I don’t believe there are good people and/or bad people. I think we’ve all got darkness and light in us. I try to see “bad people” as “damaged people” who’ve most likely been badly hurt themselves. End of the day, every day is a choice to bring our light OR our darkness. It starts in childhood.
Can you think of a story from your childhood that – your heart and soul – which now informs how you show up in the world as an adult, and maybe even your primary purpose on this planet.
I’ll share my proudest memory from childhood. (stick around for the “bad” memory too!)
When I was 8, I asked my father to ride my horse over to school for our Show and Tell.
Now that sounds pretty snazzy for those of you who didn’t grow up in Kentucky, but it wasn’t snazzy. Our horses were not thoroughbreds being trained for the Kentucky Derby. Their next stop was probably the glue factory. But I was thrilled to show off my horse, THIRSTY, (yep, his name was Thirsty). He was a large horse with a silky caramel colored coat.
Btw, this so wouldn’t happen in 2019, but in the 1980s, the teacher kindly took my entire class out to the fields behind our school, and each kid got to take a turn riding my horse.
One kid in our classroom, who’s name I’ll never forget (Eric Starner), was confined to a wheel chair and had severe cerebral palsy. His speech was slurred, and he had stiffness in his limbs (one hand seemed permanently bent), but he was mentally 100% there.
Looking back, it seems to me that kids are inherently kind and good and loving, until the adolescent years strike. At least, I was. Even though Eric was quote unquote different, we barely noticed, and certainly didn’t care. He was a friend of ours, and like any kid; all he wanted was to have fun and play.
So, after everybody had taken their turn, I lobbied to get Eric Starner up on that horse. It was probably a terrible idea (again, no way this sort of thing would happen in today’s litigious society where everyone has a CYA mentality). The kid was dead weight – like a giant sack of potatoes – out of that wheel chair. But after some pleading, the teacher wearily gave in. She and my father lifted Eric up onto the giant beast. His goofy grin was so wide, I worried it would crack his face in half.
Afterwards, I watched my dad gallop away, massive rolling fields surrounding him. The horse was kicking up dust, as he gathered speed, and my father got tinier and tinier in the distance. I saw my dad as a modern Marlboro Man in that moment.
This was one of the proudest moments of my life. I was proud of myself for trying something that wasn’t easy or the norm, all in the spirit of helping my friend have the joy and fun he deserved – like all of the other kids. I was also proud of my father’s willingness to support my wild hopes and dreams.
I’ve always been an instigator. A trouble maker. Someone who tests norms in the spirit of WHAT IF? How could we do this differently and better?
I’ve always been hopeful and optimistic about change and our ability to take chances.
And I’ve always been willing to stand up for what I believe is right, even when it’s hard.
But I’m most in my integrity when I get to be a defender & supporter of those without the privilege or head start.
To believe in the possible when it feels impossible.
To believe in other’s capabilities for goodness and greatness
and reflect that possibility back to them.
But that’s me at MY best. I’ve got plenty of stories that illustrate my worst self. Because every day is a choice in how we show up for ourselves, our loved ones, our values, and the world.
Adolescence is a time to test your family’s values and boundaries in general, to individuate and maybe start to solidify your own individual beliefs (and hopes, fears). Not only are we attempting to figure out who we are as individuals, but it’s the first time we’re really seeking approval of others outside of our family of origin. The pressure to conform is enormous. We want to fit in and be accepted by the larger “tribe”.
That motivation can drive some pretty lousy behaviors.
Here’s a story that illustrates me at my worst. It’s probably not surprising that it’s when I was 12 years old, smack in the middle of puberty and adolescence. I was desperate to fit in with the cool girls (they’d be called “Mean Girls” now), and began using my strengths for bad. Humor, emotional intelligence, courage, leadership… but on behalf of the Heathers of my school!
My best friend, Rachel, and I had started keeping a shared diary, which we would both write to each other in, and pass back and forth to one another. For those of you who are under 30, this would be like sending texts back and forth. Or snapchats. Except all our messages lived in one hard copy book. There was no deleting. There was no closing out of the message if someone walked by. During our 7th grade year, we had a teacher that we hated. And we filled the diary with tons of insults about this particular teacher. We were ruthless. We called her ugly, and we called her fat. Looking back, I don’t know if she was either or neither! But we took whatever insults we could come up with and hurled them at her, behind the pages of this diary.
The way we’d secretly pass the diary back and forth was by hiding it in the other person’s language arts folder, which we all left out on desks. Well one day, in my haste (and because we didn’t have assigned seats) I accidentally left it in Brian Plant’s language arts folder.
Unfortunately, this kid was probably on the receiving end of plenty of our insults day to day (Lord of the Flies, much?)… and he promptly took it up to the teacher for the purpose of confiscating. Not good news for me and Rachel. And the bad news got worse, when I realized we had parent/teacher conferences THAT very same night. UGH.
You can imagine how mortified my parents were when this teacher read them passages from the diary. They had to bear that embarrassment and discomfort as she combed over words like “sloth” and “disgusting”.
When they got home that evening my mom said something she’d never said before. She said she was giving up on me, b/c she didn’t know what to do anymore. My friend’s opinions might have mattered a hell of a lot during these years, and I probably wouldn’t have admitted it out loud at the time, but their opinions were nothing compared to hearing your mom is giving up on you. She wasn’t disappointed. It was worse. She wasn’t bothering with me anymore.
I decided right then and there to shape up and get back to being the better version of myself.
Yet, I still went through many more bad choices and bad behaviors that had bad consequences. And there are people in my past that would have called me a bad person at the time. But those moments also gave me learnings and perspective, and awareness of CHOICE. Every day, I’m showing up and making a choice to try to be the better version of myself. That same young girl who championed the kid with cerebral palsy. That’s exactly who I wanna be when I grow up.
Is there a story that illustrates your best self? It could be from childhood or more recently. I’d love to hear it.