Tuesday, December 20, 2016


     Years ago, I used to read a lot of “Self-Help” books. I remember certain sentences that jumped out at me at the time, messages that resonated with me at that stage of my life. I too would have highlighted this passage that one of my former students posted on fb. Through the years, this advice has proven true. If we spend too much time with people who see everything from the negative, we will become negative. Mad, sad and bad are contagious. If we spend time with people who seemingly with kindness sympathize with our self-deprecation, it will become a false belief, and we will suffer. “Oh, you poor thing,” is not a kind message. “I feel your pain” is kind. I recall a “close” friend saying the former to me, and she added, “You never were the strongest post in the fence.” We both laughed. I walked away feeling less. I don’t need friends like that in my life. Words can be very damaging, and our remarkable memories hold onto the negative more than we realize. 

     Last night, I was poised to give a humorous speech to a Toastmaster chapter. It is not my own chapter, although I had visited it once before so I had met a few of the people. Two of them are in my advanced chapter. When I was getting ready, I noticed some brown spots on my legs, and I thought to myself, “I need to get these burned off. They make me look old.” I wore slacks to hide them. When I arrived at the meeting site, I recognized a few of the members and greeted them. One woman I didn’t recognize, but I noticed she brought her small dog with her. I thought to myself, “Oh, great. Now we’re bringing our pets to the meetings.” It wasn’t until she stood up that I realized that she was an amputee, and the dog was a Service Dog. I felt terrible and ashamed. I had judged without knowing the facts. People often do that. Comments come out of our mouths before we think. “You poor thing” would certainly not be something I would say to this woman, even if she and I were friends. I can’t feel her pain, but I can imagine times in my life when I’ve felt pain deeply, so I could empathize to a very small extent. I listened to this woman’s speech in awe. She skis, she scuba dives, she sails, and she’s traveled all over the world despite her handicap. She was never able to get insurance until the ACA, so her insurance costs were over $1000 a month. I was so moved by her speech. After the meeting, I complimented her on a heartfelt message, and I gave her a couple of ideas to pursue for her next speech based on a few things she had said. She thanked me and told me that she is a professional speaker, telling her story all over the country. She told me her Service Dog had died last week, and this one was new and not yet trained. I thought back to the brown spots on my leg, and I felt very small. She didn’t know my story, but I had learned hers. What a lesson I learned on so many levels. Imagine if I had grown up with this woman who not only had one leg since early childhood but was also a child diabetic and was told she would be blind  at a very early age. The incredible journey that this stranger has traveled shrunk all my problems to pebbles in less than ten minutes. People like this give us perspective. They ground us. They remind us that there is a hierarchy of pain and suffering, and when we start feeling sorry for ourselves at any level, there are always those who are dealing with worse. I must always pause before judging, and I must think before I speak. When people walk away from you, do they feel more or less? Who always makes you feel “more?” Spend more time with them.