Monday, October 5, 2015

Learning my lesson...the hard way

*Note: This is a follow-up to the previous post. It may not make much sense if you don't read that one first.

So I talked last time about two people who had insulted me to my face, really hurt my feelings, left me angry and frustrated, and, as is my style, I gave them nicknames.  Nellie Oleson and The Troll.  The plot thickens...

Nellie Oleson continued to be annoying and mean over email dealing with band competition related matters.  I was getting more and more fed up and so I wrote an email explaining certain details to another chaperone, and I'll admit, there were a few snarky remarks in there about Nellie.  This person got very confused by the directions I sent (which were Nellie's instructions), so she emailed Nellie for clarification.  Unfortunately, she copied my email and sent it directly to Nellie herself. 


About 2 hours later I opened my email to find a nasty, blistering email from none other than Nellie, tearing apart my character, accusing me of personality traits I do not bear, and cutting me down like Paul Bunyan fells an oak tree.  I was, in a word, horrified.

After the initial shock wore off, I realized I had a choice. I could email back, I could copy the band director, I could tell all of my friends and the other band parents what happened and I could fan the flames of this whole incident into a blazing bitter wildfire of hate and resentment.


I could put out the smoke before it became a fire by eating a generous slice of humble pie.

Which is exactly what I did.

I took a few minutes to prepare what I was going to say, took a deep breath, and called Nellie.  To my surprise, she picked up (man, was I hoping for her voice mail!). I greeted her and then launched into my carefully worded apology of my words in the original email.  I explained that I in no way meant to undermine her, I very much appreciated all of her hard work, and repeated several times how sorry I was that my words came out in such a way that her feelings were hurt.


Silence from the other end.

Another deep breath on my part.

I then launched into an "I'm so glad that you called me on my actions because although I did not intend for my words to be hurtful (or did I?), I clearly need to be careful of how I put things to make sure I do not hurt people with them." I thanked her for pointing out how wrong I was and assured her that I would do better in the future.

That seemed to thaw the icy walls on the other end of the phone.  Then this is what I heard,

"Thank you. I appreciate that. It's just that after last weekend I got a 4 page email detailing how terrible I was,  all of the problems with me and with the band program, and I got blamed for a lot of things that aren't even in my control."

A-ha!  So apparently I'm not the only one whom Nellie has offended. (as I'm learning, I'm one of very many over the years) And she was coming off of that situation, ready to bristle at anything that she perceived as negative feelings toward her.

Very interesting development here.

Now, let's be honest - were the words I wrote in my email meant to be digs at Nellie's attitude and demeanor? Of course they were! Upon re-reading the email I realized that on one level of reading, they were merely facts, but on another level, they definitely had a barb or two attached to them. Which brings me to the point of this treatise:

I was behaving the way Nellie was, and I got called on the carpet for it. Call it God, the Universe, the Powers That Be, whatever - I was acting in a way that wasn't kind, loving, or encouraging, and that's not okay.  Didn't I just say that I wasn't up for hearing anything that wasn't kind, loving, or encouraging, and didn't I just turn around and do the opposite? Not only was I not doing things the way I knew I was supposed to be doing them, I was doing things that didn't align with who I want to be and what I want to put out into the world.

What goes around most certainly comes around, and while this was by no means an easy lesson to learn, it was sure a crystal clear one.  And one that I shared with both of my kids as a reminder of what can happen when we're not living up to our full potentials as people.

(Also a good reminder to all of us not to put into writing anything that you wouldn't say to someone's face.)

So Nellie and I worked everything out, we put it all behind us, and then when I saw her two days later the first words out of her mouth were not "good morning" or "hello" but "You shouldn't do this and that and the other thing and stop doing blah blah blah because it's wrong."  I didn't blink an eye. I simply said, "Oh. Well that's how things have been done in the past and I didn't know about these new directions." She replied nastily, repeating all of the things she just said, to which I smiled and said, "Okay," and walked away.  There's no changing Nellie Oleson.  But I saw her in a different light that morning.  I saw someone who is sad, friendly, lonely, and clinging with all of her might to her volunteer position of power that will end in 3 weeks when the band season is over.  Again, never an excuse to be rude, but now I can almost see things from her point of view and treat her with compassion rather than animosity.

Speaking of animosity, remember The Troll?  Turns out that The Troll's husband unexpectedly walked out on her and their kids just 3 weeks prior to her insulting me to my face.  Wow, huh? Not an excuse of course, but makes it easier for me to see where she's coming from and not take her comments personally.

I think we all need reminders that everyone walking around on this Earth goes through something difficult at one time or another.  We may never know what a person is dealing with and it's up to us to treat others the way we would want to be treated; even if they never treat us that way in return.  We can only control our own actions, and that means that we can make the choice every day, or even every minute, to put kindness, love, and encouragement out into the world, regardless of anything else.

You know what's kind of amazing? Right before I got Nellie's email I had been reading parts of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch.  I had just read his advice about apologizing. He said, "Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people not yourself."

Lesson learned.