First, I love Etiquettehell.com and read your site frequently. I write because I need advice from your other loyal readers. The backstory: I live in a small town, population less than 5,000, and live with my elderly mother. My brother, his wife and their tween son live next door. My brother and his wife are somewhat difficult personalities, and I can be inflexible and opinionated myself, but bro and I have built some bridges and there is tangible affection between us. SIL, however, is a different story and I find her almost physically painful to be around. I’m under pressure from my saint of a mother to accommodate what I consider to be dishonest and ignorant statements by SIL, which my brother either doesn’t mind, doesn’t hear or chooses not to deal with. Typically I am a tolerant and kind person, but am bothered by those who need to look down on others to compensate for their own issues, to which I attribute much of SIL’s behavior. She comes off as bossy and rude, and really doesn’t seem to understand how her behavior is perceived by others. Really, I could overlook it if it wasn’t that she wants all in the room to understand that she’s the smartest and most dominant person present.
Although I haven’t lived here for most of my adult life, I returned about two years ago and have immersed myself in the town, enjoying a warm welcome by nearly all I’ve met. It’s been great. The volunteerism rate here is high, and I would need all fingers and toes to count the folks I could call for help who’d apply themselves to an immediate plan of action, including my brother. There is a criminal element here, of course, but coming from living in the major metropolitan area of my state and being accustomed to high crime and hearing the occasional random shooting, this place is Mayberry RFD.
So, while making headway this holiday in dealing with SIL in a peaceful mode, she made a comment that really got under my craw, and I’d like advice on how I might have responded. Following dinner of Christmas leftovers, a favorite meal, she commented that our town was populated solely with crackheads and meth labs. I stammered back that it was a nice town, a good place. She said “Really!?” with conviction and all I could do was repeat myself. My nephew then stated that he knew of children riding around on bikes dealing pot around here. Really, this is a town where folks still don’t lock their doors. Crime happens, but I doubt it’s anything like the scenario he’s picturing. He doesn’t go to school in our town but is about to transition back, and I don’t wonder why he shows some nervousness about being exposed to the local children of crackheads and operators of meth labs.
Mind you, SIL’s lived in this town for probably 15 years and knows no one, shows no interest in the lovely folks to whom she’s been introduced (retired police officers and the like), and generally has held herself apart from others, as I wish she would do with me. I held back any strong response, since her son, husband and mother-in-law were also at the table (and remained unmoved, like statues), and really was at a loss for words. It’s not the first time she’s made sweeping statements of an unkind nature about populations she’s unaware of, and I’m sure it’ll happen again. I’m also surprised by the degree of protectiveness I feel for our little town. It’s grown so much since I was a child, and there are so many excellent people here that are spared her company.
There was, actually, a meth lab a few tax lots away, many years ago. It’s been rebuilt and there’s been no similar trouble since, and I can’t think of other nearby neighbors that have ever caused me to worry. Also, since laws were changed regarding the sale of certain component materials, we really don’t have the same meth lab problem that plagued us in the 1990s. We don’t really know all of our neighbors, but they are homeowners and seem reasonable people. And again, the many folks I do know are absolutely golden, and they’d embrace SIL, if given the chance. This isn’t downtown metro-ville by far, I assure you!
What could I have said, dear readers? Now, hours later, I am thinking of what I could have said that would have been more effective, although I am glad I at least protested, however gently. “Ignorant much?” was one response I wish I’d thought of. Or asked her to be more specific. I wish I’d pointed out the fact that she knows no one, and that her comment shows a great deal of fear regarding the people she’s lived near for many years, but even with a calm tone such straight forward questioning would have been taken as aggressive by my family. I’m just so offended. I can’t follow up with her at a different time, as I really do avoid talking with her unless I have to (at holidays). I try not to be rude, but I nearly always walk away upset from something she’s said, and today, sadly, was no exception. I’m not even going into the falsehood she rolled out yesterday. It was so preposterous as to defy genteel conversation. A revision of very recent history, as it were. That was so goofy as to be comical.
I should sleep off my annoyance and consider the source, I expect you to say. I should be glad to have at least voiced by opposing opinion, and resume tomorrow to enjoy my life here, among fabulous humans. I just am left feeling that I could have said something else that may have opened her brain and heart up to thinking that sweeping, unkind statements are inappropriate, if only that my nephew does not grow up to parrot her behavior (and be left wondering why he does not win friends or influence people). Advice, please?
Thank you, all. 1227-10
This reads almost like there was a sister-in-law competition to see who can take the self-righteous low ground. You shouldn’t care if SIL thinks her community is a crime infested den of crackheads. It’s just an opinion that does not insult you in any way. You should be so confident of your own convictions that other people’s conflicting opinions are merely amusing or possibly interesting but certain not worthy of being elevated to the level of angst and a desire to retaliate with flippant replies like, “Ignorant much?” Yeah, that will really open her heart and mind to changing. Not. A simple, “I would disagree with your perception,” is enough and then leave her to prattle on about the evils around her. You cannot change her. You can affect the people around you by being consistently positive in stark contrast to her negativity.
You have to trust that other people are not fooled by someone with a persistent pattern of negativity, disdain, lying, arrogance, etc. The mental image I get of people who exude the aforementioned traits is of “Pigpen” from the “Peanuts” comic strip. Pigpen walks around in a cloud of filth that he doesn’t seem to mind nor even particularly notice but everyone else does. But similarly, people do notice a consistent pattern of positive thinking, respect, honesty. It takes time but I can say with confidence, having been there, that people do figure out who is the person they trust and want to be with.