I’m sure we’ve all spent some time trying to imagine what kinds of things get said about us when we’re not around. I mean, that’s not just me…is it?
In any case, I’ve been around long enough now to know the gist of what gets said about me when I’m out of earshot, based on things I’ve overheard as well as things people have felt comfortable enough to say straight to my face. As a result, I have come to the conclusion that one of the things that gets said about me, especially to people who have not met me yet, is something along the lines of, “She’s great…once you get to know her.” Or, “Yeah, Audra – she’s pretty cool and funny…once you get to know her.”
I have mixed feelings about being a once-you-get-to-know-her person. For one thing, in my experiences with having received this qualifier about other people I haven’t met yet, I can attest that it has only served to put a bad taste in my mouth before I ever meet these people, and how is that fair?
Why do we feel the need to prepare people for other people’s personalities? Why can’t we let humankind be what it is? Two times recently, someone gave me a negative qualifier about someone else’s personality before I met these people, and both times, I ended up really liking the people and wondering what the heck my other friend had been talking about.
What we fail to recognize, when we attempt to warn people about others’ personalities, is that these are “flaws” as viewed through our own personal lenses of scrutiny. Just because some part of ourselves doesn’t connect with a certain person doesn’t mean everyone will feel the same way. That’s the beauty of diversity. It’s the beauty of everyone being different. And it’s the beauty of trying to live in community and harmony.
Sometimes there are rough patches, of course. Sometimes there is a lack of grace. Sometimes there is insensitivity. But, given all of these built-in variables, why would we make it worse with further qualifiers? We shouldn’t taint one another’s chances of being human and accepted by qualifying our introductions with statements like, once you get to know her.
On the other side of the coin, as a person who tends to be an acquired taste for some (if not most) people, I have to wonder how much responsibility being a once-you-get-to-know-her person places on my own shoulders. How much can I write off with the explanation “that’s how God made me,” and how much am I responsible for being sensitive to, apologetic for, careful about?
Once at work, I complained to one of my coworkers about a client we were dealing with. My chief complaint was, “He’s so rude! Why do we put up with him?”
My coworker’s response was, “Audra, there’s room for rude people in the kingdom of heaven.”
This response, while incredibly grace-extending toward the rude guy I was complaining about, felt at the same time like a slap in my face. As someone who has spent lots of time being made to feel guilty for the abrasive and acquired-taste parts of my personality; someone who has spent a good portion of time apologizing and making amends for insensitive things said and done and feelings hurt; someone who feels a heavy burden to change essential parts of who I am just so I won’t be offensive to others—this extension of grace to a complete(ly rude!) stranger felt like an affront.
I immediately wondered, Is there room for my personality in the kingdom of heaven?
I wrestled with that question for several months as I skirted the topic with various friends and, with a select few, approached it directly. In the end (and with some help), I came to the conclusion that not only is there room for my personality in the kingdom; my personality is needed in the kingdom.
However, this truth is not an excuse to shirk responsibility. If I hurt other people’s feelings, I am still wholly responsible for making amends and seeking forgiveness. Just as grace is extended to me, though, so I ought to extend grace to others. We’re all on a journey. It’s so much easier to connect, understand, and be gracious when we remember that.