Wouldn’t life be great if everybody was kind and loving? I think we long for this not only because it would make life much easier, but because it describes heaven, where we all yearn to go eventually.
Whether it’s a bitter sibling in your own house, an in-law who seems to despise you, a boss who continually belittles you, classmates who bully—the world is filled with people we’d just as soon avoid.
But that’s not always possible, and if we’re to follow Jesus, it’s not even advisable. We grow tremendously when we learn how to love those who make our lives difficult. Turning away from them only postpones the lessons we need to learn. (Obviously, I’m not talking here about abusive people with whom we must set boundaries, but those folks who just make it hard to get along.)
So how can it be done? How can our choices impact someone who seems to delight in our misery?
I’ve been blessed with a husband who is astonishing at doing this. I’ve seen him soften co-workers in various jobs he’s had throughout our marriage. And he isn’t buttering them up or being fake. He honestly turns these people into lifelong, loyal friends. He’ll go to lunch with a man who, five years ago, wouldn’t speak to him. He’ll go help another guy load his truck, a guy who needled and competed with him at work, until something changed.
That something was a realization that Bob genuinely cares. Bob is a builder of men. I’ve watched him make someone else’s success a priority, sacrificing his own accolades to put someone else in the spotlight. If someone rebuffs his overtures, he doesn’t take it personally or doubt the value he can bring. He just buckles down and works harder to break down walls and build friendships. Eventually the hostile folks melt into trusting and even enjoyable people. Sometimes it takes months or years, but his recipe never fails.
A man in our stake once told me that when he first got baptized, Bob was very friendly towards him. Bob greeted him and reached out to help him. “I thought, ‘We’ll see if this lasts,’” the man admitted. But his cynical worries were unfounded. He laughed as he confided to me, “It turned out he really was that friendly.” Another woman once told me she was about to leave the church for good, but then Bob saw her across the cultural hall at a ward dinner and walked all the way across the room to see how she was doing. A small gesture, but a life-changing one. She is active to this day because she saw how the gospel worked in one man’s life.
In Daily Joy, President Russell M. Nelson’s wonderful new book, he says, “Ask for the Lord’s help to love those He needs you to love, including those for whom it is not always easy to feel affection. You may even want to ask God for His angels to walk with you where you presently do not want to tread.”
My goodness, we can do that? Yes! When we are about God’s business, we can absolutely ask for, and expect, His help. And loving His other children is something we’ve been commanded to do. Repeatedly.
So make prayer the first step you take. Tell Heavenly Father your plan, and the person you’re working on. Ask for opportunities to demonstrate real caring (maybe first we can pray for real caring!) and then go about your task with God for a teammate.
Next, take some moments to meditate about the value of each person. C. S. Lewis once said, “There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” (The Weight of Glory)
Truly, everyone is remarkable. It’s just that so few know it. By truly believing that, we convey respect and admiration to others. Everyone warms to that; everyone recognizes the seed of friendship when this is shown.
I like to imagine the little child someone used to be. I picture them excited for Christmas, amazed when they finally rode a bike, tender-hearted as they petted a kitten, and even tearful when harsh words were spoken. Inside that gruff exterior is still the soul they were born with, the generous inclinations, the joyful peace of unselfishness, the dreams and hopes for tomorrow.
Next, let this attitude include ourselves as well. Too often we are incredibly harsh with ourselves. So remember the innocence and purity that we, ourselves, had as children, too. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said, “Too many go about their lives thinking they are of little worth when, in reality, they are elegant and eternal creatures of infinite value with potential beyond imagination.” Not only should we treat others as the incredible creations of God that they are, but we must remember that we are also in that group.
Next, see if you’re using a double standard. The Arbinger Institute’s book, The Anatomy of Peace, offers great insights on this topic of making an enemy into a friend. One of its suggestions, when feeling bothered by others, is to ask ourselves, “Am I holding myself to the same standard I am demanding of them?”
It’s so easy to quietly criticize and judge. But do we also offer equal energy to giving them the benefit of the doubt—you know, the one we’d like to be given? Too often we give ourselves a pass, while others get no second chances.
Sometimes it comes down to the problem of feeling we are right and others are wrong. And, surely, this must be established, right? Wrong. We must let go of that need to prove ourselves, to keep score, to best someone. As it says in The Anatomy of Peace, “The more sure I am that I’m right, the more likely I will actually be mistaken. My need to be right makes it more likely that I will be wrong! Likewise, the more sure I am that I am mistreated, the more likely I am to miss ways that I am mistreating others myself. My need for justification obscures the truth.” This is a powerful concept to consider. It goes on, “…when I betray myself, others’ faults become immediately inflated in my heart and mind. I begin to ‘horribilize’ others. That is, I begin to make them out to be worse than they really are. And I do this because the worse they are, the more justified I feel.”
I think we’ve all experienced this. Comparisons help us excuse our behavior and our misplaced priorities. Our minds are quick to justify our actions, especially when we’ve managed to portray someone as “in the wrong.” At the very least, we tell ourselves we have solid reasons for avoiding these individuals.
But that won’t accomplish the ideal, which is a good relationship. Friendship cannot grow when one person feels put down or unfairly judged. We have to scrape all that away, be vulnerable, be humble, and approach them with genuine love and a desire to know them better. We have to forgive the barbs they’ve sent our way. And let’s hope they can forgive us as quickly, because none of us are perfect.
Writer and direction Aaron Rose once said, “In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” I think this applies to relationships, too. You can control the time and the light—and then you’ll see how extraordinary that other person really is. They might see it, too, and be surprised as well!
Most of us have no idea the vast potential that resides within us. We take our talents for granted, we doubt our abilities, we forget who we really are. We also forget who others are, and the greatness that lies within them.
Thomas Edison once said, “If we did all the things that we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” But by believing in wonderful possibilities—not just for ourselves, but for others—we find a road to friendship. We can demonstrate our faith in them and our determination to love them come what may. This alone is an astounding achievement.
Ultimately, we find that you love someone when you truly get to know them. Genuine interest in others (and it has to be genuine) helps us forget ourselves, and brings peace and calm to our homes, schools, and workplaces. It also turns enemies into friends. And now you know the recipe.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.