What's Your Influence?
We’ll never know the influence we have on everyone’s lives we touch, will we? I suppose, if you have a spiritual belief that someday, we will find out, that is one thing. But in day-to-day life, we are affected by and affect the lives of so many people, the interactions are countless and boundless.
Think about your day so far. For me, it might look like:
*I called the waiter who served us our drinks at breakfast by name and thanked him.
*I talked in depth with a fellow consultant about the work we do and how we “bonded” more this weekend.
*I critiqued someone’s work.
*I called out the lady who tried to move in front of me in the TSA line.
*I said “Thank you. They are so comfortable” when the flight attendant complimented my shoes.
Will any of these incidents be remembered tomorrow---by me or by the other person? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. I’m still reeling from stinking-foot-rude-lady from last week’s blog. Do we remember the good experiences more than the negative ones or vice-versa?
For what do I want to be remembered? Eileen, one of the dear new friends who was one of the 11 people on our Habitat build for the classroom in Kenya, posted a video on Facebook the other day of the children at Kyumbi Primary School singing a thank-you song to those of us who helped with the build. I was moved to tears. The words of their song said, “Things are so very much better now.” I totally believe that, if I pass away tomorrow, I could and would die a happy person for having heard that. Is that selfish of me? I am so very proud of the work we did, but I also am so very humbled for having been a part of making someone else’s life better (and the lives of a few someones at that school, to be honest).
But life isn’t just about doing a pre-planned mission trip, is it? It’s really about what we do and say on daily basis. There are a few tenets around that theme that I like to hold true in my life that I will share with you:
1. If it is not true or kind, I likely have no business saying it. Now, having said that, there are times I, with a true closed-mouth friend, will vent about something that is eating my lunch. I happen to believe we all need those closed-mouth friends----ones with whom we can talk about ANYthing (and I mean ANYthing) and there will be absolutely no judgement. I’m talking about in public arenas, or around a dinner-table full of people. Am I gossiping about someone else? If I am, it is highly likely I am doing it in an effort to make myself look or feel superior to that person and their behavior. But what does that say to the group? I know, for me, if I hear someone gossip about another person, one of my first thoughts is: If they are doing it about them, they will do it about me. I prefer the alternative: if I have a conflict with someone, I should likely just say how I am feeling, which leads me to my second tenet.
2.It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. I have worked with students, teachers, and school leaders my entire professional career. As teachers, we often have things we need to say to students, but it matters SO much how we say it. What is a memory of something a teacher said to you that you will remember the rest of your life? Mr. Katzer, my 8th grade science teacher, was a no -nonsense kind of guy to say the least. Let’s suffice it to say that, if you had him before lunch (which I did), you marched to lunch. So, after my first boyfriend broke up with me, and I couldn’t stop crying, Mr. Katzer likely wanted to say, “Hey Drama Queen, knock it off. We’re identifying rocks today, and your weepy self isn’t going to help matters any.” Instead, this hard-nosed man walked over to my desk, knelt down next to me, and whispered, “Just remember this: there are other fish in the sea, and I promise you there will be a better fish than that one in your future.” Lo, and behold, I ultimately found the grand prize of sea life in Dave Arneson and would live under the sea with him for another 25 years if necessary. Mr. Katzer knew there was a time and place to be a hard-ass and when to be gentle and caring. I have tried to carry this into my teaching, even when I am teaching Master’s Level and Doctoral level courses at Grand Canyon University and Walden University. As we finished a course this past week on Educational Finance (stop laughing at the fact that I taught about budgeting and finance---it isn’t kind), the students filled out a course evaluation. One of my students took a screen shot of one of the papers I had graded for her. She said, and I am paraphrasing, “This course was HARD, but Dr. Arneson took the time to give me specific feedback about my writing and about the content of my papers that helped me so much. I’ve never had anybody do that before. I just want to show you an example of how specific her feedback was.” I was so proud----I think I am finding the balance between challenging my students and giving them encouragement.
3.There are two kinds of business----my business and “none of my business”. Once again, I will refer to my favorite flounder, Dave, and tell you that he reminds me, every once in a while, that I care way too much about what people think about me. I hate it when he is right, but he is. I say the Serenity Prayer at least once or twice a day (sometimes more as prescribed by others around me). I know I am not everyone’s cup of tea----I love life, I love to laugh, and I love to make others around me laugh. But frankly, I don’t always succeed (I’m hoping I would hear a collective <What?>, but I’m afraid it isn’t happening). I made a joke in one of my workshops that one of my participants didn’t care for---it was actually an ageist joke, and it was at her expense, but I thought we had a good enough rapport that it would be okay. I had made a reference to the show “Dragnet”, and I walked over to her and said, “Melissa”, (names have been changed to protect the interest), “Once upon a time, long before you were born, there was a show called Dragnet”. She later told me that she found it embarrassing that I had called her out on her youth. I was awash in apologies, “I never meant that in any hurtful way. I totally thought we had worked together enough that you would know I was only doing it in a playful manner.” She said, “But people laughed, so it was embarrassing.” I wanted to say, “They were laughing WITH you, not AT you,” but at that moment, I figured it wouldn’t do me any good. My business was to make amends to her, which I did, along with the promise I would not ever do that again. What happens after that is none of my business, although I kept worrying about it. If “Melissa” went back to her school and said, “That presenter made fun of me---I hate her”, then so be it. I made amends because one of my top goals in teaching workshops is forming relationships with the participants. Melissa and I may never bond. She may talk trash about me. She may say I shouldn’t give up my day job to be a comedienne. She would be right about that. But whatever she says is none of my business, and I have to let it go.
So hard to do, so easy to say to do it.
That’s how I would characterize the above three tenets. Some days I am good at it. Some days, I stink at it. The beauty of life, though, is I get to start over, each and every day. I have been on five flights since stinky-feet-lady and I disagreed on the level of “disgusting” it was for her to put her feet on my blanket. I forget about it, but then someone brings it up again, and I’m right back there. It’s like I have a helium balloon in my hand with my resentment against her. I let the balloon go, because I know I can’t carry it around with me forever (not to mention I look like a goober carrying around a helium balloon wherever I go)---but the second I let it go, I have a choice----I can grab it back and say I’m not ready to let it go, or I can watch it drift away and pray it lands in a safe place or pops, never to be seen or heard from again.
Just for today, I pray that I constantly remember the influence I have on other people. I can’t always control what other people do to me (cut in front of me in line, etc.) but I sure can choose what I do and say to other people.
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