Ordinary People: Extraordinary Lessons
When I was nine, I had a school assignment; write a paper on "Important men in my life, how they contributed to my life, and what value did they have." Caveat: I could not use my father as the example.
I told my dad that I wanted to write about him, but since I couldn't, I'd chosen our president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Since my father was a history major in college, I knew he could help me with the paper. Rather than use him as a resource though, I started talking about how much I knew about history, governments, and presidents, and how important and valuable they were.
My father stopped me and asked if I heard a noise in the distance.
I replied that I just heard the trash truck coming up the road. Of course, I said this in the dismissive manner that people use when they want to get back to talking about what is important or valuable to them.
Who and What Has Value? It is a Personal Perspective
He told me that I was right about the noise, and that as soon as that truck got in front of our house, I would get to see several men who were important in my life.
He explained how the trash collectors helped make his life easier since he did not have to haul our trash somewhere and could spend his weekends with us.
Since he traveled, our weekends were important family time to him and us.
In addition, he talked about how he didn't want my Mom burning trash in our backyard if he wasn't there because that would create a potential threat to our well-being.
Value, Wisdom and Non-Judging: Lesson Number One
He told me that these men were not always seen as important or valuable. He wanted me to understand valuing all contributions to our lives and the contributors; not just the publicly perceived important people, like presidents.
I got his point and we walked to the side of the road. When the men jumped down from the truck, I approached them; asked the men their names and told them I wanted to write about their important contributions to my life.
It took a moment for my request to sink in, and one of the men started laughing and said, “No one outside of my family thinks what I do is important and they only like it ‘cause it puts food on their table.”
At the time, I did not realize the significance of this statement, but it also goes to the heart of judgment and perspectives on importance and value.
If something is perceived as adding value to our lives, we evaluate it as worthwhile or important, but we are often influenced by the outer trappings.
Personal Prejudices and Perceptions Factor in Judging
What I learned that day was to expand my perception of importance and value. With a different perspective on value and importance, I've found wisdom in unlikely places.
I have tried to practice this message with my children and grandchildren, starting with, “Do not judge a book or person by the outside cover”. This old English idiom is a metaphorical phrase that means "you shouldn't prejudge the worth or value of something, by its outward appearance alone".
Unfortunately, we still judge others by their clothes, cars, appearance, race, education, occupation or social status. The list only grows with each generation, and most, if not all of the items listed are external trappings, rather like the garbage men from my childhood.
Old, Musty and Full of Wisdom or Shiny and Superficial
As an avid reader, I also know that the unattractive, spine broken, musty smelling volume might be full of gems of wisdom or practical knowledge, whereas the glossy, over-hyped bestseller may only be entertaining for the moment.
Years after the garbage truck lesson, I was asking my Dad about some business issues I was having. He asked me about resources to help me correct a problem. I told him that the only person available didn't appear to be successful, either. I explained that his office was not in the best location, even though his building was well maintained and landscaped.
He laughed and said that if any person had been in business for twenty years, they were doing something correctly regardless of where their office was located.
Value and Success: In the Eye of the Beholder
He challenged me to look at success differently that day. He also told me to make an appointment with the doctor and ask if I could pay a fee for an hour of consulting. This was 30 years ago when we didn't have internet gurus that promised to tell us what, when, how and why on “everything-we-need-to-know-to-be-successful-appealing-sought after-and-rich.com/net/org" or the equivalent.
What I learned that day was that his business started in that unpretentious house because that was what he could afford, given his student loans. Over the years, he realized that counseling individuals of modest means brought him more emotional satisfaction and that to continue his practice; he would stay in a location that allowed him the discretion to charge less for his services.
He pointed out that he paid attention to comfort, both physical and emotional; creating a warm inviting atmosphere in the waiting room to relieve some of the stresses of divorce, addiction, or abuse. Since it was a house, he remodeled the kitchen to let his clients make tea or coffee before their session, or enjoy the home-made baked goods from a local bakery.
He hired staff that were attentive to the clients and who understood customer service; being helpful with forms, courteous and unhurried.
My Other Vehicle is a Ferrari
I drive an old truck. When I needed a new vehicle some years back, I was still the Executive Director of North House, the women's recovery home I opened in 1990.
Fancy title, unassuming truck. How many people judged me on the roads? They didn't know that the truck functioned perfectly for hauling weekly groceries for up to 17 women. My truck is still practical; not attractive, but very functional.
My daughters, however, own a Mercedes and BMW. The reality is that I can get to Atlanta in my beat up old truck, or I can borrow my daughter’s BMW or Mercedes. If any of these vehicles are in working order, I’ll get there, but I’ll wager that the other drivers on the road make assumptions about me solely based on my mode of transportation.
We rightly or wrongly judge others and ourselves based on our possessions, when the reality is that neither my truck nor the BMW is an accurate reflection of the whole. I've thought about getting the bumper sticker, "My other vehicle is a Ferrari" but that's not an honest representation of me, either.
Do you value the experiences of others regardless of outward appearances?
Judging by the Numbers
What Do You Judge about People?
His policy on scheduling was to give each client one hour of talking and counseling, but leave 20 minutes on his appointment book at the receptionist’s desk until he saw the next client. If someone needed more of his time, he could give it without looking at the clock and knowing that his next appointment was predictably in the waiting room.
If their session only took the hour, the twenty minutes gave his staff time to help that one person with billing or scheduling their next appointment in an unhurried manner without a lot of people overhearing their conversations.
People started respecting the scheduling because they knew they would be seen within 10 minutes of their appointed time; they felt respected that their time had value to him as well.
I came away understanding that success was not all about location, location, location any more than importance is about occupation.
So Much Knowledge and Wisdom, So Little Time
My 18 year old granddaughter – willing to ride in my truck, honor student, volunteer at a nursing home; update monitor for the children’s bulletin board at the hospital, star soccer player, choir member, and friend to an eclectic mix of kids, makes the effort to live a non-judgmental life.
She takes wisdom from me, the internet, her parents, her classmates, and her teachers. She does not predetermine that the outsides represent the whole, so she is open to learning and being educated from a lot of sources, and has developed an appreciation for what each can contribute to her life.
She values the wisdom that resources share with her. Much of her knowledge is gained because of her willingness to ask questions for understanding. She participated, as the only high school student, in a weekend long seminar for EMS personnel.
When I asked her if she felt uncomfortable being with a group of adults, she stated that she was going to enjoy getting the 411 from experienced people.
Pass the Torch of Knowledge
She is now the voice and the actions to emulate, she has a younger brother and two younger cousins that she can influence and that is also part of how messages are most effectively given and received by children.
It will be her leadership, actions, choices, and message of “Do not judge a book or person by the outside cover” that ends up being "way cooler" than Nana's.
Issuing a Challenge
I would challenge you to look at the people in your life from a different perspective, if only for a week. They are the valuable resources right in your own backyard. Each person has experiences and knowledge and asking them to share what they know has enriched my life more than I can say, and may just give you the answers or solutions you are looking for in your life as well.
Take the time to actively listen to the messages that people give you; the knowledge they are sharing, and to not determine the value of something because you judge the outer cover to be of no importance or insignificant.