When I was a kid, I remember reading something along the lines of this. “Only a fool can go through life without making enemies.” I remember thinking at the time that there was something fundamentally wrong with the statement, and that it was perfectly possible to get through life without making enemies. Of course, I was in my teens, and could reliably assume that I knew everything. (Some things haven’t changed, I know.)
Flash forward a decade or so, and I know different. I’ve made some enemies, and made even more “fucquainances”. Thankfully, I have more friends than those categories combined.
You’re wondering what the hell a “Fuquaintance” is…. and I guess that I owe you an explanation. I’m quite sure that I am not alone in stating that there are some people on this planet that seem put here by a higher power. A higher power with a malevolent bent, and a penchant for testing my patience. Fuquaintances are those people that you meet during your day, the other half of the random encounters that define our lives. You’ll know them when you see them. YOu’ll smile in greeting and prepare to exchange banalities and small talk, and you’ll be cringing inside. For whatever reason, fuquaintances are disliked, encounters with them are dreaded and any contact with them is barely tolerated. The sins of a fuquaintance are legion, and petty. They pick their nose in your house. They eat far too much garlic. They stand too close. They always talk to you when you’re late. You know who I mean. Fuquaintances are a fact of life.
The good thing about a fuquaintance is that they are survivable. There is nothing really sinister about them, nothing calculated in their transgressions. There is a little old lady in my building that is a particularly dreaded fuquaintance. Her sin is that she is old, she lives several floors above me, and she takes forever to get into and out of the elevator. Oh. And she seems to keep the same hours I do. Whenever I am running late for work, whenever I am desperate need to get on with my commute, the elevator heads for the 13th floor. There it stays… slowly minutes ticking by in the winking floor indicator light. Finally, it descends, and I am free to step onto the elevator. The next problem of course is that we alight on the same floor. I stand aside to let her off first. I can’t help it, I’m polite that way. (Polite and weak!) This means that I have to walk behind her to the door, have to help her open the door, and have to wait while she shuffles through. An encounter with her adds a minimum of six minutes to my ten minute commute. And I’m a last-minute arrival employee. Which makes her a fuquaintance. You understand? Chances are that you have many fuquiantances, chances are better that you are someone else’s fuquaintance… it’s just an inevitability of life.
Enemies. These are different creatures entirely. Far from the pleasant/irritating banality of a fuquaintance, an enemy is an active frustration. My teen aged self thought it possible to get through life without making any of these. Of course, my teen aged self was an apathetic sort, more inclined to slink away from confrontation than to take it head on. But we grow up. And part of that process is the formation of opinion and principle. We draw lines in the sands of our psyche, lines beyond which there is no retreat, lines beyond which there is no compromise. When someone tries to muscle past those lines, confrontation is inevitable and lasting. There are certain things that to me are unforgivable… acts which resign the offending party to a lifetime of enmity. Speaking with the new-found wisdom of an impending mid-life crisis (I’m getting towards the “Harley Davidson and comb-over” stage.), the trick is to identify those lines before they are crossed, if only to maintain your dignity.
Making enemies is not a pleasant experience. Nonetheless, I believe that it is vital to our growth, our mental health. Without enemies, we cast through life blindly, no principles to guide us, reduced to public opinion. Every enemy that I have made has been made for good reason. It’s human nature to believe that. Of course we were wronged, of course we were the just defendant, and they the aggressive party. I think the challenge in life is to accept that sometimes…. just sometimes… YOU are the asshole. Sometimes, it is your fault.
Enemies find their redemption in what they offer to teach us, what their nature shows us about ourselves. They are the darkened mirrors, the shadowed reflections of our inner selves. Think about each of them carefully. There is no point to an enemy that has taught you nothing. There is no point to an enemy for whom you have no reason. Identify what it is that they do or don’t do that riles you, and know yourself better for it. I know, thanks to Sarah and Frank that I have little patience for small people. Small of mind, that is. Petty politicking and shallow manipulation leave me cold. When they come from someone in a position of authority, they are worse. I know it now, and hopefully in the future, I’ll be able to head off any situations before they escalate into hostilities. My challenge to you? Make a list of your enemies. Figure out the core reason behind the altercation. Be honest, nobody else is going to look at your list. It may give you closure, it may give you growth. You may make the miserable bastards useful to you!
Lastly, the Little People.
Not dwarves or midgets or pygmies or gnomes… The Little People are the people that live around you, that work around you, perhaps even work for you. They are the often anonymous people that make your life possible. I spent a lot of time working as a waiter for a series of restaurants. And I was constantly amazed by the ignorant arrogance of a lot of people. (Normally wealthy white kids.) Any good waiter will tell you that the power in the restaurant is NOT the manager, is NOT the hostess or your waiter. Everything rests on the shoulders of the kitchen. Everything. Waiters with a good relationship with the kitchen staff were more successful than waiters who did not, or waiters that shouted. Later, when I managed a restaurant myself, it was obvious to see. Waiters who were polite, who passed on compliments, who said please and thank you, basically acknowledged the kitchen staff as humans and equals, they got great service from the kitchen. Wrong item ordered? Rush job required? No worries. The Little People are on it.
It’s a lesson that I have taken to heart. I go out of my way to acknowledge the receptionists, the co-teachers, the security guards, the “kitchen staff” in my life. Simple courtesy goes a long way. It’s a proven fact that remembering your waiter’s name and using it leads to better service. It’s not because they’re impressed by your memory. It’s because they are pleased to be acknowledged, to be given a face, to move from “Hey you…” to “Excuse me, John?”. I am not advocating being polite to the Little People out of some desire for better service. The fact that their often menial jobs can have a direct impact on your life is simply a by-product.
I’m saying that being nice to the Little People is in and of itself a good thing.
And nobody wants to be a Fuquaintance.