Friday, March 15, 2013

Choose To Go From Here

This past weekend, I watched a very moving and terrific movie with my family, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.  I can tell it did a number on me because I keep coming back to the characters and the plotline. 

There was a line from that movie that hit me: “We cannot choose from where we come from, but we can choose where we go from here”.  A lot is said in that one line and if you’re open to it, it can mean several different things to whoever reads it.

In previous posts, I talked about my life growing up.  I came from an emotionally abusive home.  Were it not for my dad and my sisters and brothers . . .  We were there for each other.  We cared about one another.  When one hurt, there was someone to help treat the emotional wounds, to encourage, to help, to hold, to soften and temper the hurt.  It was tough, but we made it.

I also wouldn’t have traded that life for any other.  It made me who I am.  I think that’s why I gravitated to psychology and the behavioral sciences, teaching, and coaching and eventually, counseling.  I think that’s why as an administrator, I spend so much time and capital on relationships. 

But I’ve also moved on.  I’m not the same scared and scarred little boy I once was.  I might carry the scars with me, but they remind me of where I’ve come from, how much I’ve grown, and just as importantly, remind me to try and deal with people- whomever they are- respectfully with care and compassion and kindness.

“We cannot choose from where we come from, but we can choose where we go from here.”

That’s a powerful statement, an uplifting statement, and a statement of hope.  You see, we do have a choice.  We don’t need to continue to do things as we have always done them.  We don’t need to treat people as we’ve always treated them.  And, we don’t need to be treated as we’ve always been treated.  We can choose to be kind.  We can choose to be compassionate.  We can choose to care.  We can step out of an abusive relationship because we don’t need to be abused.  We deserve more.  Really!

Remembering where we came from will guide us to where we want to go.  It is a choice either way.  We can stay where we’ve been or we can Choose Where To Go From Here!   
Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Charlie is a troubled teen suffering from blackouts and carrying a secret.  His middle school years were difficult at best and his freshman year in high school gets off to a rocky start.  He eats alone in the cafeteria, walks the hallways anonymously, and is in general, ignored.  Finally, he’s befriended by a teacher who sees potential in him and feeds Charlie’s passion for books, literature and writing.  He’s finally accepted by two seniors, Patrick and Sam, and Charlie confesses to them, “I didn’t think anyone noticed me.”

To say that Charlie is a fictional character from the movie, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower based upon a book written by Stephen Chbosky would be fooling myself and lying to you.  Charlie is much more than that. 

I’ve been in education for 37 years and I’ve seen, watched and spoken to many Charlies over the years.  While The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a work of fiction, kids like Charlie walk the hallways of any school in any city anywhere. 

I’m thinking of a young man in particular.  “Jeff” (not his real name) walks three laps each morning by himself.  By that I mean, he makes a circuit from first floor, to second floor and back to first each morning, every morning, always walking past me before he heads up the stairs.  He’s by himself.  Always.  In fact, I’ve never seen him walking or talking with any other students since September when the school year began.  It took him six months to smile at me and say hello.  As hard as I try to engage him in conversation, he resorts to one or two word answers.  He’s pleasant enough.  Dresses like the rest of the kids do.  Nothing extraordinary about him, other than the fact that he is alone.

And, if these kids are walking hallways in a school, these same kids are sitting at your dinner tables, watching TV alongside you at night, sitting in their rooms doing homework, playing video games, texting and listening to music.  They’re sleeping in their bedrooms each night only to get up each morning and do what they always do- walk the hallways of a school once again.  Push play, repeat, play, repeat . . .

This past month, we sponsored what is called Challenge Day for our students. Students spend a day with adult volunteers and two facilitators who help kids understand they aren’t alone, unique, odd or different.  They help kids come to realize that each of us- adults included- have fears, worries, challenges, good days and bad days.  The stories these kids and adults share bring even the most hardened of hearts to mush.  There are tears.  There is laughter.  Mostly, there is understanding and acceptance and tolerance.  Above all, acceptance and tolerance.

There are kids like Charlie all over.  Everywhere.  Some we know because we see them every day.  Some we know because they cut our lawn, wash our car, serve us fast food from the drive-through.  Some we know because they sit quietly, passively in our classroom, eat in our cafeteria.  Some we know because they are our own children.  Perhaps they are, were, us.  We know firsthand what they experience because we’ve been through it before them.  Perhaps we’re still going through it even now as adults.  Moving through our daily job, our daily tasks silently, quietly, passively.  Not wanting to be bothered.  Not wanting the spotlight.  Not wanting to be noticed.  But wanting to be bothered.  Wanting the spotlight and most importantly, wanting to be noticed.

Push Play.  Repeat.  Play.  Repeat.  Day after day.  Night after night.  Week after week.  Waiting for a kind word, a gentle touch, someone to notice us, to listen to us, to be with us.

Maybe it’s time to break that cycle.  Maybe it’s time to help our children, help ourselves.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Best He Had

The carol, Little Drummer Boy is not one of my favorite songs during the holiday season.  There are others I prefer to hear, but this past weekend, I was forced to take a closer look at it.  The song is about a little poor shepherd boy who wanted to give a gift to baby Jesus and His mother, Mary.  The shepherd boy had nothing but his drum.  He asked if he could play and as the song went, Mary smiled and nodded.  The little boy was pleased he could give something, even it if was as small and as insignificant as playing a drum, and Mary was pleased he gave what he could.  To the shepherd boy, it was The Best He Had and I’m sure he was proud of it.  It wasn't insignificant to him!

One week ago, I worked a fairly large job fair and was busy from the time it began to the very end.  Twenty-five minute interviews, one after another, rating each one according to the interview form before me.  Some did better than others.  Some were very nervous, some not at all.  The Best They Could.  At one point towards the end of the day and after one of our interviews was completed, I noticed one candidate leaving the interview area and I made the comment to my partner, “Would you think to come to an interview dressed like that?”  He wasn’t dressed horribly.  He didn’t wear jeans and a t-shirt.  He had on a pair of slacks, an older coat, and a shirt without a tie.  He carried papers with him, probably copies of his resume and cover letter, maybe other material in hopes of setting himself apart from the rest.  I just thought he could have dressed nicer.  Without a pause or hesitation, my partner answered, “Maybe it was the Best He Had.”  I was absolutely ashamed.  One week later, I still feel ashamed.  I judged rashly, poorly, and the only basis of judgment was the way he was dressed.  How very small of me.  In my postings, I call on each of us, me included, to do better for each other and for ourselves.  I didn’t live up to that call.  I failed miserably.

How often do we look at a person from the outside rather than from within?  I had to have someone remind me, gently, that people do The Best They Can and often times, give The Best They Have.  The poor shepherd boy gave the Best Gift He Could and it was accepted with a smile and a nod.  The man at the interview came in the Best He Had.  Who am I to judge?  Am I that small that I looked at him and made a decision of “less than” based upon what he was wearing?  I wonder how many times I’ve been judged in the same way – rashly.  I think we all have and each of us knows how it feels. It hurts.  We’re bewildered because we did the Best We Could.

I still feel ashamed.  I know better.  But as I stated in a previous post (If I Coulda-Woulda-Shoulda), I’ll chalk this up to a mistake, learn from it, and move on.  I – we – have to learn from this.  We can’t afford not to.  Judgment hurts too many people, including ourselves.  I have to do better.  We have to do better.

Best He Had.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Life On A Tightrope

I have no interest in balancing on a tightrope.  The thought of heights gives me the willies.  There is this feeling I get in the pit of my stomach as I look out over a ledge, a cliff, and even the balcony overlooking our family room.  I never used to feel this way.  I could climb bluffs, trees, and hike fearlessly.  Somewhere along the line, I lost that ability.

I went to very few circuses in my life, but when I did, I was always amazed at the trapeze artists who operated with and sometimes without a net.  They’d walk blindfolded, ride a bike, and sometimes walk backward.  They’d hop or jump, seemingly without fear or concern.  One brave soul would hang upside-down on a swing and catch their teammate or hurl them from one tiny platform to the other.  When I watch gymnasts perform on the balance beam, I’m amazed at the flips, turns, and stunts they’re able to do.  And again, they seem to perform fearlessly and courageously, until they dismount and breathe a sigh of relief.

I think at one time or another, each of us walks on a tightrope.  Sometimes with a net, and sometimes without.  Sometimes we’re way up in the air, while at other times, closer to the ground.  But we walk on a tightrope nonetheless.  That tightrope could be our hopes and fears for our children as they struggle making friends, studying their way through college, securing a good job and managing their debt.  Sometimes that tightrope is our financial situation.  Sometimes that tightrope is our relationship to our spouse, our significant other.  Sometimes ourselves. That tightrope might be our job and position and the daily decisions we make.  We decide to do what is right, fair and just or decide what is politically correct and safe, regardless of whether or not it is right or wrong, good or bad, morally just or not. 

I believe those of us with titles are more often on the tightrope than not.  Depending upon the situation and circumstance, there is a net . . . or not.  There might be those who are supportive, and sometimes those who wait, and perhaps want us to fall.

In The Power of Progress, Teresa Amabile writes, “When people see that leaders can’t or won’t support their work, they view themselves like tightrope walkers working without a net.  When leadership or other groups actively hinder their work, they feel like someone is shaking that tightrope.” Scary thought isn’t it?  Scary or not, I see the truth in that statement.

If we realize that each of us is at one time or another on a tightrope, we can support each other, cheer each other on, and help catch one another when we fall.  I think that might be a better way to live.  Support, encouragement, friendship are sometimes in short supply.  They don’t have to be.  Really!  We can choose to supply them to each other . . .  and to ourselves.  Really!  Something to think about . . .
Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Memories We Make

Like dust or lint, like coins or stamps or photographs, we collect memories in various ways.  Think of a roller coaster.  My mention of it brings a memory, happy or thrilling or perhaps frightening to you as if it were a moment ago.  Chances are you can picture who you were with, the clothes you had on, and which park that roller coaster was in.  Memories are powerful indicators of where we were, what we’ve done and in some cases, who we were.  I say who we were, because we change over time or at least have presented to us the opportunity to change.

My daughter, Emily, wrote a descriptive essay for her English class.  She titled it, Fire.  In it, she talked about the cottage and the fire pit, which is her favorite place at the cottage.  The stories and laughter that were shared, the s’mores that were eaten, the chorus of frogs and crickets in the dark, the fish splashing in the lake.  I knew that the cottage means a lot to her.  But she wrote this based on her memories, which were built over time.  And interestingly enough, we’ve not been to the cottage in three years.  How powerful our memories are!

My older daughter, Hannah, likes family get-togethers because we tell family stories.  Some are embarrassing, many of them funny, some sad.  It’s a glimpse of our life growing up and gives her, and each other, a reassurance of family history.  The tree fort, the tire swing, the green apple tree, the river.  The card game after holiday meals, the camping trips and the tent that leaked each and every summer it was used, and the family sing-a-longs.  The Saturday morning ritual of my mom, Hannah’s grandmother, baking bread and buns in the kitchen and the rich, mouthwatering smell associated with that.  Hannah never experienced this, but through our story telling and our laughter, sometimes our tears, she gets to imagine it, perhaps live it for herself.

In an earlier post, A Drop In The Ocean, I talked about how my life was transformed by a teacher, Mrs. Mehring.  To this day, 49 years later, I can picture the classroom, my desk, her face, the color of her hair, the tone of her voice and some of the words she used.  I can do that with Sr. Josephe’ Marie, my sixth grade teacher, who to this day, I still correspond with and who I seek advice from.  Parents, friends, other family members.  Family trips.

Which all lead me to, The Memories We Make.  Formed from the words we use and the tone of voice used to express them, places we’ve been to and who we were with.  Formed from our actions, a touch, a whisper, a smile, a pat on the back or a hug.  Formed by just being present, by listening, by consoling, by . . .

What is our part in the memories being made by those around us?  What memories will our children make from the material we give them?  What memory will our wife or husband make from our words, our actions, our gestures?  What memories will our colleagues- those above and below and on the same level- make from our interactions with them?  In short, how will we be remembered, or more importantly, how do we want to be remembered?  If what we’re doing and saying today is contrary to that answer, perhaps we need to change course and get back on that path that will lead to the memory we want people, our children, our loved ones, our friends and acquaintances to remember us by.  Whether we like it or not, each of us helps make memories for others.  And for ourselves.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Live, Make A Difference!