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Toxic People

Like every baby boomer I know, I grew up watching Charles Schultz’ “Peanuts” characters come to life on television. Schulz had a knack for bringing universal human tendencies to light via his lovable cartoon characters. Linus is the blanket-carrying insecure person, Lucy controlling and deceitful, Charlie Brown the consummate loser and Snoopy the personification of cool. But my favorite character is Pig Pen.

Pig Pen is the guy with the cloud of dust particles following him wherever he goes. Life has to be difficult for Pig Pen; he clearly has issues and everyone can see them.

Forty-two-year-old Mitchell is married to Rona, who is about the same age. This is the second marriage for both, and they each have one child from the first union. When Rona’s daughter, Kaitlyn, was 21 and about to give birth to a baby boy, Mitchell and Rona received a desperate telephone call for help. Kaitlyn was involved with Derek, a young man who was only slightly more mature than the child about to enter the world. In fact, I would describe these prospective parents as ne’r-do-wells. That is, they both have had issues of drugs and alcohol, domestic violence, petty theft, dropping out of high school, unemployment and now an accidental pregnancy.

One more thing: This young couple had no money and nowhere to live.

Fortunately, Mitchell is a good man who loves Rona and her daughter. He offered to let Kaitlyn and her newborn child stay with them at least for a while. “But, no, you can’t bring Derek because you guys always fight; and I don’t trust him in my house.”

Of course, with Derek having nowhere to go, they were soon all under one roof—one big unhappy family. To be sure, everyone loved “the little primate.” He brought joy to parents and grandparents alike, but his adorable smile did nothing to remove the clouds of dust that closely followed his parents everywhere.

Before long, the alcohol, domestic violence, poor decision-making, and irresponsibility culminated in one-too-many visits from the police. Mitchell and Rona had had it! The young couple had to leave. As heartbreaking as it was to say goodbye to the baby, his parents had worn out their welcome. Not love, money or room and board had been enough to make them change their ways. Not even the advent of parenthood had sufficient impact to propel this young couple into adulthood.

Was this really about youth and immaturity? That would be a tempting excuse for Derek and Kaitlyn to avoid responsibility; but truth be told, most twenty-one-year-olds do not behave like these two. Their attitudes, beliefs and decisions are selfish, lazy, impulsive and very inconsiderate of others. They place great emphasis on short-term gratification. Consequently, it is easy to predict that very little in their life will improve in the near future. Simply becoming older will not change their patterns of thinking.

Which brings us back to Mitchell and Rona. Were they wrong to invite the young family into their home? I don’t think so. First, it’s never wrong to do the right thing. Trying to help family members in need is a good thing to do; however, no one was shocked when this domestic experiment failed.

There is such a thing as toxic people—people who are self-absorbed, explosive, inconsiderate, incapable of tolerating frustration etc. Like Pig Pen, they bring a cloud of toxins with them wherever they go.

It’s not wrong to love them or to try to help them. It is wrong, though, to think that your efforts in the form of love, money and kindness have the power to change them. Change is possible, but it must come from within the toxic person. Consequently, many toxic people never change. They get older, but they don’t lose their toxicity. They never lose that omnipresent cloud of dust.

Charles Schulz was a smart man.  

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