In life, people are people. With all their problems, strengths, struggles, insights, and confusion, most people of good will just do their best to keep things together, love those who are dear to them, and do whatever good they can in the world.
In this process, each person has to decide how she values life, what meaning she associates with human personhood, and what purpose she thinks life has and where it all ends.
Such a developing existential awareness leads a person to see the dignity of the human person, her unrepeatable identity, and eternal destiny. Such a disclosure of the human condition, leads a person to a profound sense of wonder at herself and a deeper reflection about others.
In light of this disclosure, a person has to decide how she is going to treat other people. Such a behavioral conviction – to the degree that it’s heartfelt and hardened by life’s experiences – does not depend on the state of affairs or a person’s personality or temperament. The person will treat others a certain way because of what is in her own heart, and not what might be lacking or wayward in the hearts of others.
This conviction is especially true when dealing with difficult people.
In dealing with offensive people, does such a conviction call a person to turn the other cheek? Does turning the other cheek mean that a person has to be kind to others who have been purposefully cruel or ugly?
If compelled, such a turning of the other cheek can feel false at times, particularly when someone has been repeatedly unkind to others.
How does a person handle seeing such mean-spirited people at events or in public? What if such people are relatives or connected to a person in some way? Some might say that a person has to keep them in her life, but isn’t this being duplicitous?
This is one of those questions that hits to the heart, and an answer based on a conviction of a person’s dignity leads a person to say both “yes” and “no.”
Yes, a person has to show a merciful spirit to people, even to those who are mean to her or to people she loves. A person who believes in a person’s eternal destiny, knows that mercy actually frees her from the evil that’s being done and gives the other person the opportunity to free herself from evil.
Such actions remind the human family that the real fight is with evil and darkness, and not with people. A person of good will, who values human life in all its stages, perennially hopes for the conversion of all and that her mercy and kindness may assist in the specific, concrete conversion of this person in this state of affairs right in front of her.
With that said, and realizing that two healthy people are needed for a healthy relationship, a person of good will can also answer “no.”
Even as she shows mercy to those who hurt her or the ones she loves, she can also charitably avoid them. This, of course, could include even family members and relatives. Even as a person who defends human dignity wishes the best for others, she can also steer clear of them. As the old saying goes: “May you keep them Lord, and keep them far from me!”
This approach is not two-faced, since the person seeking good things does legitimately give mercy and kindness to the person who is hurting her or her loved ones. The person truly wants the otherwise unkind person to change, but so long as she refuses to change and continues to cause harm, then the person must respectfully avoid her.
This charitable avoidance is motivated precisely by the conviction that she, and every other human person, has a dignity given by God that she must respect in herself and require others to respect as well.
In seeking to be true to herself and her convictions about the human family, the person of good will can be protected and inspired by the “yes” and “no” answers to the real state of affairs of life.
In approaching difficult people with such a tempered approach, a person of good will can avoid being overwhelmed, hurt to the point of doubting, and strengthened in her convictions about human dignity and the transcendental, eternal identity of all people.
This is one of the methods that sustains witnesses to human goodness. Such witnesses are not blind to darkness, or delusional about humanity’s capacity for evil, but they choose to see humanity’s higher character and destiny.
Such witnesses include great martyrs of charity and justice, men and women like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein, Jose Sanchez del Rio, Maria Goretti, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, and Kayla Mueller.
This method was lived by Pope St. John Paul II throughout his life, and was exemplified by his prison visit to Mehmet Ali Agca, the trained assassin who attempted to take his life. This method is also preached and witnessed by Pope Francis in many ways, especially in his calling of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
It is a method that can help all people to live the goodness they believe in and to see its quiet power in the world today.