The Way They Are

A gal came up to me last week and confessed. She had enough of some guy the week before and she let him have it, which is pretty atypical of her. She’s a walking, living, breathing doormat when it comes to men. She wanted to let me know because I am not a huge fan of the feller and this was a long time coming. I cheered as she spilled the details of how he’d said one thing and she’d strategically countered with a barbed sentence or two, then he’d said another and she slapped him down verbally. It was a beautiful story. I was so proud of her that I nearly had to break out the Kleenex because this is not the kind of gal that has it in her self to stand up to anyone. Sure, she gets mad about being taken advantage of, but it doesn’t go beyond the occasional low grumblings and general unhappiness. As I was saying my, “good for you’s” and “atta girl’s” her face lost its liveliness and she uttered a sentence that still makes me twitch, “Well Beth, you don’t understand, that’s just the way he is.” In that sentence she had undone all the progress she made. She turned the villain of her story into someone who should be understood and accepted for their quirks and asking that I be sympathetic.

As most stories do, I was reminded of another story. When I worked for PBS one of the people I worked with had cystic fibrosis. It’s a horrible disease that usually takes people before they reach the age of 20. This girl was luckier than most and has survived to 40; she’s one of the oldest people with cystic fibrosis. She also happens to be one of the nastiest people I know. Although she’s hysterical on occasion, she’s truly a vile individual. I remember we all went out to a local festival along with her mother and some friends. Her mother was enjoying one of those large turkey legs and was making happy noises about when this girl erupted, “SHUT UP, MAMA! Ain’t nobody care whether you like that drumstick!” Alrighty. In fact the rest of the afternoon we all got showered with a string of, “SHUT UP, MAMA!” and “ain’t nobody care…” I had enough and my small group left them there. We luckily enjoyed the same tirades at her mother’s birthday and at every other occasion where we got to be around both of them. I was appalled and told this girl’s close friend who said, “you know that’s just the way she is around her mother. Her mother isn’t very educated and says dumb things.” Well, Lord help us, something dumb was said – no one has ever done THAT before.

A classic example of this gal’s behavior was at PBS. One of the staff used the company Suburban to pick up a donated piece of art. The Suburban was old and the back window wouldn’t stay up when you were trying to unload items. Unfortunately, the person unloading the art wasn’t familiar with all the quirks of the back end of the vehicle so when she went to get the item, the window slammed down causing her to drop the art. The glass frame came apart and the pane of glass crashed down on her foot slicing it open severing several tendons. I was horrified. The gal with the mama wasn’t. In fact, she chewed her out for being an idiot and then chewed out her boss just in case the newly disabled girl didn’t quite catch on that she was an idiot. This was her fault. She deserved it and shouldn’t get workman’s comp was this gal’s battle cry. Again, I was appalled, again I complained to this gal’s friend and this time he said, “Beth, that’s just the way she is. You know she’s dying.” Oh, I see. You can be a complete asshole if you’re dying.

See, I just don’t accept “that’s just the way they are” as an excuse. I don’t see it as some blank check that allows you to run roughshod over other people. Sure, I don’t like people to talk to me unless I’ve been awake 2-3 hours. That’s just the way I am. I don’t like my telephone to ring. That’s just the way I am. I can make a sailor blush. Again, that’s how I am. However, I can still manage to function without frothing at the mouth if there’s a kink in the pattern of my daily routine and it’s amazing, I can even keep a reasonably civil tongue. No one gets a big slap upside the head of Beth if they hand me a Coke instead of a Dr. Pepper. And “That’s just the way I am” isn’t my personal crutch my friends let me lean on when I don’t get my way.

“That’s just the way (s)he is” seems to excuse a lack of adaptability. Sure, there are quirks that it can explain away, but we don’t say “Jeffrey Dahmer likes preparing his own human snacks and storing them in the fridge. C’mon guys, that’s just the way he is.” That phrase seems to be whipped out whenever someone is being a complete ass and their personal champion is begging that the way you are doesn’t rear its ugly head in the hopes that you don’t lash out at the offender. Trust me, they usually have it coming so your part is to get out of the way and stop making excuses.

Be the way you are but with the realization that you aren’t the center of everyone’s universe despite what your misguided mama taught you. Surprise, there are other people here, too! I’m not suggesting you lose your identity. By all means, dance naked in virgin moonbeams if the mood strikes you, but don’t dance naked in my yard in broad daylight because that’s the way you are. I’m not going to make up a clever excuse for you when one of the Julie’s “handles” the situation.

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