriendpoems.com/poet/ella-wheeler-wilcox/

"Be careful how you treat people.  Life is the art of drawing without erasers."

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