In Her Words
I Just Hate Her!
Have you ever really disliked someone for no reason at all?
I ran into a former colleague several months ago at lunchtime. It wasn’t pleasant; when Jennifer saw me, her neutral expression changed instantly to one that said, “Yuck. You again?” And so a minor yet persistent fear returned to me: Someone hated me not for any specific reason, but for my very essence.
The roots of that fear stretched back to my college years, when I had a classmate, Nancy, whom I despised for no other reason other than the sulky, pompous look on her face. Then it occurred to me that if I reacted that way to her, someone else probably had the same feelings about me.
Years later, I met Jennifer. We worked together. I could never figure out why she disliked me. But the signs – dismissive shrugs, contemptuous looks – were unmistakable.
Naturally, I started despising her in return. Those tacky clothes! Those beady little eyes! Eventually she got another job, and the first time we saw each other after that (the day of the yuck-you-again look) we didn’t stop to talk.
Soon afterward, the company I worked for was taken over, and in the midst of my daily crises, a friend recommended When Things Fall Apart, a book by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron. What I read struck me as the sanest possible response to life’s chaos.
Buddhists believe that suffering comes from separation – we fail to see ourselves in others, and therefore lack the compassion that could make so many lives easier. Compassion toward starving or homeless people seemed reasonable. But compassion for sulky Nancy and tacky Jennifer? That was a lot tougher. I hated to think I was anything like them. But after a lengthy period of mental wriggling, I had to give up. I am like them; I too can be unhappy or unreasonably irritable or guilty of really bad fashion choices.
A few weeks ago, I saw Jennifer on the street again. She asked how the takeover was going and she seemed genuinely interested. Cynics will say she was enjoying my troubles. Maybe. But it’s also possible that she never hated me. Or she could have changed her opinion; I don’t have a monopoly on personal transformation.
Even with my attitude adjustment, I’ll never be Jennifer’s best buddy, but I feel much friendlier toward her. And at my college reunion next year, I hope I get to see Nancy. I think I may be able to look at her with new eyes.