Is there anyone among you who would like to live with a man who pees in the bathroom sink and doesn’t even have the courtesy to flush out his urine such that the urine pools in the drain making the bathroom sink reek like a urinal in a public men’s bathroom? And when you point this out to him and ask him to not do it again, he becomes angry and says he is doing this to save money on water bills, and consequently he must be thanked for his efforts, etc. etc.?
Is there anyone among you who would like to live with a woman who argues with everybody, then when nobody sides with her anymore (which is understandable) considers herself to be pitied because she is constantly abused though (so she believes) she is without fault? And when you point this out to her she becomes defensive and accuses you of abusing her as well?
Welcome to the Land of the Un-Like-Ables, aka, planet Earth. Ok, maybe not everyone deals with people like the above, but some do, and some deal with even worse. How must a Christian cope?
I once heard that when St. Therese of Lisieux didn’t like one of the sisters in her community, she said to herself that she would like that sister as if they both were already in heaven; and she ended up being that sister’s best friend. Oh, but I ask, St. Therese, can you make the two individuals described above as your best friends? I think if such individuals belonged to a religious community, they would soon be asked to leave. Not that I am dismissing St. Therese’ ability to like a disliked person, but I doubt very much that the sister she disliked was as obnoxious as the people I have described.
This problem has bothered me for a long time until I finally asked my guardian angel how I ought to deal with such people. (I will write more on my intellectual and moral dependence on my guardian angel in a latter post.) This was what he said to me:
There is a difference between disliking someone for his/her amoral idiosyncrasies and disliking someone for his/her immoral idiosyncrasies.
Amoral idiosyncrasies are those which do not break any moral law or are not instances of vice. For example, a person has an annoying laugh – or rather, it is annoying to you. Another example, a person has a hobby which does not interest you, and you do not understand why he is interested in such things. If you analyze why you dislike people for their amoral idiosyncrasies, the reason is always because you dislike them for no rational reason.
Indeed, when, like St. Therese, you start to befriend this disliked person, you will soon find his annoying laugh or uninteresting hobby no longer unlikeable. Do not the best of friends usually make fun of each other’s annoying laughs or uninteresting hobbies, yet they still like each other very much? Peter will say of his friend John, “That man’s laugh makes my eardrums break and gives me a headache.” And John will say of his friend Peter, “That man’s hobby is the silliest hobby in the world.” Yet it is not impossible for them to be best friends for life. They make fun of each other only as a form of bantering, but it is different when they begin to argue for real. In that case, they begin to really dislike each other.
In contrast, immoral idiosyncrasies are those which break a moral law or are instances of vice. The above examples are immoral because, first, in the man’s case, he is endangering the health of the other people in the house all for the sake of (so he says) slashing a few pennies from the water bill. Even if stagnant urine is not harmful to the health, he is still making the lives of the people who live in the same house uncomfortable because nobody wants to use a bathroom that smells of male urine. This is a form of irrationality disguised as selflessness. The saving of a few pennies is not equal to the health and comfort of other people.
We might go further and analyze the cause of his irrational behavior. It could be a need to be valued. The man might think that he contributes to the household finances by saving a few pennies, and thereby his habits must be praised; and if he is criticized he believes he is not valued as he ought to be. It could also be attachment to worldly goods. The few pennies he believes he saves could be an irrational expression of his attachment to the good of money. (After all, this man also has trouble letting go of tidbits of trash like cardboard boxes and newspapers, and always seeks to find new uses for them such that the house is literally filled with trash.) If these analyzes are correct, then this man’s idiosyncrasies are caused by the sins of pride and attachment to worldly goods. Pride because he thinks of himself as worth more than he is, and attachment because he holds on to even the least valuable of worldly goods.
Second, in the woman’s case, I dare say that even God would not be able to convince such a woman who remains steadfast in refusing to acknowledge her faults even if they are already very obvious both to her and to other people. Despite the humiliation of losing all her friends, she maintains her innocence. By ‘convince’ I mean to make her bend her knee, to allow herself to be painfully humiliated. How much humiliation must she go through to make her bend her stiff knee? I fear that even the worst humiliation will not make her bend. Then again, perhaps she will a little in her heart at the last second before her death. I will leave this problem to God and His mother.
This woman’s idiosyncrasy is immoral because … well, I suppose it’s obvious. Not even the greatest saints would want this woman in her current sinful state to be their best friend.
People with immoral idiosyncrasies are the true unlikeables, and a Christian does not sin by not liking such people. These sinful people are like everyone else: they desire to be liked, but the problem is they don’t take the trouble to make themselves likeable.
Of course, ‘like’ is not the same as ‘love.’ To love these people, the Christian must desire their good and act accordingly. If correcting them is impossible, then offering up prayers for their conversion as well as offering up the sufferings they cause are the alternatives. In contrast, to like these people is the worst thing a Christian can do for them because liking them will sooner or later require the encouragement of their immoral idiosyncrasies. Hence, liking the man would mean praising his means to save water and liking the woman would mean taking her side in every argument because if you don’t they will think you have ceased to like them. No, no, no! Doing that would only make them sink deeper into their vice.
And so … Welcome to the Land of the Un-Like-Ables, aka, planet Earth. I hope my guardian angel’s advice will be beneficial to some of you who regularly deal with obnoxious people.