These are thoughts that have been troubling me the past week or so. I’ve been trying to put them to some sort of order, but it’s a never ending cycle of ‘but what if’ all jumbled up in my head.
All about these rules. Of life. I mean, there are some very black and white ones, both legal and or Biblical, that we’re expected to follow. And as far as Biblical rules go, grace trumps rules every time. So I guess my question is more of a practical, worldly rule application.
(I just deleted two paragraphs, because already this was getting long, rambly, and non-sensical)
There is a lot that can be said about rules and relationships…mostly about how you need the second for the first to make any kind of sense. What I struggle with is having to talk rules with a person you haven’t had time to develop a relationship with.
What got me thinking on this is an interaction I had with someone that has come into the shop for several years. He’s gone through ups and downs (as far as his behavior) and is right in the middle of a down trend. We’ve explained before that basically, the only rule we have is that you can’t do anything to make others unwelcome. This winter, he’s been increasingly pushing the bar on that one, until one of the other managers had to have a gentle talk with him. I was grateful that it wasn’t me having the difficult conversation (this time) but several days later, I got my own share of awkwardness.
As he once again addressed a customer in a totally inappropriate manner, I had to pull him aside and remind him ‘hey man, this is what J just was talking with you about the other day. it’s still not appropriate’.
To which he replied “I have aspergers. I can’t act like all you normal people.”
So for starters, I take what he says with a grain of salt. Not because it’s not plausible, but because he has been untruthful in the past and this is the 4th different reason he’s given me for ‘not being normal’. First it was schitzophrenia, then he’d been run over by a drunk driver and received a traumatic brain injury, then it was brain injury from out of wack sugar levels from when they refused to give him his diabetes medicine while in prison, and now it’s aspergers. He also mentioned that he had to lie to keep getting his disability check. Had to lie even bigger to counteract that court appointed psychologist that was trying to get his disability taken away.
But it made me think. Because I know several mommies with little ones that do have autism, aspergers, or other autism spectrum disorders. One day, these sweet little ones will be grown up, and they might be adults that have trouble acting ‘normal’. I would be furious to hear about someone treating one of these little ones in an unkind or unloving way.
Now, I don’t think it’s wrong to gently point out to someone (no matter who they are, or what their state might be) when they aren’t acting appropriately (when you’re in the role of keeping a space. i wouldn’t just randomly walk up to people and say such things). But what happens when it goes a step farther. When the person in question refuses to make any attempt to act appropriately, or even escalates the gentle discussion into….something else. Something louder and scarier.
Because while I can see a gentle conversation as something done out of love (for the offender, and the others being affected) some how the statement “I need you to respect this while you are in this space” (with the implied ‘or you may not be in this space’) Doesn’t feel so loving. “If you can’t act appropriately, then I’m going to have to ask you to leave.” feels even more unloving. And “If you refuse to leave, I am going to need to call the police” feels worse yet.
All of these are things I’ve had to say to people in the past few weeks Every time I do, hurts my heart a little. Scars it. And like scars will do, I’m so afraid that it’s being hardened.
But my brain still questions it. Does the statement “I have (insert one of any problems) which makes it hard for me to follow this rule” be an exclusion from having to follow it?
Which problems get you that exclusion? I mean, if you have a mental illness that you’re treating….but treatment isn’t quite doing the trick, that would involve a lot of sympathy from me. But maybe not from everyone. What about mental illness that you’re choosing not to treat…either because sometimes the treatment is worse than the problem, or the person doesn’t recognize the problem, because they can’t afford treatment, or because they just don’t care to treat it? Does it count if you diagnosis comes from this doctor or that one, or do you even need a doctor at all? What about addiction? Addiction is a recognized disease. Should we accept verbal abuse from an addict?
With one man, the statement “I need you to respect this while you are in this place.” was enough to….mostly drive him off. He still comes in every once in awhile, but it’s clear he doesn’t feel welcomed. He very loudly states how he knows “things have changed in here, I know I’m not welcome” while I get him his water and try to affirm that he’s welcome to be here, but that he does have to follow the rules. That’s not what he hears though, as he turns my words all around and tells me how I don’t understand him, because I’m ‘normal’ and how everyone is against him, including us (the workers at the cafe) now. He’s angry and bitter….and I have to struggle to not be angry and bitter against him.
With another man, it came down to calling the police. He was rude, and threatening, and refused to leave. Now he sneaks in when I’m not around, slipping out when I arrive with a sneering remark. But so long as I’m the only one that has to suffer that vitrol (not the others in the cafe that we’re trying to minister to) I guess it’s a step in the right direction.
For everyone except him. For him, for someone that used to be a mother’s sweet little boy, it’s yet another place he’s not allowed. Another place that offers the chance to be loved and accepted, that he is shut out of.