Always the Student

Photo Always the Student

“It does not take much strength to do things, 
but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what do to”
Elbert Hubbard

First, there’s the line drawn down the center of a piece of paper, noting pros and cons. Then, there’s some research to be done on the subject. Next, I like to get the opinion of others. Young, old, eccentric, intellectual; their views all get mixed into that big black cauldron in my head. If I’m very quiet, I can begin to stir it up and sense what suggestions will start to rise to the top. Asking for advice and being open to criticism and suggestion takes practice. 

Really listening without speaking is even more difficult. Lately, I’ve decided to take advantage of the forced tranquil lifestyle that’s been dealt us all and concentrate on what I can learn from everyone that I’ve come into contact with. Here’s what I’ve found:

  • How an older gentleman reminded me that in the sink or swim restaurant business, his little catfish restaurant (now 42 years old) has endured, due in part to his motto “We do the best we can with what we’ve got.”
  • How 12 women exchanged their weekly lunch outings for brown bags and started using that money to support local charities in my town. Now 250 strong, this powerhouse of a women’s club has donated their time, talents and over $85,000 just last year. 
  • How one young man’s homage to his favorite uncle, who died too soon, sweetly lived on when he sported a bolo tie on a dating app photo and it caught the eye of a lovely young woman whose grandfather was also a fan of the style. To his surprise, on their first date, she sported her favorite bolo tie and the rest was history.
  • How the tides can change when a young man with a simple love of the ocean became an oceanographer and at 84 years of age wrote his first book, enlightening readers as to how tides and currents actually changed the course of history during historic wars. His first book has since been awarded the gold medal by the Military Writers Society of America.
  • How living in a home that is open to the public 365 days a year is not as glamourous as you might think. “Keep your memory short and your skin thick;” this shared from a Duchess who runs a 300-year old castle on 160 acres in England. On her first day, the then young bride, from a farm village who married into aristocracy, was “welcomed” by the staff when she heard them whispering “Have we broken her yet?” 
  • And, last but never least, how JC*, who never ceases to amaze me with her ageless sense of wonder, spunk and positive attitude, has powered through this last year. Whether she’s painting, knitting hats for charity (she was grateful to have one to wear when her power went out recently), playing Rummikub against herself for practice, reading or researching where our first post- COVID family vacation should be, she is the inspiration that reminds me how important it is to have a teachable spirit. 

If, at times, I can scramble out of my comfort zone, with humbleness and modesty at my side, helping me along the way; if I can walk with my arms open and let them be the antennae that captures all of life’s prospects, then I’ll be content to always be the student. 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

Author’s Note:
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Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

 

Photo Say What You Mean

All she said was to make it a big anniversary celebration. All he heard was pig anniversary celebration. Hence, a suite at the Pig Palace, famous for Swine and Wine Night.

It only takes one gift of a toaster on your birthday or anniversary to get your attention. Why do we always assume that people know what we want, think or feel? Why do we shy away from saying exactly what we mean?

According to Psychology Today, most people tend to shrink from conflict and tolerate its consequences. Assertiveness need not be confused with aggressiveness. Addressing a situation sooner, rather than later, clears the air while it is still fresh in our minds. Letting someone know how their behavior impacted us can be accomplished openly and honestly without harboring any animosity. Saying something as simple as “You hurt my feelings” can begin a dialogue that hopefully leads to shared insights.

Think of how many misunderstandings could have been sorted out with a bit of discussion and how much ill will could have been prevented. Wouldn’t you rather have family and friends be aware of your honest feelings, rather than have you silently stewing over something that happened years ago?

Assumption is the cause of many a frustrating circumstance. Take the case of the innocent shopping list. Grateful that her husband agreed to do the grocery shopping, the methodical wife made a detailed list for him. Numbering each item, she realized on his return that he thought those numbers referred to the number of items he was to purchase. As they unloaded one bag of sugar, two bags of potatoes all the way up to 20 bags of dog food from their trunk, the conversation escalated into an argument, later the humorous anecdote shared at cocktail parties.

With a little information from Psychology Today, we could try honing our listening skills. As an active listener, we would seek to understand by questioning until we have that “ah-hah” moment. A reflective listener strives to clarify what they’ve heard. Either way, wouldn’t it be nice to know exactly what your spouse’s expectations are on a special occasion, what a pal’s meaning of friendship really is and what your boss’s comment about reaching your potential meant?

Following my own advice on behavioral styles, I decided to immediately confront Mr. Wiz* and Big A* on that fateful birthday I received the toaster. As they sat across from me, with expressions that mimicked a deer in headlights, I explained my disappointment. Waiting for a reply, they both suggested that I first look inside the toaster slots. Feeling particularly crumby, I had no choice, at that point, but to hug them dearly, the spa gift certificate still in my hand.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.