The Reluctant Sage
Against all odds, it appears that the workforce is getting younger and I’m staying the same age. (Uncanny, right?) Given the nature of my profession, I find myself increasingly solicited for advice by these whippersnappers.
As often as not, my ramblings begin with “I remember my mother saying…”
I thought I’d share three of the greats in honor of Mom’s special day. I could write pages about each lesson, so I’ll try to be brief.
A reason is not an excuse.
This might be my most common Momtation©. I’ve always been an active student of human nature, excited to learn different perspectives and understand what makes people tick.
Luckily, Mom instilled a lesson in me that would serve me well (and might otherwise have been learned only through tough experience): it’s important to understand what spurs people to do things, but a reason is not the same thing as an excuse.
This especially applies to yourself. There might be a valid reason why I’m late, or unkind, or don’t complete an assignment on time. But not every reason constitutes an excuse. In fact, most don’t.
As the years go by, I keep uncovering the depths of profundity in this lesson. It’s a jump start to understanding the Fundamental Attribution Error and the Correspondence Bias. It gets to the very heart of being an agent vs. being an object, and of the balance one must strike between justice and mercy.
It’s a one-line haiku that ages along with me, unlocking new truths with each passing year.
Well then, you’d get to have ‘I had the right of way’ on your tombstone.
Sometime in my teens, Mom and I were about to cross the street. The crosswalk light was a go, and I stepped into the street with all the confidence of invincible, unencumbered youth.
Mom grabbed my arm before I took a second step. “Hang on.” She double-checked that no cars were coming, then let go of me and started to cross.
“Why’d you stop me? We had the right of way!”
She just smiled (with a little too much syrup) and said, “Well then, you’d get to have ‘I had the right of way’ on your tombstone.”
This one is another giving tree.
- Most harm will come to you by people not following the rules.
- Trust, but verify.
- Ultimately, you are the one who will take best care of what’s precious to you; don’t leave it to others, don’t abdicate responsibility to policy.
- And, especially important these days: most interpersonal interactions in life are a choice between feeling righteous (but leaving empty-handed) and swallowing your pride (while actually moving the ball down the field).
My childhood was chock-full of street-smart teachable moments like this.
I choose to live in that world.
Mom is infinitely generous, slow to pass judgment, and quick to give others the benefit of the doubt. She gives and gives and doesn’t often bother herself with being taken advantage of.
For instance: she and Pop own a grocery store in a small community. She regularly gives food to families in need. (And this isn’t factoring in the food pantry that she recently helped establish!)
Once, I pointed out that we were giving away some high-priced cuts of meat. Didn’t she worry about people capitalizing on her generosity?
Her response stuck with me, and still guides me today. “I guess I could avoid that, but it would mean living in a world where I suspected everyone. Or I can choose to live in a world where people are good and honest, but where I’m occasionally let down. That’s an easy choice. I choose to live in that world.”
I do too, Mom. Thanks for giving me a good and honest world.
[P.S. – In talking through my thoughts on this post, it became obvious that Sarah could write her own (even longer) version of this post. All with completely different pearls of wisdom!]