While rifling through an old wallet the other day, I found a jewel. This wonderful little gem was tucked in a far corner of the broken zipper pocket. I remember replacing this wallet after the Velcro croaked. (Yes, I still have a Velcro wallet…and I always will…) I was shocked that this treasure did not make the transition to my new wallet. Something must have gone wrong…or I just didn’t see it.
My secret little jewel is an old newspaper clipping. It may have been in an Ann Lander’s column. On the worn and yellowed little slip is a quote that I like and carried around as a reminder of something good to remember. Here it is:
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized.”
– Haim G. Ginott
I believe I was in college when these words struck me. Though I was very far from teaching anyone anything, I liked the message. I still like the message and I view the world as a “classroom”. I like the idea of personal responsibility and I like the idea that we can impact other people’s lives. I also like that we can CHOOSE how we impact these lives. This has been a powerful message for me and I’m glad I got it young.
Being a typically flawed human being, my intention of living by these words has hit some speed bumps. I have “tortured” and “hurt” people in moments of haste and indifference. I have “escalated” crisis through my own fears or doubts. I willingly cop to these facts. I can do this, because I have also been good and done good things. We are a complicated, yet simple species.
My son just got his learner’s permit to drive. Cruising around in the passenger seat of my truck trying my best to be my best, the lessons from my old, crusty newspaper clipping may have saved my boy some later-in-life counseling. After he turned directly in front of a car heading down the hill towards us, I had a choice. I could “hurt or heal” or “humanize or dehumanize”. I wanted to scream and tell him to pull over and frankly, in my fright, I kind of wanted to punch him.
I did none of these things. I said, “That was a close one. OK, so…umm…don’t turn in front of other cars.” That was it. I knew he was rattled and I also knew that, in that moment, I had the power to really rattle him or play it off, “escalate or de-escalate”. Gratefully, I played it off, which was no small feat for me. I was good when my son needed me to be good. We kept driving without further incident.
The lessons we learn throughout the living of our lives are many. It is important to embrace the ones which make us better. We have a duty to be better, for ourselves and for our world…and especially for a fifteen year old kid just trying to figure out a left-hand turn…
[EDITOR'S NOTE:"Feel Good Friday" is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, who just published his first book called "A Feel Good Life" (buy it on Amazon here). Dave also extols to all neighbors: "Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!" Also, you can "friend" Dave on Facebook here. Or work out with him at his exercise company Waterland CrossFit!]