My third epiphany.
I had been teaching and guiding the children by the Golden Rule because I had been so moved by the book ‘Black Like Me’. Whenever they were faced with a situation where they, as children, could be cruel or unfeeling, I would ask them the question “How would YOU feel?” If any of them got into a physical or emotional disagreement with one of their siblings or friends I would always turn the situation around for the offender and ask them how they thought it felt to be treated the way they were treating their friend or sibling. We even had these same discussions regarding animals of all kinds - pets, birds, mice, and any creatures they might come across.
They all seemed to have an affinity for kindness and took to the Golden Rule very well. I won’t, even for an instant, try to say they didn’t have their many moments when they were typical children that got angry, that were selfish, that bullied, that broke the rules. But, as they grew, they didn’t have to be reminded nearly as often about the rule. They each have become caring, sensitive people that don’t have a biased bone in their bodies. I am incredibly proud of the adults each of them has become.
We could learn a lot from crayons: some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, some have weird names, and all are different colors...
but they all have to learn to live in the same box.
There is one specific example in my own practice of the rule of how well it works. I was training for a new waitress job; ‘new kid on the block’. Apparently there was a kind of ‘hazing’ for new hires that was performed by one of the bartenders. It wasn’t an official hazing but everyone went through it because ‘Bobby’ was so mean and nasty to the new staff until they knew the ropes. He would berate you if you asked any sort of question regarding how to handle any of the drinks he was required to serve your customers. He was mean and tried his best to make you feel stupid. And, we were required to tip him at the end of the shift for his help!!!
Every time he would answer my questions with a surly growl I would thank him and let him know how much I appreciated his help. No matter how hard it sometimes was to hold my tongue and not react to his nasty remarks I always thanked him for his help with a smile. I’m sure that every time someone reacted in anger it encouraged him even more. If someone yells at you isn’t your first thought to defend yourself and react in kind? After awhile you attack first. I had to continue to remind myself that I certainly had no knowledge of what might have happened in his life to encourage him to attack first.
I thought it would go on forever. Two weeks feels like forever when you have to work so hard at being nice. Deep down inside I wanted to give Bobby a good slap! According to ‘legend’ Bobby would just slowly stop targeting you when you stopped asking what he called ‘stupid questions’. But something happened, that in the entire time Bobby worked for this company, had never happened before. He called me aside and apologized for the way he had been treating me. He said, “No matter what I said you were always nice to me. And I continued to be mean to you. My behavior was unacceptable and I’m sorry.”
We may not always see this clear a result of following this rule but, I promise you, it will affect the way you feel about yourself. The feeling that came over me when Bobby apologized was all encompassing. It felt huge. I later identified it as ‘compassion’. My reason for continuing this behavior may be thought of as selfish because that feeling of compassion was so good I want to feel it over and over again.
Many examples of my learning the Golden Rule first hand came from Richard. Throughout my life I had only seen examples of self-centeredness, self-absorption or self-involvement from my mother. It never occurred to me to have my first thought (and very often my second or third) be of someone other than my mother or myself. What I learned from watching Richard’s behavior with our friends on a day-to-day basis was how to think of others first; how to be a thoughtful person.
“There is a transcendent power in example. We reform others unconsciously, when we walk uprightly.”
Anne Sophie Swetchine
It doesn’t matter what time of day or night it might be; if a friend or relative calls with a problem (their car broke down or they need some help with a household project or they need some help moving, etc.) Richard is there for them. I’ve seen him get up out of a sound sleep at two a.m. and drive an hour to assist a friend whose car broke down. Or he’ll suggest a small personally thoughtful gift for a friend because he noticed they had a particular interest. If he gives someone a ride somewhere, he will always watch until they are inside before leaving. If he drops someone to their own car, he will wait to make sure their car starts before driving away. Richard is always there if you need him to be and sometimes even when you didn’t think you needed him. I’m sure he learned to behave this way by watching his mother. What a wonderful example he was for our children. And for me.
LESSON: “Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if he or she were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness, and understanding you can muster, and do so with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” Og Mandino