The phone call came on Friday afternoon because, well, these types of phone calls always seem to come on a Friday afternoon.
The caller was warning me that a self-important person was bad-mouthing me behind my back.
I wasn’t surprised, nor was I worried. In fact, at this point in my life, I didn’t much care.
I’ve had others slamming me for my successes ever since I broke the curve on tests back in junior high school. Heck, I once had another woman spread horrible, untrue rumors about how I treat others just because I got the job she wanted.
So, on Friday afternoon, when I was informed that I was being disparaged for playing well with others to improve a situation, I was only slightly irritated and a little bit sad for the woman who was maligning me.
I wasn’t being criticized for doing anything hurtful, mean-spirited or even self-serving. I was being cut down for succeeding at something that the other woman, for years, has failed to do.
And so, before I hung up on my caller, I told her not to worry. The hater’s words and anger had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her own unresolved issues. For years, she has demonstrated a pattern of trying to undermine strong, accomplished women.
But long after the phone call had ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the hate that’s permeating our current social and political environment. I continue to be astonished that so many people feel bad enough about themselves or their own situation that they are compelled to embrace raw hostility toward others.
Despite my initial desire to respond to vitriol with my own harsh words and behavior, I can’t let myself fall into that trap.
Doing so will only contributes to a cycle of negativity.
I speak from experience. At a political forum just this past week I found myself reacting to the ignorance of local politicians with my own derogatory, side comments. And then I immediately felt bad about myself.
Does that mean I should accept bluster, disdain and outright cruelty? No. I refuse to do that.
Something has to change, and being kind in an unkind world seems like a long-shot.
Then again, millions of people have embraced the message of two beloved authors, Charles Dickens and Dr. Seuss, who both wrote stories demonstrating that material possessions can never make a person happy and that kindness can change the hearts of completely selfish individuals.
And if witnessing the compassion of others can turn the souls of Scrooge and the Grinch inside out, then maybe, just maybe, there’s still hope for all the other haters in our country.
Which is why, when I go back to work on Monday, I’m not going to let the hater prevent me from doing what is right, saying what is true, and most importantly, living a life that I know would meet with the approval of Mr. Dickens and Dr. Seuss.
And I challenge any hater to say something negative about those two.
The girl hadn’t done anything wrong, but for some reason, the adult didn’t like her. And she told her that. In those exact words.
“I don’t like you.”
Not only were the words hurtful, but they were uttered in front of several other girls and even a couple other adults.
Seeing how the woman’s words affected the girl was heart wrenching
She withdrew and refused to tell any other adults what happened to her.
But I told them, the incident was addressed and there was some of the expected fall out.
I can’t say I felt good about anything that happened. I didn’t just feel sorry for the girl, I also felt sorry for the adult. She must be genuinely unhappy or fearful to treat anyone, especially a child, in the manner that she did.
But the incident also reminded me of how important ALL the people in our lives are. We might not always like them or even appreciate them at the time, but eventually we recognize what they contributed to our lives.
They may have helped us learn patience and understanding. They may have taught us to stand up for ourselves or for someone else. They may have taught us to be more accepting. Or they may even have taught us to cut our losses and walk away.
But no matter what, they have touched our lives. And even though we can’t always control the people we interact with, we can always control how we react.
And that always makes me smile.
Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green Lights Day 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory Day 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His Masculinity Day 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of Hay Day 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still Remember Day 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessons Day 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
The first time I opened the pages of The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, I fell in love with the story and its lesson.
Bartholomew Cubbins was poor, but he did his best to follow the law, which required him to take off his hat when in the presence of the king.
Unfortunately for Bartholomew, every time he removed one hat, another immediately took its place. Then, after removing hundreds of similar hats, each new hat started becoming more extravagant than the previous.
After Bartholomew was threatened with death for his inability to go hatless, he finally removed the last hat, which was decorated with gold and jewels.
The king was so impressed that he not only granted Bartholomew a reprieve for wearing a hat in his presence, but he also purchased the last hat for himself.
Even as a child, I got the message: there will always be people who abuse their power in order to make themselves feel important. Often, we are forced to comply to protect ourselves. But eventually, if we persevere and do the right thing, we will prevail while those who worship power continue to struggle with their own weaknesses.
That lesson always makes me smile.
Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s Victory
There are times I feel as though mean and difficult people are the masterminds behind a sinister plot to take over the world. They know they’ll eventually just wear out the rest of us with their rude comments and insensitive behavior.
But then I come to my senses and realize if they were actually smart enough to carry out such a plot, they’d have more sense than a second grader. That’s when you learn some of life’s most important lessons. For example, I learned that a poor decision or a mean word will stay on your permanent record card forever, and a blemish on that card is never going to help you succeed.
Of course, I learned that lesson the hard way. I got the first black mark on my permanent record card when I was in second grade. I’ve had countless since then, but that’s the one that taught me about consequences and guilt.
The exact details of my crime are rather fuzzy, but the guilt is forever etched in my conscience.
The problems started because I was a bus rider.
In second grade, we didn’t have cliques, but there were two distinct groups: bus riders and walkers. (In those days, only the children of teachers came to school in cars.)
I perceived the walkers as privileged. They didn’t have to wait for anyone or abide by any schedule other than the ring of the bell. They didn’t have to arrive at school until the very last minute, and they could leave as soon as the bell rang at the end of the day.
I was jealous.
Those of us who rode the bus were just stuck. Since my bus ran earlier than others, there was a group of us who arrived at school much earlier than we actually needed to be there. In order for school officials to maintain order, they required us to immediately go to the cafeteria and sit quietly until given permission to go to our classrooms.
The wait was long and boring, especially since we were always being told to “quiet down.” Even now, almost 40 years later, I find that difficult. In second grade, it seemed impossible.
I don’t remember who came up with the scheme or how we executed it, but a group of friends and I decided we were going to escape the prison in the cafeteria. We didn’t make it far and were soon discovered hiding in the bathroom. After yelling at us, a teacher escorted my fellow criminals and me to the principal’s office.
The only thing I knew about the principal’s office was that it was where the really bad kids went. I was pretty sure there was a jail cell in there, where we would be handcuffed and chained to the bars as punishment for our crime. My worries grew as we were told to sit outside Mr. Mitchell’s office and “think about what we had done.”
By the time Mr. Mitchell opened his door and told us to come in, I was shaking.
Mr. Mitchell sat behind the desk and lectured us and lectured us and lectured us. As he talked, his face got redder and redder and redder. The only words I remember were “your permanent record card.”
I was supposed to go to college and get a job. I had no idea how I was going to tell my parents that all their hopes and dreams for me had been erased with one stupid decision. (Yes, I really did worry about such things as a young child.)
For years, I worried about my permanent record card and that time in the principal’s office. Many nights, I would lie in bed thinking about the implications. My concerns finally began to fade when I was an adolescent and transferred to a different school district. As my records were being reviewed, no one mentioned my criminal past.
I had been granted a pardon, and I was grateful. But, now, I find myself getting tired of passing on the gift of a pardon to others.
This week I am especially tired. I wrote in another blog about the death of a young West Virginian. While most of the feedback was positive, there were also individuals who left comments that belittled the individual and his way of life. The comments were hurtful and rude and pointless.
They were also permanent. Even if they are deleted, others have already read them, including friends and family members.
The situation bothered me to the point I couldn’t sleep at night worrying whether or not I should even have written about the young man’s death.
But then I remembered another important lesson from second grade: most people are mean to others because they don’t feel good about themselves, so you should try to be nice to them anyway.
I guess I’ll keep trying. Even though the marks made by negative behavior (by both me and by other people) may be permanent, marks for positive behaviors can be permanent too. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.
In more innocent times, I never worried about leaving a bowl of jelly beans on my desk. Instead, I was pleased to share with others while regularly snagging a few pieces of candy myself.
I should have known better.
I should have realized that some people will always find a way to sabotage life’s small pleasures because they are so focused on meeting their own needs.
I learned the lessons of jelly beans when I was getting my master’s degree and had classes with someone from high school. I don’t remember ever talking to my fellow student in high school and was honestly surprised he’d even graduated from college.
I had preconceived beliefs about him, and he, in turn had preconceived beliefs about me. I remember the day he told me, “you are actually really funny. In high school, your friends told me you were funny, but I never believed it. I always thought you were just too smart and too serious. You really aren’t that serious at all.”
I couldn’t really fault him for never getting to know me as I’d never made the effort to know him.
Instead, I’d simply thought he was someone who spent a lot of time in the principal’s office.
Turns out, I was wrong.
He rarely spent any time in the principal’s office. Instead, he spent a lot of time with the vice principal, who was in charge of discipline.
“Mr. Tidquist and I,” he said, “were quite familiar with each other. But I really didn’t like him or the jelly beans he always kept on his desk.”
I shouldn’t have asked about the jelly beans, but I couldn’t resist.
“Mr. Tidquist always had a jar of jelly beans on his desk, and sometimes he would grab a handful and eat them while lecturing me,” he told me. “One day, I was sitting in his office alone waiting for him to come in, and I was just so angry. I kept looking at those jelly beans and thinking of Mr. Tidquist eating them. I just couldn’t help myself. I would take few, put them up my nose, put them back in the jar and then stick some more up my nose.”
“I can’t even describe how I felt when Mr. Tidquist came back in his office, sat at his desk, grabbed a handful of jelly beans and ate them.”
After hearing the story, I couldn’t immediately describe how I felt either, other than to say I was relieved that I’d never been in Mr. Tidquist’s office and therefore never been tempted to eat his jelly beans.
But lately, I feel as though my decisions, beliefs and values are like the jelly beans on Mr. Tidquist’s desk. I take pleasure in being a strong and educated woman who can think and act on her own. I like to believe that by sharing and discussing my opinions, I just might help make the world a little bit better.
Instead, when I’m not around, some people choose to express their dislike and misperceptions by judging me, discrediting me or misinterpreting my actions. But they don’t say anything to me directly.
In other words, they are sticking my jelly beans up their noses.
Since I’m human, there’s a part of me that can’t help but be bothered and offended. But there’s another part of me that realizes how their behavior has nothing at all to do with me. Which is why, instead of taking my jelly beans off my desk, I’m thinking of putting a mirror next to them.
That way, when people put my jelly beans up their noses, they are forced to see how their words and behavior only reflect back on them.
In the meantime, I’m going to continue to enjoy sharing my jelly beans with everyone who appreciates them.
There are a lot of ways to define success. My definition often depends on my mood and on the balance in my check book.
But most of the time, I fall back on the definition that just seems to make the most sense: Success isn’t measured by the size of your bank account, by the number of people who admire you (or who fear you) or by the number of awards you’ve received. Success is defined by the positive difference you make in the lives of others.
I say that because I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by successful people. These are people who humble me. People who make me want to be a better person. People who give far more than anyone would ever expect, and in many cases, far more than I am capable of giving myself.
I’m more than simply fortunate. I’m down right grateful. If it weren’t for these successful people, I couldn’t do my job.
For those of you who don’t know what I do, you aren’t alone. I’m not sure my husband even knows what I do.
Sometimes I tell people that I work in the community to address health and human service issues. Sometimes I tell people that I get to spend the money that others raise for the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle. And sometimes I tell people that I herd cats.
But none of those simple descriptions defines the scope of my job: every day, I get to work with a wide variety of community members who simply want to make a difference in the lives of others. And I get the privilege of watching them succeed.
During this past week, when some of these committed volunteers were deliberating over the best way to invest donor dollars, an article that mentioned that United Way of the Eastern Panhandle was published in our local paper, the Martinsburg Journal. Twenty years ago, this article would have simply been an account of an event . But, thanks to the internet, people can now anonymously express their opinion about every article. Or the content of every article. Or their perceived content of every article. Or about any person, business, or organization mentioned in the article.
In this case, people took the opportunity to bash the United Way. The comments ranged from claiming the United Way is a racist organization to claiming that we use donor dollars inefficiently. For anyone familiar with the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, these individuals obviously don’t understand the organization. Or more importantly, they don’t understand WHO the United Way is. Most likely, they don’t care.
While the internet has added so many wonderful opportunities — from social networks that let us re-connect with people from our past to a wide variety of information at our fingertips – – it also provides the opportunity for people to hide behind anonymous names and cruelly attack just about anything and anyone. Not only do they spew their negativity as though they were are an authority on the subject of they day, but they seem to take pride when others take the bait. And, unfortunately, these people mistakenly believe they are thriving. But they aren’t – – quite the opposite, in fact.
Thriving people are those who spend their time and energy building others up rather than tearing others down. The kind of people who I’m surrounded by every day:
- Staff and volunteers who work for nonprofit, service and faith-based partner organizations, and who have such passion for a cause that they often put the needs of the organization and the clients above their own.
- Community members who raise dollars that are used to make a measurable difference in the lives of others, such as a local businessperson who continues to ask for donations despite being turned down again and again and again.
- Individuals who donate what they can, even when they are struggling to make ends meet. These are people who, even when they don’t have an extra penny in their pocket, will hold a fundraiser so they can still give something. (Interesting, studies have shown that lower income people give a larger percentage of their income to charity than do the rich . Some experts think this is because they have needed help or have a family member or friend who has received assistance, and they know how important giving back is.)
These are the most successful people I know. Because, despite the size of their bank account, despite their educational status and despite the number of times they’ve been criticized, they are making their little corner of the world a lot better.
And, ironically, they are so busy doing the right thing, they don’t have any time to do the wrong thing… or to post anonymous, critical comments online.
If someone were to ask me the absolutely best thing about getting older, I wouldn’t even hesitate to answer that I actually expect less of myself even though I am capable of accomplishing more than I ever have. But ask me the worst thing about getting older?
Once I wade through all the usual complaints about my body not being what it used to be or that I don’t even know what cool is (according to my nine-year old daughter), I can say, without a doubt, it’s the expectation that as I age, I am expected to become wise. And with wisdom comes the ability to give great advice.
Not that I am incapable of giving advice. I give it every day… whether people want to hear it or not. But as is true with so many things, I can dish it out much better than I can take it.
I HATE getting advice. I took a dislike to it as a child, and my opinion hasn’t changed much since then. In other words, if someone suggests I go left, I often go right just to prove I’m not stupid or incapable of making my own decisions.
Unfortunately, in most cases, I really should have gone left. Eventually, I figure that out. But that doesn’t happen without first getting a lot of bumps, bruises and even major injuries. Needless to say I have a lot of scars… and even a few wounds that still need to completely heal.
But, here’s the thing. Those scars are great reminders of the mistakes I’ve made. And I do give myself credit for being someone who learns from her mistakes. And yes, I’ve learned a lot. But there are still a lot of things I’d like to know.
So instead of getting advice, what I really want is answers:
- I want to know why people who have money are given more power and attention than people who care for and teach our children or people who help those who are disadvantaged.
- I want to know why some parents treat their children as extensions of themselves and insist on rubbing all their accomplishments in your face while blaming others for their child’s mistakes.
- I want to know why some people insist they have a right to own dogs, but then keep them tied up all day and don’t give them the love and attention they need.
- I want to know why some people call themselves Christians , but then spend so much time and energy judging others.
- I want to know why some people think that tearing others down serves to build themselves up.
- And most of all? I want to know why people believe their way of thinking or doing things is THE way. Why don’t they recognize that each of us is different, and, because of that, there is no right way. We all have different needs, wants and desires.
And my personal desire? As I get older, I just want genuine answers to these questions.