(Pollyanna was the main title character in a Disney movie [which was based on the book written by Eleanor H. Porter] about an orphan girl who always had a cheerful outlook and she could find the good in any situation no matter how bad things seemed.)
Did you ever have a situation in your life that caused you such complete bewilderment? At the time you just felt so convinced of your position that it was almost impossible to see another viewpoint. But really, as time goes on, even though you remain somewhat baffled, you can see that there must be some validity to the other point of view. After all, everyone is entitled to their opinions and especially to their feelings, even if you can’t agree with them. This is a situation that when I thought about it, I was always convinced that I was right, I was frustrated at the fact that I thought someone was judging me unfairly, I could find no justification for the behavior that was exhibited toward me, and I came away with a feeling of – what’s the word I’m looking for? - “Ugh!” Lately though, not only have I been trying to be objective I have also been looking at the situation through Pollyanna eyes.
Years ago I got somewhat friendly with one of the mothers at my children’s grade school. I’ll call her Gail for this story. Her son and one of my sons were in the same class. Gail was a social butterfly while I kept to myself most of the time. I had a few friends that I would meet and go to Mass with after we dropped our kids at school. And once in awhile we’d do a little shopping together, or we’d go to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee, or maybe to the diner for breakfast, but then we’d go on our separate ways, and other than daily Mass it was not a routine. Gail on the other hand was part of a larger group of mothers that would get together almost every morning and spend the day at each other’s homes. One day Gail asked me to come to a brunch/Tupperware Party at her house, and at first I declined but she urged me on and said that the other mothers from her group thought I was stuck up and they thought that I didn’t want to associate with them, so it didn’t take much prodding after that to get me to attend. I did not want to be thought of as a snob.
I went and I had a good time, the other mothers were all very nice to me, and I began to get invitations to other ‘parties’ and breakfast/lunch/coffee dates and I would reciprocate and have them to my home sometimes, and once in awhile we’d all go for a girls night out too. I had a lot of fun, and there were some mothers that I had more in common with than others and we’d gravitate towards each other at these functions. After awhile some of us began to notice that there were two different camps inside this group of mothers that got together. And soon those of us that felt equally at ease with everyone were being asked to choose sides with these two camps. I was not comfortable with this at all, nor were some of the other mothers, and we explained that to Gail. She was fine with our ‘middle of the road’ stance until one day when she had a strong disagreement with another mother. Gail’s son and this other woman’s son were on the same sports team and the argument ensued over something to do with that. Gail wanted us to choose sides (well, she wanted us to choose her side) and she especially started to put pressure on me to side with her. I said to Gail that my son was not even on the team and I felt no need to get involved in the dispute, I hadn’t yet heard both sides of the story, and even if I had I really did not have a desire to choose a side. I was on friendly terms with all the mothers and wanted to remain so. This was totally unacceptable to Gail. She was seething as she said I was being disloyal to our friendship and that I had to choose her side, and she said that she was the one that had introduced me to most of the other mothers, she was friends with me first and I should have no problem sticking on her side. Gail went on to say that she also was very good friends with almost all the other mothers and I might find myself ‘out in the cold’ if I didn’t choose her side. I was taken aback by Gail’s eruption and what I deemed to be a very high school attitude. I told her I felt bad if I was hurting her feelings but I remained steadfast in not choosing sides.
Gail then accused me of being a ‘phony Christian’. She said that just because I went to Mass everyday that didn’t make me a good person and it didn’t make me Holy, and she said it didn’t mean that I was better than her.
I tried to explain to Gail that the reason I went to Mass every morning wasn’t because I thought I was such a good Christian or so Holy, I told her I went to Mass each day because I thought of myself as the opposite of a good Christian and the opposite of Holy. I said that I went to Mass each day because I felt I needed the Grace that Mass supplied me with to help me in my life, and I went to Mass each day to help get me through each day. I told Gail that of course I didn’t think I was better than she was. Gail responded to me with a sarcastic “Yeah! Sure! Right!” I also tried explaining to her that I didn’t want to invite any negatives into my life and that by me choosing to outcast another mother would in no way be positive. And then Gail said she was sick and tired of my "Pollyanna attitude toward everyone and everything", and she was "sick of hearing about my Pollyanna church friends too". I was stunned. I had never thought of myself as a Pollyanna. In fact, I always thought of myself as sort of a mope, kind of a droop, a very downward-spiral type person, you know, the sort of ‘the glass is half empty instead of half full’ type of person. So while the whole of Gail’s outburst took me by surprise, her Pollyanna remark was the real shocker to me.
For weeks afterwards Gail gave me the cold shoulder, then one day she apologized to me, and I said I was sorry that I had hurt her feelings too, and we moved on. The invitations from Gail and that group of mothers weren’t as frequent and I didn’t socialize with them quite as often after that. But I was happy that Gail and I could be cordial to each other. And a year or so later I heard that Gail and the other mother she had the argument with were on speaking terms again too.
All these years later I am somewhat less at a loss to what that fuss was really about. I realize that my actions and/or inaction hurt Gail very much. But it still leaves me with very conflicted feelings when I look back on that event.
On the one hand I’m happy that Gail saw me as Pollyanna, on the other hand I am dismayed that I represented myself as somehow morally superior to her (and maybe to others?) because in my heart that is furthest from the truth. I’ve asked other friends and family members their reaction to my version of that situation and they all said I was nuts to even try and defend myself as there was no need, of course that made me feel better, we all appreciate validation. But it still haunts me that Gail would feel that I displayed an arrogance towards her or that I did something that made her feel as though I thought she was in some way inferior to me. We really never know how someone is going to read us. But that statement there still puts the onus on Gail. I should say, we never know how we are representing ourselves to others. I would like to believe Gail’s feelings towards me at that time were tied up in misplaced anger, or misplaced feelings of a friend acting disloyal (in that I wouldn’t side with her in her argument with another). I would like to believe this episode occurred because of some insecurity on Gail’s part. But again, it would be unfair of me to put all the blame on Gail because obviously in her eyes I was exhibiting a haughty attitude, and maybe I was, maybe I do have to assume the responsibility for Gail’s view of me (people usually react negatively in response to some insult or threat). It is something I’ll have to keep a check on in the future. And while I’m pleased to be thought of as a Pollyanna, it saddens me to think I might carry myself with a ‘Holier-than-thou’ attitude. Gail was lashing out at me because I had hurt her. I know there are two sides to every story, but when you are living it, you only prefer to see your own side. It’s only now years later that I can try to see things through Gail’s eyes, and I will try to bring forth from myself a much more unassuming attitude when dealing with others (oh will my family get a laugh out of this one!).
And from now on I really am going to look back on that situation with a Pollyanna attitude, and when I think back on that incident, I will think of how even in the midst of Gail’s tirade at me I felt thrilled that someone would think of me as Pollyanna. I am thankful to Gail for what I consider to be a compliment. And I will always be thankful to Gail because remembering those words of hers does remind me of some of the Pollyanna women that I have gotten friendly with, those of us that didn’t really socialize very much with each other, yet there was a strong connection, and we supported each other. To the outside world we may not have seemed to be exceptionally good friends, but when I think about how we sustained each other through all the different trials that came up in our lives (divorce, loss of a job, financial woes, sickness, problems with our kids, etc.), and I think of how we would remind each other to stay strong and live for the good times, to appreciate the Blessings in life, I really do think despite outward appearances that we were very good friends indeed. And as such friends we would remind each other that life really was sacred even though it might be trying, difficult, and wearisome at times. I also realized that these women, these wonderful ‘Pollyanna church friends’ as Gail had put it had helped to change my outlook on life, and they helped me appreciate my life no matter how demanding it was at times. And I remembered that at first I did have to work at being thankful, I did have to remind myself to be grateful, and to look for the good in situations, but after awhile it became easier to see God’s Blessings. I have all these wonderful Pollyanna pals to thank for that. I’m not saying I don’t have days that are difficult, I definitely do have some very bad days. And when bad things happen to me I get mad and/or sad. But I try not to hold onto the bad and the sad. I try hard to let go of the negative and concentrate on only the positive, I try to focus on the treasures that God Has Bestowed on me. And if that makes me a Pollyanna too, well, I’m very happy to wear that label (no smugness or arrogance intended, really).
1 week ago