I live in a small town. One of the first things that you learn when you move into town is that everyone has history, and the history is known to others. In fact it might even be what passes for entertainment in such places- the stratification of fellow residents according to all sorts of criteria-
- family background
- Place of origin
- Interesting snippets of gossip
- Achievements and failures.
- Association with other people who are known
- Jobs- particularly high profile ones, and so an opinion is necessary as to how the well the role is performed
- Membership of local groups and churches
These things are true in any community- but they are accentuated in small towns. The thing is, that this concentration of examination can mean that conflict in particular is corrosive and damaging, and potentially long lasting. There is little to divert or dilute, and it is likely that contact will still continue at some level within the communal spaces of the town.
Some conflicts are legendary- played out in the local courts, and the local paper. Once the solicitors get involved things rarely go well.
There seems to be a particular personality type that is associated with such things- someone who sees complex issues as black and white, and is motivated to seek first vindication and then perhaps, revenge.
There is always more to an issue than meets the eye;
By way of a case study- about three or four years ago, I was involved in a disciplinary hearing of a member of staff who worked for a local voluntary organisation. To cut a long story short, he was later dismissed in relation to another matter (in which I had some involvement in as well.) This process was long and protracted, and the man concerned showed no willingness or ability to understand or engage with any perspective but his own. It was clear that he saw himself as a victim of a malicious campaign led by myself.
At one point of this process, a window was smashed on a car on our drive, and then on two occasions, wheels mysteriously worked loose on the car- at considerable risk to myself and my family. There is of course, no evidence whatsoever to suggest who was responsible.
The man later appealed to an industrial tribunal, and defended himself successfully, in the sense that the organisation was found to have failed in it’s handling of the matter- mainly because a former chairperson admitted to the tribunal that he lied- having claimed not to have been in possession of information which it later transpired that he had, but had not acted upon.
It was a messy, difficult business, with the future of a vital local resource, employing a number of staff at stake. Hopefully over and done with…
Except it is not.
The man concerned has now engaged a solicitor to pursue his vindication. They have made formal complaints to the director of social work about me, and suggested that my lack of integrity means that I should be disciplined. This has been rejected, so I await his next moves…
What should be my response? He is unlikely after all this time to change his perspective. Too much depends on this view of himself persisting.
I could get lawyered up myself and prepare to do battle- it might yet come to this.
I could simply punch him on the nose. But although I am twice his size, I simply would not know how to start.
He has thrown my faith at me on several occasions- you know the way of it- ‘Bible basher!’, ‘Call yourself a Christian?…’
Well yes- I do. I follow Jesus, who had much worse accusations leveled at him. So I am going to do nothing at present. I hope that the man will find his way out of the destructive cycle that he is caught within. I will try my hardest to relax in grace, knowing that difficult people are usually people in difficulties.
And when we meet in supermarkets, I will look him in the eyes and offer what reconcilliation I can, lest we become another story of embattled and embittered small town life.