People are going to let you down

Have you ever been let down by someone? How about someone you consider a very close confidant? How about family? Most people would answer yes to one of these questions and if you’re like me, all three. Today, I want to share a simple story about how three examples from my past taught me about the imperfections of people.

I have an amazing family and an amazing father. In 7th grade, my class was asked to write a one page paper on a “Hero” in their life. This person could be historical, an athlete, or even a mentor. I wrote my paper about my dad…and so did four of my other friends. During childhood, my dad was my baseball and basketball coach, Boy Scout leader, and best friend. He even took me and my brother out for a weekly ‘Special Breakfast’ where we just talked about what was going on with girls or school or anything else on our minds. He also wanted me to know all about chivalry with girls and doing the right thing in tough situations. I can remember three such times he was looking to show his son that doing the right thing, although hard, always pays off. All three backfired.

The first of these opportunities appeared during a baseball game. Baseball was my favorite sport but my coach that year had made it a living hell. During a game that was particularly frustrating, I gave him a piece of my mind and walked off the field into the parking lot. My Dad stopped me and after a talk, made me go back and apologize to my coach. The second time was during a Boy Scout meeting when this tool of a ‘leader’ came down on me out of favoritism to his own kids. I went OFF, calling him and his sons a joke among other expletives and walked out. Again, my father came and got me and made me go back inside and say sorry. The final instance happened at school under very similar circumstances. I ate the proverbial humble pie once again. I say that all three backfired but not on me. They backfired on my Dad. All three of the men that I, as a young boy, apologized to, lashed out at me even with even more severity. They poured into me with things like, “You better be sorry! You should be ashamed of yourself! You obviously were not brought up right and are headed for more failure.” My Dad was shocked. He went back in each instance and told them what kind of an example they were showing that a sincere admittance of wrong gets you in the world. As a child, I watched with delight as my Dad stood up for me. Now, as an adult, I think of the true lesson hidden between the lines of these instances. People aren’t perfect.

My Dad thought that these men would show me that saying sorry is necessary when we screw up. Instead, I learned that the world isn’t fine tuned to some explicit moral code of conduct. I learned that people screw up because we’re all human. I had to re-learn this principle later on when, as a senior in high school, I saw my Christian parents go their separate ways. Our family fell apart. A comment from my younger brother helped me during this: “When I stopped looking at mom and dad as parents and more like people, I forgave them. I understood that they’re just as human as you or I and have their own lives, their own worries, and their own choices to make.” I assure you, both of my parents have let me down since that time and my dad did very recently. It’s why I’m writing this now.

People deal with this in different ways. I hear girls say, “All guys are a@#holes! I’m never dating again.” I hear about examples of families where resentments or grudges have kept siblings and parents apart for years. I hear about individuals who have been so hurt once, they will never let anyone else in. How many close confidants do you have in your life? Want to guess what the most common answer is, according to a 2012 study? ZERO. I disagree with all of these options. People can be just as  wonderful as they can be mean. They can be encouraging, generous, outgoing, courteous, thoughtful, considerate, motivating, and sympathetic influences on our daily lives. BUT! Lets not forget that each and every one is human. Prone to mistakes. Programmed to think of themselves first and others second. If this doesn’t sound familiar, just go find and a mirror because De-Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt.

Just like recycling, it starts with us as individuals. You can be sure that when I have a little kid say, “Thank you,” I return it with a smile and, “Your welcome.” I even go out of my way to compliment him in front of the parents on his wonderful manners. I’ve heard that when you have kids, the way you raise them will either be the same as your parents or the exact opposite. I was blessed with wonderful parents! Even though they let me down at times, I’m reminded that we’re all human and if I want to see a change in the others behavior, that starts with my own first.

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Are you a BoyScout?

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Are you a Boy Scout?

 

“Are you a boy scout?” The decrepit man looked at me with heavy but bright eyes that had seen their share of years.

“Why yes, I actually am,” I replied with uncertainty.

“Would you mind doing a good deed?”

 

That is how I found myself placing a bandage around the yellowish, infected toe nail of a 90 year-old man in my gym’s small locker room this morning. I had to hold the toe nail, which was was about to fall off, while I tightly wrapped it up with Johnson and Johnson’s most popular product. Does that make you cringe? Probably. Yet for me it had a different effect. Only minutes before I had been in the shower feeling tired, hungry and a little discouraged. I was all wrapped up in my own poor circumstances when this man’s voice had broken through the fog with that unusual question, “Are you a boyscout?” As the situation progressed and I realized what he was asking, I began to laugh out loud. You have GOT to be joking. I told him to trim his nails and see a doctor but he said, “If that’s all that is wrong with me at 90, I’m probably pretty well off.” What a perspective!

Charles (his name) brought new life to my day. He gave me a story. The image of his gross toenail will be stuck in my head days from now and it will bring a smile that I would otherwise have missed out on. Sometimes we all need a little break from the monotony of our daily routine to open our eyes to the people in the world around us. It could be taking a different route to work or getting coffee from a new coffee shop. Try a food you’ve never tried or go do Yoga for the first time. These events have more of an effect than the activity itself. They do more than you probably think.

I once heard that it is a good exercise for our brains to listen to a new CD all the way through. The reason has to do with the human brain and the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain, among other functions, has the ability to play out scenarios that have not yet occurred. For example, major life change’s like marriage, a Caribbean vacation, a new car, or winning the lottery. We can imagine how each of these would make us feel even before they happen. Our brain plays and replays the outcome of these hypotheticals until it becomes rooted. It becomes so rooted that when the result is different than expected, we are let down. Instead of joy at a vacation, we think, “I wish it would have been longer. The hotel staff was rude. We should have chosen a different location. The weather would have been better in July”…and so on and so forth. In terms of the CD scenario, when we listen to something we are familiar with, we mentally prepare for the next song to come on as we expect it to. So it’s actually exercising the brain to listen to a) something we are unfamiliar with and b) use our imagination, not previous experience, to think about what’s coming on next. Your brain is thinking of a hundred possibilities of what music will play next. It is being exercised. The problem with our pre-frontal cortex? Most of the time it’s wrong. Reality deals life from a different deck of cards. You want to be happy on vacation? Be thankful and happy for today. You want marriage to mean something?Be thankful for every moment you spend with that person and show love when it’s NOT expected. Why do you think flowers are more meaningful when it’s not Valentines Day? DUH!

Somehow it always comes back to a child’s imagination. Children don’t put limits on their world. One way to look at it is this: When did wrapping paper stop being a sword? When did a towel stop being a cape? As a lego maniac myself, I can assure you that when I saw a box of lego parts, I saw much more than the average kid. I saw huge lasers that could be assembled onto massive starship cruisers to battle underwater monsters. If you gave me legos today I would probably still see that. I love creativity and Disney World is one of my favorite places to be. That’s another topic though. 

The main point is that we get stuck in the monotony of day-in, day-out routine. Our brain becomes trained to expect coffee in the morning, a nine hour work shift of boredom, a job we dislike, and acquaintances we don’t even consider true friends. When something does come along that’s extraordinary, we barely lift our heads to see it. We don’t even recognize it. What if you went into every day like a kid. What if everyday you thought that ANYTHING could happen. It might allow you to begin to appreciate the little things. It would allow you to recognize the extraordinary. I mean tomorrow isn’t even guaranteed right? So ANYTHING truly can happen tomorrow. That’s how I want to think and I thank Charles for opening my eyes and widening my smile just for today. 🙂