Dealing with Difficult People, Part II: Big Is Small


Sarah Pachter

One evening, my husband and I planned to attend a black tie event. I was eight months pregnant and had only one formal gown that fit. It was an exquisite piece that I kept in a garment bag, hidden in the back of the closet. This way, no little hands could accidently find it – or destroy it. After purchasing the dress, I did not even try it on again for fear of ruining it.

The evening arrived. The babysitter came early while I fed the kids spaghetti and meatballs. I planned to put on the dress just before whisking out the door. This way there would be no opportunity for the kids’ marinara fingers to come into contact with the dress.

My husband arrived, and I hugged and kissed my daughter goodbye.

I asked my son, “Can I have a hug?”

Being a five-year-old, and going through the “I’m-too-embarrassed-to-hug-mom-stage,” he adamantly said, “No!”

I reluctantly went upstairs, changed, and was about to exit the front door.

Suddenly, my son said, “Wait, mommy! I want a hug!”

Since his hugs were few and far between, I gladly drew him in for a squishy bear hug that was pure heaven! When we finally pulled apart, I looked down only to find a rather gigantic chocolate stain right smack in the middle of the dress. Unbeknownst to me, he had been gobbling chocolate and obviously felt my dress was as good a napkin as any. My eight-month protruding belly certainly did not make it look any less noticeable. The dress was destroyed. I just knew it was the type of stain that would return from the cleaners with that dreaded note reading, “Sorry! We tried and tried but could not get the stain out.”

There I stood, pregnant and uncomfortable, late for the event, with not a dress for the occasion. I could feel the anger rise in my throat, but I was not about to make my son feel bad for giving me a hug. It took much internal strength (and leaving the room) to maintain composure.

I found a different dress to wear somewhere in my closet, and we were fashionably late. I even found a great dry cleaner that I still use to this day. (Needless to say, they got the stain out!)

Let me tell you, in the moment, that squishy-hug stain felt very, very big. Yet, zooming out, I was able to put that moment into perspective. Months later, I was able to laugh, lecture, and write about it.

We all experience variations of these seemingly big moments of anger, sadness, or disgust. Yet these seemingly big moments of discomfort are actually small when we apply a dose of perspective.

Big is small. Learning to bear the discomfort of the moment is the tool we can use to shrink those moments down to size.

Difficult people are difficult. They enrage, sadden, and shock us with their words and behavior. But isn’t it possible to get through the moment and view it as precisely that – just one small moment? Ask yourself, “Will I still be angry about this in one year? Five years? Ten years? Will I laugh about this soon? Can I learn something from this and turn it into a teaching experience?”

The concept of shrinking big down to small is a lifetime process with ups and downs, and nothing happens overnight. G-d Himself did not create the world overnight. Would it not have been much more impressive if He created the world in one hour, one minute, or even one second? His six day unfolding of the universe teaches us the awesome lesson of process. G-d took His time.

Since G-d values the road towards greatness, not just the outcome or results, we should also develop an appreciation of our own process, and the processes of those around us.

When I play the Spot It card game with my children, every card shares a snowflake, four-leaf clover, or red balloon. We search for the symbol that each card has in common, just as we search for common ground between individuals. Perhaps process is yet another place to find that common ground. Every one of us is not only made in the image of G-d, but we are works in progress, too.

A wise woman once told me that if we are consistent about our small choices day after day, year after year, then eventually there will be an upward slope in a strained relationship. Additionally, if we work on ourselves to make what feels big small, while allowing ourselves time to progress, we will surely be successful in mending ties with difficult people.

The trick to Spot It and difficult relationships is to spot the common ground by realizing that small is big, big is small… and process, process, process!