I wrote a while back about Aelred and his spiritual friendship. I like friendship; I like writing about it; and I like seeing and experiencing it. But I’ve been thinking about Aelred quite a bit. He has kind of been following me all around, pointing out good examples of love and friendship and bad examples, and keeping me on the straight and narrow. I like that about Aelred: he’s so loving and wonderfully helpful.
There’s something else I really like about Aelred, though. (Besides the fact that his Feast Day is on my birthday! Yeah, that’s right, we celebrate the life of the greatest friends of all time with our friends on my birthday!) When he was writing and teaching and being awesome in the twelfth century, there were some people inexplicably who didn’t like him. I guess this makes sense. No one goes through his whole life without having some haters. And, as everyone knows, haters gonna hate.
The common practice during the twelfth century was to respond to the haters. You did this by writing long and scathing tracts to your haters about why they were wrong and you were better. Some writers, like the always-angry-and-melancholy Abelard, spent the better part of their careers responding to the criticism from these other writers who were never going to agree with anyone anyway. Kind of a useless endeavor, if you ask me. And in Abelard’s case, it cost him to forget about this wonderful girl Heloise who was a keeper if there ever was one.
Anyway, I’m digressing and airing nine-century-old grudges.
Aelred never responded to his haters. And I’m sure, at the time, it felt like all of the world was against him because when you are a public figure and you have haters, it feels like those haters are everyone. But somehow, Aelred pulled through it. He didn’t lash out, and he kept reminding himself, I suspect, that there were plenty of people who loved him. His writing shows it.
Like with most people, Aelred eventually died, but his writing has survived. We have writing from a lot of writers from his time. The cool thing about writing from that time is that they didn’t divorce their personalities from their rhetorical voices so we, as modern readers, easily make judgments about what kind of people they were. And here’s the moral of this story: Aelred, because he was never bitter, never hateful, never spiteful and always loving, is beloved today. Readers read him and feel like they could easily crack open a fresh one with him. And so now, in 2011, Aelred’s haters don’t matter. Because haters die too, and if you don’t respond to them, the record of them dies as well.
How do you deal with haters?