Saturday, June 25, 2011

Antisocial Me.

People often ask me why I don't go out more, why I don't do all kinds of stuff with close friends - or why I don't seek out more friends than I do.

Well, people mostly make me nuts. I have a few good friends but many of them live far away from me now (one of the closest ones is about 4 hours away and she and I do try to meet up in person a couple times a year to catch up and hang out).

But I've also seen the kind of "familiarity breeds contempt" drama that sometimes happens among friends. And I don't like that, although most of my friends are pretty low-drama people and wouldn't go all ape on something I said that was innocently intended.

I was at a meeting at church this week. It was a meeting of the group of people interested in youth groups and childhood education at the church. (There was a grand total of 7 of us there; I was the only one without kids). I attended because even though the high school youth group did not meet all of last year (several people moved away, several graduated, and the one real stalwart remaining member was in his senior year, and was very involved with extracurriculars and college applications, so we decided to disband). I figured it was important to be there, and that "people might think it was strange if they called a meeting about the youth groups and one of the recent leaders wasn't there."

Also, a couple of the girls are approaching high school age, so eventually we will be starting the group up again. As always, if someone else wants to take it - especially someone more qualified than I am - I will happily step aside, but I don't think there are any takers.

Anyway, the meeting started out well enough, I have a new co-leader for the youth group and we've decided to do a combined middle-school/junior high youth group together until some of the kids age up to high school, or until more people join. We talked about curricula, it was all very positive.

But then things took a turn. The topic moved to Sunday school teachers. I'm out of that loop, being a teacher in the adult class, but apparently they've had some trouble covering the various groups of children. (One of the problems, I am sure, is that it's unpredictable week-to-week how many, if any, children in a particular age group will be there. We are a very small church and sadly a lot of the members work careers where they are sometimes expected to work Sundays).

The person who coordinated the Sunday school teachers for the kids expressed some frustration, and commented about how "one of the teachers hadn't shown up for six weeks."

One of the other women suddenly got very upset, made some comment, and stormed out. Apparently she thought the remark was directed at her (it actually was not, but still). The volunteer coordinator made another comment at her back that was kind of uncalled for.

And then it was like the dam broke. Another person talked about how the nursery was unacceptable because the children were shown videos instead of being taught. And lots of other stuff. And, I don't know, but we don't have funds to pay a whole lot to the nursery worker...and again, you never know from week to week hoe many children will be there...and I don't know, I thought the videos were Bible-story videos and Veggietales and stuff...but as a parent, I decided I was unqualified to comment.

And another person commented on how people had "complained at" him about certain little things, and how he was thinking of picking up his family and moving churches.

And what really killed me? I DIDN'T KNOW THERE WAS ANY OF THIS KIND OF TENSION GOING ON. It reminded me a lot of the church-split I lived through, where I really didn't know there were factions until the one group picked up their marbles and went home went to found a "new" church. And suddenly, I was scared: I don't want to go through another split. We can't SURVIVE another split. And: "Okay, if we split again, that's it. I'm done with being a churchgoer." (Yes, for a moment, I could see the argument of the people who don't go to church any more, even though they love God, because the people become so intolerable).

But here's the thing: complaints about petty stuff are a part of life. If you are doing ANYTHING other than just sitting there inert, there is going to be someone who can find a way to complain or criticize.

I remember when I first started with the youth group, wow, there was all kinds of stuff: they weren't taking the trash out at the end of the night. People were leaving cups of pop in the kitchen. Someone spilled kool-aid on the counter and it stained and oh noes, the custodian had to get out the cleanser-with-bleach the next day. Their tennis shoes scuff the linoleum in the Fellowship Hall, can't you ask them to wear dress shoes (Um, no, for three reasons: 1. that is a degree of micromanaging to which I will not go. 2. Some of these kids may not HAVE a pair of dress shoes and 3. If we're going to go out and shoot hoops after the lesson, they kind of need to have their tennis shoes on.)

And yes, it was annoying. And yes, sometimes it made me feel like a failure. But ultimately, I learned that some complaints you just have to let roll off you. That there are people who will complain and criticize, and they often never lift a finger to help out.

And in other cases, I just learned to be hypervigilant and not allow things to happen that could make us look bad - for example, after I got yelled at for leaving a door unlocked (even though we were NOT the last group to leave that night, and I locked the doors when we left), I just took to either staying until everyone left, or coming back later in the evening and checking the doors. And I made a sufficiently big fat hairy deal about the trash that a couple of the more mature boys took it upon themselves to empty all the garbage cans in the building - even ones we had nothing to do with - and take the trash to the dumpster.

So I get annoyed at people being butthurt over petty complaints. Sometimes you just have to realize it's not about you, and that what you're DOING is more important than what you're FEELING sometimes.

I will say the whole volunteer mess, I can see both sides of the thing. On the one hand, being a volunteer coordinator: been there, done that, never want to do it again. You get people bailing on you, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad reasons, and you either have to pick up the slack or find someone else to take over for you. (In one of the groups I belong to, the year I was President, I instituted the rule that "if you sign up for volunteer time, and you can't do that time, it is on you to find a substitute" because I had people calling me at the last minute going, "You're the president. Find someone to work my time.") Or you have people who agree to do stuff and never, ever show. And when you ask them about it, you get some excuse like, "I was tired." Okay, "tired" works if you have a chronic illness. Or are going through chemo. Or are heavily pregnant. Or are a single parent with several young children. Or are the sole caretaker for a very sick aging relative. But when you are in NONE of those categories: well, we're ALL tired. Dangit, I'm tired a lot of the time. Suck it up and do what you agreed to do.

It got to the point that when someone got all excited and volunteery about a project, I'd just smile, say "Great, I'll see you at [time]" and then just plan on them never showing - because if they did, fantastic, I could delegate some of the work to them. If not, at least I wasn't disappointed.

(And this is what makes me crazy, that I even have to do this. I never agree to something if I don't think I can do it. I may say, "I'll show up if I possibly can but I doubt that I will" and then later make the time and show up. Or I'll outright say "No" if I know I can't. But I won't agree to something if I think my enthusiasm is outpacing reality. I really genuinely think there are people who think other people love to hear them say "yes" to volunteering but who then don't care if they don't show. And that's one of the things that frustrates me THE MOST)

But on the other hand: the person who took issue, who the comment wasn't even directed at, they have issues, too: several small children at home, a husband whose work often takes him out on the road for days at a time, and a parent with a serious chronic illness (they are not that parent's caretaker, but still).

But the whole thing was just sad and ugly. Part of it was that I think a lot of people were stressed to the limit and things just snapped. Part of it may be that a couple people involved had thinner skins than they might have had. I don't know. Part of what was said may not have been said in seriousness, it may either have been said out of frustration or as a way of getting sympathy. I don't know. But it's drama, and I hate drama, it wears me out.

Part of the issue I have is that in my family growing up, if we said stuff, we MEANT it. If my dad said he was angry with one of us because of something we did, he really was angry and we had better apologize or try to make the situation right. If my mom cried, we knew that it was that something really bad had happened and she was very upset.

So I tend to interpret expressions of anger or tears as, "oh no, there's something really big going down" and not a "oh, that's just how the person is."

I will say I was expecting a call from the minister the next day, that X had resigned their position in the church after the meeting last night and would I pick up the slack they were leaving? Because that sort of thing happened before, during the split: the "leavers" just picked up and left and en masse delivered a letter of resignation on a Wednesday night....leaving everyone hanging for Sunday. (And the minister at the time was included in that group.)

Part of the reason I was appointed elder, I think, was that I was one of the relatively few people who was articulate, comfortable with speaking in public, and had the...I guess you'd say, moral?...qualifications for the job. Don't get me wrong, it's been an incredibly valuable learning experience and I've found doing it very's just, I wish I had been asked for a different reason.

So I don't know. The stress of dealing with other people and their problems just gets me down. I think that's why I prefer working with plants or soil or doing embroidery or cooking or things like that - because if you boil an egg the same way every time, it will turn out the same way. It won't suddenly decide to explode or not-cook or turn a funny color.

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