The incident caught on tape of Karen Klein, the school bus monitor being bullied, made me spend some time reflecting on how times have changed. My elementary school years were spent in a public school whose principal, Ms. Winters, had to have been a former mercenary for a third world dictator. No one ever dared to cross Ms. Winters or any of the teachers who were her clones. Talking in the halls was prohibited and if you had to go to the bathroom you had to wait until you got permission. Your bladder after several years of “holding “was probably as efficient as a Camels. Acting up in class was considered an act of infamy and if it did occur consisted mainly of laughing inappropriately or trying to get another kids’ attention while the teacher was talking. The latter indiscretions would lead to verbal reprimands by the teacher in front of your peers, which was embarrassing to say the least. Marring the surface of your desk, making faces or whispering to someone sitting next to you meant you would make the dreaded trip to Ms. Winters office. I, of course, made several trips to see her due to lack of “self control”. This meant sitting in a chair in her waiting room until she deemed it was time for her to give you “what for”. Her reprimands usually consisted of asking you “What makes you think you can behave the way you do”?, and “How do you think your mother will feel when I talk to her about your unruly behavior? Once I got home I heard the whole lecture again and had to stay in the house after school as a punishment. The Nuns I had in High School expected even more self discipline. I probably could have been a Monk when I graduated. What got me and my school mates in trouble seems to be like the proverbial pimple on an elephants butt compared to some of the mean spirited incivility that seems rampant today. Perhaps it was because kids had a much greater fear of authority, or parents didn’t feel that their kids should be the center of the universe.. I just know that the Klein incident should have created a national forum on civility and how it’s recidivism is creating a more aggressive, impatient and rude society. If we do not begin to rein in this problem we will end up with a society of self-absorbed individuals who have no ability to empathize. And this my friends is often the beginning of the end!
Over the years I have read many a self-help book that advocated for being in the “now”. Although I feel there is great merit in acknowledging and celebrating every moment you have, I also feel that the past and it’s lessons both good and bad are incredibly meaningful. My career would not have been as successful if I did not have the plethora of stories I refer to about my grandmother, grandfather, and mother. I have many memories of both negative and positive experiences. Discovering how to use our pasts to guide and empower us can be tricky. Our culture has evolved into one that spends time looking for who is to blame for our inadequacies. Often times people spend years in therapy or going to workshops to try to discover who or what has made them unhappy. I am all for trying to heal trauma and unfortunate childhood experiences, but the art of reframing them into a model for resiliency is a far greater gift. Negative experiences can become templates for living with better understandings of who we are and what we can be. Unfortunately I feel it is much easier to use parents, siblings, spouses, or co-workers to corroborate reasons why we don’t live our lives to the fullest. We identify “them” as the culprits that have created our inadequacies, and as a result the storyline becomes our reality. I spent many hours being at odds with my mother and how she parented and who she choose as my stepfather. If only I had been aware of how I was wasting precious moments of my life discussing what essentially could not be changed. My saving grace became the work I chose. I became acutely aware of how the perceptions of my past clouded my judgment and how it often made me anxious. I can still fall into some of the “painful past” dialogue when I forget that I can use my past to reinforce how I deal with the present. I have often called this “ finding the bless in the mess”. It is rare to find someone who reached adulthood without having a person in their life that was not dealing with a full deck. In fact I have met some incredibly successful individuals that have survived families that make living in an insane asylum seem like a walk in the park. None of us is given the choice of who will be our family of origin. So it is up to us to learn to shape our lives in the most authenticate way possible, by recalling, reclaiming and recasting our experiences to help serve us not shame us.