I lived in Indianapolis, or as I sometimes call it, “Indiana no place,” in the very late 1980s and very early 1990s. For reasons that aren’t germane to this post, I had a second job working at a pizza place. The pizza place was located next door to a beauty parlor in a small strip mall. That beauty parlor seemed to specialize in turning older women’s hair blue or purple, along with the occasional redwood picnic table color. Some of the ladies would order a pizza to pick up after their hair appointment. One day one of those ladies ordered a pizza with a triple helping of fresh sausage. The owner tried to warn her that this would be very greasy, indeed. She said, loudly, that “Mrs. Minton likes her pizza the way she likes it!” Could there be any doubt, given all of the third person nonsense in her speech, that Mrs. Minton was a retired grade school teacher? As an aside, we never did learn if she used the same line on Mr. Minton, if there was one.
Over the years and in a number of different contexts I have encountered many different Mrs. Mintons. What they all have in common is they want things the way they like them. What they all seem to struggle with is that quite often we can’t have things the way we like them. If we want to do the backstroke in a pool of sausage grease floating on top of our pizza, we may not be terribly disappointed if it doesn’t work out. If what we want is somehow connected to something deeper, perhaps a sense of identity or meaning, we may be profoundly threatened when it doesn’t work out. Such feelings are often expressed as anger, and to an outside observer that anger may seem out of proportion to the perceived offense.
I have learned that if I want things to be the way I want them, I have to do all the work. If there is an environment I feel necessary for whatever it is I am trying to accomplish, I alone must create it. I will also likely be the only one attending my events in my perfect environment. I will most likely find this frustrating, and I may identify the problem as being all of those people who don’t see the wisdom of my methods rather than my own unwillingness to compromise. After all, didn’t Jesus have great success just walking up to people and saying, “follow me”?
No matter how noble our plans and goals, getting people to go along with them requires building relationships. Walking into a new environment and demanding compliance is not a very effective recruiting tool if you aren’t a drill instructor. Needing to have everything the way you want it is a recipe for frustration and failure. It can be a sign of psychological disturbance as well. If you find yourself struggling to get along with others who have different goals or perspectives than you do, it might be time to consider seeing a therapist to sort out what is really underneath all of your conflict. I promise, you will feel better.