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Everywhere you look today you see angry people. It isn’t just those emboldened on social media. It’s people destroying one another by spreading gossip. Some cheat their companies and customers. Streets fill with violence. Neighbors fight. Students bully.  Adults abuse one another and children. People are thoughtless. People are furious. People are self-centered.  People are vindictive.

People are hurt.

All over the world, innocent babies come into the world. They are precious and clean, completely without guile. They smile readily at strangers, eagerly trusting with open hearts. But at some point the real world shatters innocence, and they learn you can’t always believe what others say. Feelings get hurt, trust gets betrayed, doubt grows and cynicism sets in.  Worse, depending on their environment, children adapt to and become part of a lifestyle of immorality.  If exposed only to evil, their brains accept heartlessness and hatred as the norm, finding easy ways to justify it. Those who should have protected them did not. And sometimes they become deeply damaged. Every nasty, cruel person is a child of God who has been hurt.

When someone means you harm, you need to take steps to ensure safety. But those aren’t the people I’m talking about today.  I want to address those who are simply hard to be around because they resent nearly everyone they know. They’re paralyzed with self-pity and they’ve adopted a defiant, prickly personality they feel will protect them from ever getting hurt again. 

Not to besmirch the noble porcupine (who probably shares none of the anger we’re talking about), but let’s call these folks porcupines.  They show up in our families, in our workplace, in our wards, pretty much everywhere. They’re covered with long quills that they hope will keep you at a distance. If you try to get too close, you will find yourself riddled with quills—attacks you never even saw coming. 

There are four ways to react when this happens. The first is to fight back.  This is the worst choice, by the way. It only escalates the situation and doesn’t really solve the problem. It may teach the person not to tangle with you, but it doesn’t address the person’s hurt. It may even convince them that everyone else really is out to get them, as you have just demonstrated.

The next way to react is to ignore them.  You’ve already sized them up as one of those negative individuals who can never offer a kind word, so why waste your time in their sad little world?  This may seem like self-preservation on your part, but like Choice Number One, it doesn’t fix the problem. It just sweeps it under the rug. It also isolates the meanie and actually justifies their hurt.

Choice Three is to become overly hurt yourself. This is a common reaction and presents itself as shock and dismay (“How could they treat me like that? They don’t even know me!”) and often involves running around to all one’s friends to retell the incident and get validation that you did not deserve such an outburst, but are kind and wonderful, unlike the jerk with the quills. By the way, destroying someone else’s reputation is not the way to build your own.

Choice Four is to realize this person is hurting.  All anger began first as hurt. If you can see past their jabs and remember they were once innocent and happy, you’re on the right track. By extending love and genuine concern (and maybe doing this repeatedly) you have a chance of helping that person to heal. You might even make a friend.  Though the details may be none of your business, you can assume that something horrendous happened to them to make them this way. Plato reminds us that everyone is fighting a battle, and this person is certainly no different.  If you can look beyond their issues, you will see a child of God, someone He loves– someone He’s hoping will be loved by another who can look past the quills.

When we choose to “love the unlovable,” we navigate life with a calmer outlook, a more peaceful heart. We give people the benefit of the doubt, and don’t we feel a rush of gratitude on those awful days when we “lose it” and someone gives us that same benefit?

It’s easy to like people who like us. It’s work to like our enemies, those who are jealous, those who blame us, those who simply enjoy picking on us. But if we can look beyond their issues, we might undo those knots of fury, and get them to unwind. We just might restore a measure of peace here and there.

Sometimes people strike out because their life is overwhelming. They could be struggling with pain, disease, loss, plain old immaturity, or fears you cannot imagine. George Washington Carver once said, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong, because someday you will have been all of these.”

Resisting the urge to judge, and simply remembering that each person is a beloved child of God, goes a long way to smoothing the quills down. And remembering that we could be in their same situation one day helps us have greater humility, greater altruism.

But it’s more than just resisting the urge to fire back.  Writer I.A.R. Wylie once said, “True generosity requires more of us than kindly impulse. Above all, it requires imagination—the capacity to see people in all their complexities and needs, and to know how to expend ourselves effectively for them.” She was so right.

When someone is prickly, what if we gave some thought and prayer to finding exactly the right way to reach out to them? What if we invited them to an event we’re attending next week? What if we asked their opinion about another matter? What if we opened up and shared something about ourselves? What if we told them a joke? What if we gave them a sincere compliment? What if we included them “at the table” and made them feel valued? What if we apologized if they have a legitimate grievance?  There are dozens of ways to let someone know we genuinely care.

Over and over Christ looked into people’s hearts. He saw devotion, repentance, and good intentions in the hearts of society’s despised—we all remember the love he showed to a tax collector and to an adulterous woman. He also saw the hypocrisy and evil in the hearts of many, and called them out on it. But we are not Christ—we cannot rightly look into the heart of someone else, and judge another person. In D & C 64:10, Christ says, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” I think that includes the porcupines among us.

Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle.  All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website.  She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.