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Sandpaper people in a rough-edged world

April 23, 2011
By Kimberly Short Wolfe , The Inter-Mountain

Every person on the face of the earth meets up with him or her at one time or another - someone who absolutely rubs you the wrong way, taxes your nerves and drives you to distraction. It may be a co-worker, a family member, a fellow student or an acquaintance. Sandpaper people not only rub us the wrong way, but seem bent toward disturbing your peace and wrecking your joy.

So, how on earth are we supposed to coexist with such people and stay sane? With a little initiative, a firm resolve and a sprinkling of prayer, we can learn to not only tolerate these people, but we can leave behind the abrasions and go beyond what we thought was possible and actually learn to love sandpaper people.

To further illustrate the point here, let's think of morning people verses night people. We can really grate on each other's nerves. There are those of us who do our best work and are most creative first thing in the morning. I tried to explain this to my kids and my nephew last night as I sat struggling to work on this article.

My sweet nephew worried that the reason I couldn't "get an article together" was because the house was full of people (my other nephews were also over). "Not at all." I explained to him that I simply cannot write at night and that I could be home alone in the evening and I may as well do laundry or some mundane task because the creative juices just don't flow at night for me.

Now it is morning, and we are talking 4 a.m. morning, and I am ready to begin my day. This is a lifelong thingy for me. My daughter began tucking me in when she was about 14 or so. I believe she is nocturnal. At 11:30 last night, she was chattering a mile a minute when I finally said, "Goodnight ... going to bed and turn the light out, please."

Now, those of us who are morning people are a thorn in the side to you night folks and likewise, we just don't "get you." Why wasn't it Ben Franklin who said, "Early to bed, early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise?" But then you night owls have your own sayings, and you usually think of them at night.

In thinking of opposites as sandpaper, I also contemplate the idea of pessimist verses optimist. I like to refer to pessimists as "Eeyore" people. Most of you are familiar with Winnie the Pooh and his "glass half empty" sidekick, Eeyore. Some of you sympathize with Eeyore and feel he's a like-minded friend. You understand him and his way of looking at things. I, on the other hand, feel that Eeyore needs to get a life by helping others and look outside his life instead of inward all the time. Ha! Those of us who are "glass half full" people have little patience with our counterparts. And pessimistic people really feel that "perky" optimistic people need a reality check and need to just tone it down a bit.

Now, further complications occur if a perky optimist marries a pessimistic Eeyore. You know what they say, "Opposites attract until they are married."

Actually, this can work well in the balancing act of life. It works well on the job, too. We are sandpaper to one another yes, but we are also working together and being balanced out by one another. Can you imagine the world with only morning people? The coffee industry would go out of business not needing to support you night people that must "wake up" in the morning. There would also be no night shift and productivity would plummet. There would be not late night TV nor a need for 24-hour stores and such. I actually have never seen late night TV, and wonder why on earth it even exists. I remember as a girl (showing my age here) when television went off at about 11 p.m. and there was this buzzing noise and lines going across the set and TV did not come back on until 7 a.m. or so. This sounds logical to me and other morning people like me. My kids laughed wide-eyed when I told them about the one to three channel thingy and the fact that TV was not 24 hours back in the dark ages when I grew up. I've also tried to explain the absence of remote controls too, but I don't think they understood.

Or what if only optimistic people existed? We would rule the world with a Pollyanna attitude and would never see many important things that need to be done. We would have no pessimistic realists to keep our feet on the ground and our heads out of the clouds. In essence, we need each other. Learning to co-exist with others who grate on us is part of life. Parents do well to teach tolerance in this area and also how to coping techniques when others just aren't like you.

My goal is to remind myself and my kids to love the other person. All joking aside and what's been said are some minor illustrations of differences, but there are difficult, obnoxious and even mean people in the world. Now, that's just plain hard for me to admit, because the glass is half full here and everyone must have some good in them somewhere. But giving myself a reality check and getting my head out of the clouds for a moment, I realize there are those who, whether because they are different, or you remind them of an abusive person in their past, or because they have had a tumultuous and hard life or whatever the reason, seem bent on hurting you. If you are one of these people, I urge you to seek help through counseling, church, support groups, books, or the book of books: the Bible.

Honestly, then there are times that we must simply try to be loving, but keep a distance. That's hard for me, because I find difficult and even belligerent people a challenge, and I love to try and make them happy, cheer them up and help them. But some people simply want to be left alone in their misery and allowing them to make us miserable is out of the question. Life is too short. A boundary in our life is like a fence, not a wall. Fences keep the good in and the bad out. The boundary of keeping negative and destructive people from destroying us is a biblical one. Give them to God and move on to a more peaceful life.

Also, another reason some people are bent on hurting you is an age old problem and it roots back to Adam and Eve's boys. This is something I repeat over and over to my kids. (Remember: repetition is the key to memory.) The root of hostility 99 percent of the time is jealousy. Some folks are competitive and become jealous of things you never even imagined. A counseling class I had several years ago brought up the fact that women are extremely competitive with one another. At first, with my glass half full mentality, I thought, "no way." Then, after hearing the professors explain, I came to realize it is true. Now, you guys also have issues in this area, but it seems to be more of a stronghold with women. I determined in that class to guard my heart and life in this area. Competing is fine for sports, but it stinks for life. I have found that thanking God for whatever someone else has in their life that seems appealing to us is a giant key to unlocking any type of "green-eyed monster" that would love to appear and disrupt friendships, ruin organizations, destroy churches, and disrupt families. Women, let's build each other up and be introspective when this issue first crops into our thoughts. Again, life is too short. Mind control is actually mind occupation and replacing jealous thoughts with prayers of thankfulness and words of encouragement is the key in nipping animosity in the bud.

Sandpaper has a purpose in the woodworking industry. It is used to smooth out rough places. My friend, this is the ultimate "big picture" purpose for sandpaper people in our lives. They are to smooth out our rough places. I can never get away from the fact (nor would I want to) that our lives are being orchestrated and if we cooperate, we can see our lives reach their full potential and purpose. When the lesson is over, the sandpaper person will either be our friend or will be moved out of our lives. Just this week as I contemplated this article, a friend mentioned the word sandpaper in regards to a former co-worker. She left a certain job because of this person and a couple of years later went to work somewhere else and there she was again. But now, they are friends and this person is my friend's biggest advocate and champion. Interesting how things have a way of working out, isn't it? I am reminded also of the friction produced by sandpaper people. Friction produces power. When we cooperate with our heavenly father he produces power through the very thing or people we think are going to send us to an early grave. He gives us the precious gift of experience, empathy and compassion as tools for future usefulness. Sandpaper people are often the bridge to the next step or season in our lives. Let's not wince under the test, but rather meet the test with faith knowing it is ultimately for our good.

(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is the counselor and licensed chaplain for Cornerstone Christian Counseling Center. Email: or call: 304-637-7018 or 304-940-9362.)



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