Human storms and other natural catastrophes

Pilots avoid thunderstorms. Sea captains avoid hurricanes. But there are human storms walking around us as well, that most of us just need to tolerate, because they’re almost impossible to avoid.

IMG_2279They’re well-meaning people, bless their hearts. Of no particular race, color or creed, they span – and spam – all spectra of life. You know who I’m talking about because you’ve had to deal with them. Those people who walk into a room and create chaos, sometimes even before they open their mouths. They simply exude social static.

Nothing’s ever their fault. And there’s always something they can improve in your current situation, even though they know nothing about it. In short, they’re kind-hearted, generous, energy-sucking vampires. Don’t ever, ever let them know you may have a problem. They’ll invade your life until either you or the problem is minimized by the new ones they create.

And the good news? If you [or I] are one of these people, we’re oblivious to the effects we have on others. We don’t know and don’t recognize any of these symptoms in ourselves.

Did I mention they’re usually loud? Very loud. The kind of people who talk, stop talking, and start talking again. In between they’re either taking a breath or planning their next pronouncement. Listening and understanding are not high on their list of skills or priorities. It becomes next to impossible to concentrate on what you’re doing. There’s a phrase that fits them – one I thought I’d come up with on my own but later found out I’d swiped from Oscar Wilde: “…talks more and says less than anybody I’ve ever met.”

OK, not every one of them is a talker. Some are silent but oblivious. Have you ever been in a coffee shop or pub with a bunch of friends and one of these people takes a seat in the middle of your group, opens their laptop and proceeds to ignore all of you around them?

When I’ve had them as clients, I’ve resigned. When that was unfeasible, I structured situations so we’d be fired, discovering along the way that we weren’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last, people to “lose” the account. It became a point of honor at various professional functions as we swapped horror stories about the client from hell. He or she always meant well, but were simply clueless about how the real world functions.

It’s harder to fire a friend than a client. Years ago there were a bunch of us who’d meet on Friday evenings – in the spring and summer for as much golf as we could fit in before dark and during the darker months at local watering holes. I can’t remember his name, but his voice and mannerisms still haunt me, over 30 years later. He’s the person who’d start talking as you were lining up a put or about to tee off. Even his whispers carried forever. Need a pitcher spilled in a crowded bar? He was your man. Getting ready to throw your match-winning dart, guess who’d bump into you or lean over to whisper some inanity in your ear? I didn’t move from that town because of him. But I’m glad I left him behind.

Since then, I’ve been lucky. These people still exist, but only in the periphery of my life. They’re the friends of my friends – the ones we ask about when deciding whether to attend an event, the ones we try not to sit next to at a dinner table.

But these people aren’t bad. They mean well. They try to do the right thing for everyone around them, smothering people with attention. Oblivious to the rest of the world, myopically “helping” anyone in their path, they’re simply clueless. These people have taught me tolerance. They’ve taught me acceptance. And they’ve taught me to hold my tongue, no matter how far they drive me up a wall. If I can learn that acceptance includes eliminating anger and frustration, I won’t have to bite my tongue so often. These people are our teachers.

Do you have any stories you can tell without embarrassing someone? Please, vent here!

Because these teachers are good, well-meaning people. Bless their hearts.

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