As a child, I lived next door to a classic curmudgeon. Mrs. Decker was right out of central casting. If Ebeneezer Scrooge ever married, Mrs. Decker could have been his wife. She was a board-certified, crabby old woman. The kids in the neighborhood steered clear of her property, except when she was away. Then they'd throw soda pop bottles and paper plates on her lawn just so they could watch her come out waving her arms, ranting, "You kids stay off my lawn!" She did have a point!
Our houses were about five feet apart and I could hear her yelling inside the house. Clearly, she was angry about much more than those pesky neighborhood children. I would often play detective, crouching below the window to her bedroom, and peek in to see if I could see what went on inside that made her so angry. My sleuthing didn't uncover anything very interesting and I was too young at the time to understand much about adult behavior. No doubt, Mrs. Decker had a lot of unresolved issues.
Maybe the unresolved Mrs. Decker story is what has peaked my interest on the subject. Or maybe it's the realization that everyone has a little streak of Mrs. Decker in them. Only you, like I, have most likely developed some charming personality traits that soften our surliness, and compensate for our crabbiness, allowing us to better suffer those "fools" we do not suffer so gladly, and at the same time, rendering ourselves less obnoxious to others. I'm still working on that one.
Feyangel is a woman after my own heart. Her comment on last week's post:
Me too -- a New Age curmudgeon. I am also totally in love with Loving. People who know me adore that I have both these parts in abundance-- somehow I think it makes the degree to which I am Loving seem more REAL and trustworthy. "Astute perception and sly wit" -- yes -- and I often use that to inspire laughter at the less enjoyable and admirable aspects of the human condition. Sometimes when I am around other "New Age" people-- I feel I should be a bit "ashamed" that I have this part that isn't all about never-ending optimism and virtuous positivity. But to be honest, I think the way I am is extremely genuine -- and kinda charming and delightful -- as those around me often comment to me.
So, how does one get past all the barriers erected by their favorite curmudgeons and make it to the inner chamber of their hearts? Here are six tips, gleaned from readers, plus my own field work and experience. I'm clear the list is incomplete, but it's a start. I'm also clear the curmudgeons among us will not fail to make corrections and additions. That's what we curmudgeons do best!
1. Stay away from the Goo Factory
Feyangel strikes an interesting balance. It's the combination of qualities: The one who is in love with Love and the one who is willing to call it like it is, without sugar-coating the Bee-Jezus out of everything, that I think has the most interesting possibilities. Many readers bemoaned the nauseating experience of being around someone who exhibits a quality I'll call the "Goo Factor." Folks, can we talk about this? If you want to get close to a curmudgeon and you work in the Goo Factory even part-time, you won't make it to first base. Goo is anathema to a curmudgeon.
If you're a Pollyanna type, you walk a fine line between being eternally chirpy and cheerful and crossing the line into goo. Don't, whatever you do, go there. If you do, the curmudgeon will most likely appear to be nice, even semi-tolerant, but you will never enter the inner chamber of a curmudgeon's heart. Even in small quantities, goo is a major turn-off.
Thinkingwomanmillstone's comment illuminated an interesting aspect of a curmudgeon's thought process:
I am the ultimate curmudgeon... I suffer idiocy poorly but only from people who should know better. Curmudgeons have an undeserved reputation for unpleasantness. I think most of my outer circle of friends think of me as a calm, generous friendly person. Little do they know that underneath that volunteer who's willing to cheerfully do what's needed is someone who loves them despite their obvious lack of correct thinking. Of course, my family and close friends know the truth... because I let them know it plainly. So I guess my take on love and the curmudgeon is the further out from my heart you are the nicer I am to you... in fact if I am sickeningly sweet, you can assume I don't like you at all. My family and friends just have to suck it up because in reality there is no one more loyal and dedicated to you than I am. Get over it.
This curmudgeon actually expresses disdain by being "sickeningly sweet!" Doesn't that make you wonder about the effectiveness of the "goo" approach? It calls into question the authenticity of love when it's expressed with an overdose of sweetness. Too much sugar is bad for the body. Too much sweetness is suffocating. Double the suffocation factor for a curmudgeon. Ask me how I know!
2. Be a good listener
To love a curmudgeon, you need to be a good listener because they never had an opinion they didn't share. They'll not hesitate to make your life "interesting" by being brutally honest. Curmudgeons are wordsmiths that do not mince words. If it's on their mind, you're going to hear about it. But here's the good news: curmudgeons are usually right. They have keen insight into how things and people and life works. You can usually take their insights to the bank. Their delivery could use some work, however. But they don't care. Here's why:
3. Cultivate an appreciation for their eccentricities
Curmudgeons are that they are non-conforming and eccentric. They don't care what others think because curmudgeons love things that are out of favor with the general populace. They're contrarians, by nature, or at least that's who they've become. Their preferences in life are not designed to have them entering, much less winning, a popularity contest. Perhaps this is why the Pollyanna types are so difficult for many curmudgeons. Pollyanna is the epitome of conformity. Her whole gig is about being liked by everyone and will never step on anyone's toes with her honesty. Can you see the problem curmudgeons would have with this? They are that they are honest with their opinions, right or wrong. Chirpy and cheerful are dangerously close to goo, so apply lightly, if at all.
4. Love is best expressed through actions, not words
I am not cynical, I am not angry, I am straightforward, I have no patience with small talk or personality management, but I love my life and my family deeply. That love is never expressed in words or hugs, rather in the everyday practical advice, phone calls, meetings etc. I know they know I love them because I am on everyone's (friends, family and friends of friends) speed-dial when they find themselves in trouble in any way. If it's any of them I pick up my phone at all hours of the day, I drop anything to get there and I don't give up until they are happy.
If you gain favor with one, a curmudgeon is loyal beyond loyal. You can count on them to do what they say when they say they're going to do it. A curmudgeon has a certain sense of honor around their integrity. They may be grouchy, but a curmudgeon will be there when the going gets tough. They love a good challenge!
5. Try a little tenderness
A self-confessed "bit of a Pollyanna," Yellowdoggie seems to have found a good balance:
Although I'm not a curmudgeon (I have to admit to being a bit of a Pollyanna) I am married to a curmudgeon. He has been a curmudgeon since I've known him, so it has absolutely nothing to do with age and everything to do with a sense of the ridiculous. I find it quite easy to love my curmudgeon and since I'm probably the only one in the world who would put up with him, we are quite a good match. He treats me with infinite patience and I treat him with infinite tenderness.
So here's a big clue: tenderness. Maybe that's all Mrs. Decker really wanted. Who doesn't want tenderness? Here's what so great about it: tenderness is subtle, not clinging or cloying like in the Goo Factory. This works for a curmudgeon. In fact, the more subtle, the better. Why? Because subtle leaves lots of room for interpretation. Secretly, it's what their heart wants, but don't tell them. They'll disagree.
In the very heart of the heart of a curmudgeon, is someone who like everyone else, wants to be loved. I know lots of you C's might kick and scream at this idea. Some of you even suggested I not use the "L" word, but substitute words like "concern" or "empathy" instead. Some even went further: Mikdow wrote:
I am a curmudgeon and I don't have a soft white underbelly. My underbelly is armor plated because there is a certain kind of person in this world who would like nothing better than to stick a knife in it. I didn't get to be old because I love everybody. I got to be old because I don't. If that makes me a bad person, I never claimed to be a saint.
Here we arrive at the crux of the matter when it comes to love and the curmudgeon. Love is the essence of who we are. We may push it away, rationalize it away, judge it away. We may be skeptics and cynics with "ascerbic wit and a wry sense of humor."
But folks, let's also be brutally honest with ourselves, since we're so into honesty with everyone else. Underneath the mask of cynicism, underneath the grumpy and grouchy personas, curmudgeons have a hard time trusting Love. They have a hard time believing that Love could be real or be for them.
Usually, you'll find a back story, one that is not all that uncommon for the rest of us. A broken heart, betrayal, disappointment, absent parents or ones who didn't express love readily. The one who tends towards cynicism will not stick around for a second chance or put them selves in harm's way again. One broken heart is enough. Or as gcarl asked: "What is love a curmudgeon can believe in?" Good question! Any curmudgeons care to respond to that?
6. Appreciate their humor and hidden sensitivities
The truth is, the heart of a curmudgeon is fragile. Why else would they guard it so? I think curmudgeons are extremely sensitive people who feel things deeply. Why else would they have such strong opinions about the things they rant about? The subject matter is irrelevant.
I doubt if they'll admit it, but it's the need to be heard, the need to be respected, the need to be unique and different that drives a curmudgeon. Why else would they also have such a great sense of humor?
So if you want to love one, treat them with tenderness and generous doses of respect. Appreciate their sense of humor, cultivate your own sharp wit, tread softly with your displays of affection, don't try to get too close, too fast, wait to be invited. Don't be put off by their grumpy exterior. Be willing to see through to the tender heart that lies just beneath the surface. As a Living page blogger, Anne Naylor says: "Love always wins." So if you really want to love a curmudgeon, you'll be tenacious enough to find a way across the moat and over the hurdles and when you do, you'll be richly rewarded!
As always, I appreciate your comments, opinions, reactions, suggestions, and interaction on this subject. If you're a "regular" in these parts, you know that I usually respond to most comments, so let's have a discussion and see where it takes us.
I'm also interested in hearing from those who identify with Pollyanna, as I think we need to spend some time fleshing her archetype out more fully and understanding the phenomenon she represents. More on Pollyanna next time.
Come pay a visit to my personal blog and website: Rx For The Soul, where we engage in this and other topics relevant to the human condition. Become A Fan and be notified when new posts appear.
Until next time, blessings on the path and stay away from the goo factory. Ciao!
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