How to Lose Friends and Irritate People

There are times when I feel quite expert on this subject. I have only to be slow answering an email or disagree with someone else’s opinion and I find myself in the Outer Darkness, weeping and gnashing my (metaphorical) teeth. Someone decides to enlighten me on Twitter, and instead of meekly accepting the enlightenment (meekness is a quality people associate with nuns), I drop a little pearl of (usually borrowed) learning before them. Off they flounce, grunting disapproval. If they see the smile playing round my lips, they assume (wrongly) that it is cynical or sadistic. The thought that it might be sheer amusement never crosses their mind. It is the same on Facebook — or even here on the blog, where you will find a number of readers have ridden off into the cybersunset, vowing never to visit these pages again, because I have disagreed with them, challenged their interpretation of words or events, or poked gentle fun at them and myself. Truly, it is easy to lose friends and irritate people when the medium of communication is the written word.

I am doubtful whether the spoken word is any better. When persuaded of some position or argument, we can be so keen to share it that we can be anything but tactful. I am not sure that Trypho, for example, would have thought St Justin Martyr, whose feast we celebrate today, particularly diplomatic in the way in which he rubbished his, Trypho’s, opinions; but Justin is one of those lovable people who delighted in learning, and assumed everyone else did, too. We have only two apologies and one dialogue of his works extant, but if they are not yet familiar to you, I can only urge you to read them. Justin the philosopher, the learned man, the professional seeker after truth and wisdom, was convinced by the arguments of an aged man he met on the seashore who spoke, simply and powerfully, of the prophets:

There existed, long before this time, certain men more ancient than all those who are esteemed philosophers, both righteous and beloved by God, who spoke by the Divine Spirit, and foretold events which would take place, and which are now taking place. They are called prophets. These alone both saw and announced the truth to men, neither reverencing nor fearing any man, not influenced by a desire for glory, but speaking those things alone which they saw and which they heard, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Their writings are still extant, and he who has read them is very much helped in his knowledge of the beginning and end of things, and of those matters which the philosopher ought to know, provided he has believed them. For they did not use demonstration in their treatises, seeing that they were witnesses to the truth above all demonstration, and worthy of belief; and those events which have happened, and those which are happening, compel you to assent to the utterances made by them, although, indeed, they were entitled to credit on account of the miracles which they performed, since they both glorified the Creator, the God and Father of all things, and proclaimed His Son, the Christ [sent] by Him: which, indeed, the false prophets, who are filled with the lying unclean spirit, neither have done nor do, but venture to work certain wonderful deeds for the purpose of astonishing men, and glorify the spirits and demons of error. But pray that, above all things, the gates of light may be opened to you; for these things cannot be perceived or understood by all, but only by the man to whom God and His Christ have imparted wisdom. (Dialogue)

Instead of losing friends and irritating people because of the desire to instruct or correct others, how about making new ones and winning them to Christ through shared enthusiasms?

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5 thoughts on “How to Lose Friends and Irritate People”

  1. Being enthusiastic about one’s faith has sometimes got me into hot water, and even irritated those who profess our faith. But Jesus Christ experienced the same when teaching, people couldn’t take it and walked away. So be it, some are not yet ready to hear the Good News and the message of eternal life. I don’t let that stop me sharing it. God bless you for your ministry.

  2. I love the imagery you portray of ‘disgusted of Tonbridge Wells’ flouncing off in a fit of pique, because they believe that their view (and Ego) are the only valid ones out there.

    I learned long ago, via this blog, that listening is more important, reading what is written, consider it with perhaps a prayer for inspiration before responding. Measuring any response against the yardstick of truth and hopefully with manners and humour when needed.

    I am happy to talk about my faith and I’m not ashamed to speak whenever it comes up, whether on blogs, in chat forums or openly among people who I might be with.

    I also know that I know a little, and that there is always some one out there, wiser than myself who are happy to share their wisdom with others prepared to listen. I never try to dominate a conversation, because I don’t hold the whole truth, only the tiny bits revealed to me in a lifetime of experience, where God has given me those blessings and opportunities that I am ever thankful for.

    I’m sure that I will not know the whole truth this side of the grave and I am content to pick up what I can here and there, through reading and learning, but also content to allow those greater mysteries (such as the Trinity) rest on their grace and thank God for the mysteries that he has revealed.

    I was pleased to be described in a recent reference as a ‘Liberal Catholic’ which demonstrates that my Catholic Heritage still forms me, despite my being an Anglican. And I thank God for that gift as well.

  3. I speak when I shouldn’t and stay quiet when I should make a stand. At the end of the day I try my best to understand all points of view, whether I agree personally or not.
    Last week I stood in a long queue to see the Shroud of Turin. I questioned the true intentions of many of those around me. Why are people talking loudly and incessantly about worldly trivialities, when they should be contemplating quietly and prayerfully about what they are about to see?
    Upon entering the Duomo, silence did in the end prevail, and not too many found the need to take photos.
    I suppose it’s wrong of me to expect every Camino to only have pilgrims, there are the inquisitive types too. In reality I was just as inquisitive as I was prayerful. At the end of the day, who am I to judge?

    • I suspect many will sympathize with your comment. How often in the past have I wanted to murder the person who coughed his/her way through a concert, or who loudly voiced their opinion of art or sculpture in a museum. The truth is, we all irritate one another unless we are living alone on a desert island (and even then, I bet we’d annoy the seabirds). We can never really know what is going on inside another person’s life or why they behave as they do. That irritating cough may be a sign of philistinism, but it could also be someone with terminal cancer, enjoying music for the last time. Even the noisy crowds queuing to see the Shroud of Turin are no different from Chaucer’s pilgrims on the way to Canterbury, combining religious devotion with ‘a good day out’. Bless you!

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