Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Category: Pay attention to your life.

THE Lamps, Part 7

No. It isn’t your imagination. Yes, you DID read in THE Lamps, Part 6 that it was the final installment of the Ugly Lamp Revenge Game that my husband’s family has played since the eighties. And, yes, you DID read that I had exited the game.

Things have changed. The wretched game isn’t over, and I’m still very much at the table – which just proves how supremely naive I can be without even trying very hard.

Almost a year ago, a knock at our front door signaled a package had arrived. Imagine our surprise as we read the address label’s note: “Thank you for your blog on ‘THE Lamps!’ It made our day!”

Since neither of us recognized the sender’s name and it came from Shreveport – where we know absolutely no one – I jumped to the obvious conclusion that my PayAttention! Blog had gone viral. Who knew how many millions were reading it with bated breath?

None, as it turns out. (Here’s an early-in-the-post, pay-attention point: pride usually helps us on our way to very inaccurate conclusions.)

Sneaky Little Sister and her conniving husband had been at it again – reviving The Ugly Lamp Revenge Game they started in 1984. Because the Pistachio Orientals have mysteriously disappeared, they had ferreted out a new ugly lamp to replace them and asked a friend to mail it from Shreveport while he was attending a conference. That friend had asked a coworker, at the same conference, to take it to UPS. (Note: two innocents drawn into this dreadful game.)

You’re just itching to see the monster, aren’t you? Not so fast. This lamp, unlike its five predecessors, bore a tiny, oval, gold-foil label on its underside, proudly proclaiming “Made in China.”

China?

China????

WHAT?!

All of Lamp #6’s predecessors were made in the good ole US of A, where all the players in this silly game reside. Now – NOW – we’ve stooped to involving another country filled with 1.379 billion innocent victims??

Wait a minute: not all of them could be correctly labeled innocent.

There’s China’s Tier 3 ranking in human trafficking issues. So maybe that heinous trade accounts for a very guilty couple million.

And then there’s their longstanding penchant for stealing our copyrighted technology, claiming it as their own, and manufacturing bazillions of whatever they’ve stolen. I’d guess that non-innocent bunch is at least another two million, wouldn’t you?

And let’s not forget the ever-so-lame “instruction” sheets they pack with their crummy digital watches to drive us all nuts. The writers well know they’re omitting two or three critical steps. There’s another couple million decidedly guilty Chinese, in my book. (I’ve lost track of how many of those tissue-paper instruction sheets I’ve torn to bits.)

So we can subtract six million less-than-innocent Chinese, leaving way over a billion (give or take a few million) garden-variety Chinese persons who are completely innocent. So why drag ALL of them into this messy revenge game?? Beats me. Go ask Little Sister and The Conniver.

You’ve been patient, so here you go: Ugly Lamp #6:

lamp base of three black monkeys stacked on top of each other

Three uglier monkeys, you’ll never find = the ugliest monkey lamp in the world.

Yes, some desperate manufacturer in China (with questionable taste) was convinced by some misguided designer (with equally questionable taste) to mass produce this sucker. Can you imagine?

And so now, the game’s afoot – AGAIN. A couple of months later, with equally bald-faced sneakiness, we asked some friends to “help us out” since they’d been planning a visit to Little Sister’s hometown anyway. Good Christian folk that they are, they jumped at the chance to participate in this interminable game of revenge. (They’ll regret that someday.)

I dolled up those three ugly monkeys in a fabulous gift bag with plenty of pastel tissue paper sticking out and an elegant gift tag bearing Little Sister’s and Conniving Brother-in-Law’s names. It looked like a legitimate gift and very, very come-hither. Our friends did the deed, leaving it in The Conniver’s office. (Two more innocents drawn into this dreadful game.)

You may remember from THE Lamps, Part 2 that Little Sister and Conniving Brother-in-Law are really NOT very good sports. They don’t give any of us the satisfaction of admitting that we GOT them. Oh no. They just act as if nothing has happened. Drives me crazy. We’ve been waiting for nine months. Do you think they could even acknowledge receipt of said “gift”? Absolutely not.

By now, I’ve trained you to expect a really, really profound pay-attention point in my rant somewhere. Here you go.

People’s bad habits can affect bunches of other people.

Between the four of us – Hubby, moi, Little Sister, and The Conniver – we have recently embroiled FOUR innocent American bystanders (and who knows how many before Lamp #6?) and about a BILLION innocent Chinese in this fine mess.

Pay attention. When someone like us asks if you’d like to participate in _______ (whatever), you may be joining a rather large crowd, should you decide to participate. Think about it: do you want to join that sort of crowd? Remember the annoying questions your mother used to ask? “Just because ‘everyone else’ is doing it, do you have to, too?” “If Johnny jumps off the Empire State Building, does that mean you must, as well?””

Here’s my next-to-the-last pay-attention tip. When receiving an invitation “to join in the fun” from the likes of us, the wiser option would be to RUN AWAY. Don’t join that kind of crowd, since you’ve usually been amply warned of what will happen if you do.

Should we ask one of you, dear friends, to join in the fun, you, at least, have the option of running away. None of us in Hubby’s family have that luxury. We all have enormous targets painted on our backs. We are all now in the same tenuous position we were in while uneasily awaiting the resurfacing of the Pistachio Orientals a few years ago.

After visiting one another, we check our backseats and trunks as carefully as border patrol agents check for drugs. You can imagine how that bit of paranoid drama delays the start of our hours-long trips home. It slows us down some more when we stop mid-trip, in another fit of paranoia, to check the undercarriage “just to be sure.” We also cast an uneasy and suspicious eye upon unexpected UPS and USPS deliveries, which sort of takes the fun out of package arrivals.

Here’s my final pay attention tip. Listen up. Bad behavior not only corrupts good character, it also takes a good deal of fun out of life, as you’ve seen from this Ugly Lamp saga.

red box with white text: “Bad company corrupts good character.” – I Cor. 15:33

See? I really DON’T  make this stuff up. It’s right there in the New Testament.

© 2018, Teresa Bennett

One Bite at a Time

top photo of ice cream in ice cream freezer

Stick with me. This post is NOT all about eating.

You may be tempted to think this blog post is all about eating, but it isn’t. We’ll get to the non-food, pay-attention points at the right juncture, so please hear me out as I tell you two seemingly unimportant stories from my childhood.

My parents weren’t much for pontificating, thank goodness. Rarely ever did they sit me down for a long and boring lecture. They opted for the easier way of teaching children: they modeled what they believed. I know; it’s a startling concept, isn’t it? But it’s quite effective. Trust me.

First Story:
Ice Cream!

I must’ve been ten or eleven when my ice-cream-loving father decided it was time to take advantage of the fact that we had a cow who produced A LOT of cream. I’m talking unpasteurized, unprocessed, unadulterated, un-homogenized, un-everything. If you’re a Millennial or a city kid of any age, you have absolutely NO frame of reference. You’ve probably never even seen such thick, faintly yellow, wickedly rich, fresh cream just minutes from a cow’s innards, let alone tasted it.

Once the ice-cream maker was ensconced under our roof one summer, Mother’s Saturday afternoon routine involved loading it up with the cream mixture, packing the whole mess in ice and rock salt, plugging it in, and letting that electric marvel work its magic on our luscious cream. If you’re an ice-cream lover, you’re already salivating, aren’t you? Even I thought the ice cream resulting from this incredibly rich stuff was to die for, and I didn’t even like ice cream all that much.

Each Saturday night, my father was in heaven.

But not for long. You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you? NO ONE, not even my slenderly built, very active, six-foot father, could keep up that kind of ice-cream bacchanalia. After about a month of this ice-cream revelry, my father quietly asked my mother to forego the ice-cream making ritual. Happy to oblige, since it meant less prep time in the dreaded kitchen, she asked why. His short response? “Maybe every so often – when we’re having guests – would be wiser.”

That’s it. Did I mention my father loved, loved, loved ice-cream and that, as a child of The Great Depression, he seldom got it? Can you think of a more powerful modeling lesson in self-discipline?

I can.

Second Story:
Green Beans

This story happened shortly after my father’s ice-cream adventure, and it’s a pretty short one. Again, you Millennials will have a hard time believing this but, once upon a time, there were no microwave ovens. Yes! Really. Just ask yourself how you would use leftovers if you couldn’t quickly nuke them in your microwave.

Effectively using leftovers was devilishly hard back in those Dark Ages. Most households (less frugal than ours, I’d like to point out) parked them in small, lidded glass containers in the fridge. As they were moved back and back and back, they became easier and easier to forget (translation: ignore). Naturally, once they were discovered with mold and who-knows-what growing in them, they could be discarded without guilt.

Not in our house. No sir. We ATE leftovers because, of course, of all those starving children in China. My father was our official, “last-dab,” cleaner-upper. Whenever there was a spoonful of green beans or a quarter-cup of mashed potatoes, Mother would say, “Oh, Bill, just eat that last dab.” And he would. End of problem. No bothersome containers of leftovers in our fridge.

But that came to a halt when he scooted back from table one day and said, “No thanks. I had to move my belt buckle prong over one notch this morning.”

This left my mother in a true quandary: “So what do I do with them?”

Throw them out.”

At this show-stopper response, I stopped playing in the mashed potatoes, jerked up my head, and starting paying very close attention. Did I hear what I think I just heard? Did my frugal father just tell my almost-as-frugal mother to THROW OUT PERFECTLY EDIBLE FOOD?? My mother, just as trout-mouthed as I, stood there in shock. But when he left the table without another word, we knew he wasn’t kidding.

Apparently, I reasoned, throwing away food is preferable to weight creep. Being a kid, I quickly recovered from the initial shock of that unbelievable bit of table drama. In fact, I never gave it another thought until I, too, reached that time of life when the old metabolism just wasn’t what it used to be and began to notice the same weight creep.

Okay, enough of the food stories. What’s the REAL point to this blog post? Oh, wow, there are so many. But I’ve chosen three of what I think are the most obvious pay-attention points from these two non-events from my childhood. Here they are, in no particular order.

Pay attention!
Life happens
in little bites.

Of course, as the title implies, this is the main point of this blog. Though I’ve harped on it in plenty of other blog posts, specifically in Process, Part 1, I’m harping again because it’s such a terribly important life lesson.

Obviously, the word “bites” is standing in for just about anything you can think of – not necessarily food. Wouldn’t it be great if “bites” happened in the TV-commercial-Hollywood-way – in one, great, stupendous action? But, as you know, they don’t. Just about everything in life is a slow process (the good and the bad), and we’d best get used to it. Even better, we’d best pay very close attention to it, in the same way that my father noticed he had to insert his belt buckle prong into a different hole.

red box with white text: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” ­– Eleanor Roosevelt

Longest-serving USA First Lady (during Franklin’s 4 terms)

Here’s another vital
pay-attention lesson:
someone’s watching.

And they’re watching one little “bite” at a time. When my father explained why he was forfeiting his cleaner-upper role, I am absolutely certain – in that seconds-long interaction with my mother – that he wasn’t trying to teach my sister and me a lesson. We were not the focus of that decision-making process. He was simply acting on his conviction that whoever lives in the body is responsible for its care and feeding. He was being responsible by refusing extra food, knowing it would take awhile to undo the damage of performing his former role of family garbage disposal.

I’ve never forgotten that incontrovertible lesson that modeling – living – what you believe is usually far more effective than constantly telling others what you believe. You know this: I haven’t told you anything new. But though we all know this, it’s just too dang easy to forget that we’re each living life on a stage with an audience of one or two watching a few seconds of our lives or an audience of one or two hundred watching several minutes’ worth of our lives. Someone’s watching – in little sound bites. What are we teaching? What would we rather be teaching?

red box with white text: “If God has given you the world's goods in abundance, it is to help you gain those of Heaven and to be a good example of sound teaching to your sons, servants, and relatives.” – Ignatius

Tradition identifies Ignatius as the Apostle John’s disciple.

And the third
pay-attention point?
Too much of a good thing
is still too much.

When my father was functioning as the green-bean-and-potato disposal, he was eating good stuff in very small bites. But slowly, the little bites of good stuff piled up and became more than his aging metabolism could handle. They morphed into bad stuff in the guise of excess weight. When he finally noticed, he did what any reasonable person does, he started the process of saying, “No thank you” so that he could put a stop to the piling-up process.

The ice cream story makes this too-much-of-a-good-thing point even clearer. No matter how good something is, no matter how delicious, no matter how wholesome, no matter how right, no matter how healthy, no matter how _______ (fill in the blank with what you’re thinking), it is possible to get too much. When the little “bites” of good stuff pile up, they probably won’t still be good stuff. So I’ll just keep saying, as I did in the post titled, Moderation – Even in the Good Stuff, too much of anything, no matter how good, is still TOO MUCH.

One of the most outstanding figures of medical history

Clearly one of the most outstanding figures of medical history.

Your turn. Did I miss an in-your-face pay-attention point?

©2016, Teresa Bennett

Moderation – Even in the Good Stuff

photo of Mexican pottery bowl of green chili

Homemade green chili. Yummy? Depends….

Do you know anyone whose chirpy cheerfulness just make ya sick? Do you know anyone who constantly pulls harmless pranks in a persistent effort to cheer up any and all in his presence?

I do. I’m married to him. And I’m willing to say publicly that one can take only so much unrelenting good humor. After a point it becomes, well, annoying. You might wonder why I’m going public with such a dangerous admission. Simple: I have lots of backup. Friends who know my little honeybunch also reach a point after which they’re just DONE with his boundless geniality and endless pranks. And I can prove it.

The Story:
A Not-so-subtle Warning

A couple of years ago, Hubby joined a yoga class, a part of our church’s wellness program. He knows most of the class members and happily spends an hour grunting and moaning as he and his middle- and senior-aged friends Down-Dog themselves into alarmingly precarious positions.

He tosses out jokes, harmless barbs, and (what he thinks passes for) witticisms from the time he pulls the prerequisite yoga strap and cork block from the supply closet until he’s lacing his trainers after class. I know, because I took the class with him for a few months. A few months were all I could stand. (Okay, maybe arthritis also had a little to do with my exit.) Remember, now that we’re both retired, I LIVE with this persistent cheeriness 24/7. Class members, escaping the 24/7 sentence, generally put up with his merry antics in the interests of maintaining a certain yoga-ish esprit de corps.

Most of the time. Other times, not so much.

One of our friends in the class makes a mean green chili. This stuff is GOOD if you can stand the heat. Hubby is always tickled when she brings a recycled plastic container of her dragon-fire green chili. He squirrels away each too-hot-to-handle bowlful in our freezer, reserving it for a time when he‘s hankering for a fiery bracer.

Not long ago, he found one of these precious gems while rooting in the back of the freezer. “Whoo-hoo!” You’d have thought he’d found gold. He couldn’t be bothered with waiting for it to thaw. Instead, he upended the whole container over a saucepan and gave it a good whack. The whole frozen block plopped out with a promising thud.

Unfortunately, that promising thud wasn’t promising what he thought it was promising. Staring back at him from the saucepan was a block containing a thin layer of the fire-breathing green chili that he’d been drooling for, topped by a chunky, unappealing wad of frozen black socks. Yes, socks.  

Ah, yes, it slowly came back to him: that day, (Hmm, was it two years ago?) when he’d quietly stuffed his disgustingly stinky socks into the The Green Chili Chef‘s coat pocket. This would be just before he made a quick exit from yoga class, assured that his effervescent brand of humor would simply make her day. (Did I mention he’s also an unflagging optimist?)

If the old proverb, “revenge is a dish best served cold” is true, then her sock-chili must have been the most delicious revenge of all for The Green Chili Chef. Her gentle revenge wasn’t merely cold; it was frozen rock solid when it was unwittingly served by the victim himself. Now that’s cold. The Green Chili Chef had waited patiently for TWO YEARS, and got her harmless revenge* when Hubby texted and admitted to finding her “gift.”

I could be wrong, but I’ll bet Hubby won’t be sharing his grubby socks with anyone in yoga class from now on. As I said, though, I could be wrong: sometimes, he gets very near thick-as-brick status. But don’t you be thick-as-brick.

Pay attention.
You, too, have this problem.

Yes, the awkward truth is that all of us have at least one area of our lives in which we consistently don’t practice moderation. No news there. Here’s the tricky bit: when ours involves a positive personality trait (like Hubby’s), we tend to give ourselves a get-out-of-jail-free card. Our fellow travelers in life, however, don’t.

Don’t think you have an area of your life like Hubby’s? Ask your spouse or best friend. They’ll happily – and with alarming speed – tell you what you routinely do without moderation. Once you’ve opened the flood gate, they may even recite recent examples of your over-the-top behavior, proving beyond a doubt that you have a habit of taking a good thing too far.

Pay attention.
There will be consequences.

Like Hubby’s sock prank, your positive-behavior actions, practiced without moderation, will eventually boomerang. Will you welcome them when they return? Hubby didn’t. Having an expert’s fire-chili cruelly ruined by his very own stinky socks had its intended effect. I’m fairly sure because I think I’ve recently detected a downtick trend – very slight, but trackable – in his persistent prankishness.

So maybe he was paying attention, after all. And very soon now, I’m quite certain, it’ll be my turn to pay attention. (There are consequences in our house to blog posts like this one.)

© 2015, Teresa Bennett

*Our friend’s no-harm-no-foul revenge for Hubby’s dogged ebullience is sure to become the gift that keeps on giving. I can picture her chuckling every time she dons black socks. You go, girlfriend!

Odd #17, Part 2: The Gene Pool

photo of indoor pool with "shallow end" clearly marked

Should be, “Danger! Danger! Danger! Danger!

(If you haven’t read
Odd #17, Part 1, do it.
Otherwise, this Part 2 post
won’t make much sense.)

You know how it is. Families get used to the not-quite-right characters in their midst. They doggedly resign themselves to hunkering down and soldiering on through each embarrassing episode. People who marry into said families, though, are seldom forewarned and, thus, totally unprepared for such unflappable hunkering.

In our case, it wasn’t premeditated, as in “Let’s not tell her fiancé about Great Uncle Kenneth.” Really, no one even thought of it, until it was too late. And my unsuspecting fiancé didn’t think to ask as we were dating, “Now, there are no blatant eccentricities in your family, are there?”

Hubby’s
Heartbreaking Plunge

It was our first spring break as newlyweds. My new husband and I had driven 500 miles so that he could get to know my family a little better. Oh my. Neither of us had any idea just how much better he would know us all by the end of that fateful spring break. In fact, even now, after 46-plus years of marriage, he can still get a little peevish when retelling it.

We arrived Saturday night. Sunday dawned, a day for morning worship and then a deliciously long afternoon with no homework, no library research – just a well-earned, delightfully long nap and whatever else we felt like doing. Well, not exactly. The Kenneth-Genevieve Act was about to debut. (See, I said if you skipped Part 1, not much would make sense. You’re already lost, aren’t you? Go read Part 1!)

Now just try to imagine yourself plunked down into the middle of this drama with absolutely no warning.

You hear a car a little distance away on the limestone gravel road, which sounds like it’s slowing down. You watch your new father-in-law propel himself out of his recliner, roaring, “Uncle Kenneth!!!!” You watch, slack-jawed, as this normally soft-spoken and dignified man dashes out the front door, shoving on his slippers, stumbling as he goes.

Your new mother-in-law sprints to the kitchen, sticks her head deep into the freezer, and begins feverishly pawing through frozen packages of who-knows-what.

Your sweet, 11-year-old sister-in-law jerks the toss pillows out from behind your back and plumps them furiously. “Up!” she commands, suddenly becoming very bossy and very intent. The steely look in her eyes convinces you to do as you’re told, even if it is just a little 11-year-old barking the orders; you get up off that couch.

As she moves on to straightening the magazines and newspapers and you stand there in the middle of this flurry, you realize your new wife has raced to the bathroom. Is she ill? You follow. Nope; she’s furiously cleaning, as if The Queen herself is about to make an appearance.

Well, well, you might be prone to think. You lucky bloke! You’ve married into money and didn’t even know it. By now, you’ve decided to join your frenzied in-laws, and you race out to stand beside your new father-in-law and greet the filthy-rich relatives that everyone in the family is working so hard to impress. Hmm. They don’t look rich. Ah, well, most of her relatives who are well off don’t want anyone to know, so maybe these people are cut from the same cloth.

You’re introduced to Great Uncle Kenneth and Great Aunt Genevieve. Something doesn’t seem quite right. You listen. You laugh. You participate in painfully polite conversation, mainly because visions of dollar signs are dancing in your head. You try to figure out what the heck is going on.

As if on cue, your mother-in-law, wife, and little sister-in-law pop up from the sofa and excuse themselves to prepare “a little something” in the kitchen. That leaves you, your father-in-law, and Great Aunt Genevieve as the entire audience for Great Uncle Kenneth’s monologue.

Right before you in the living room is being played out the strangest scene you could’ve imagined. This relative you’ve never heard of is telling the most pitiful jokes which were, no doubt, hilarious – during the vaudeville era. He’s slapping his knee and saying “D’ya see?” after each “joke.” He’s choking on his own laughter just prior to each ancient punch line. And – here’s the really weird part – your very intelligent father-in-law is politely laughing at this demented old man’s excuses for joke-telling. These people must be way more than filthy rich! you might think.

But then your eye is caught by lots of action in the kitchen where (just out of sight of the rest of the theater audience) your new wife, her mother, and sister are all sitting on the kitchen floor. They’re leaning back against the cabinets, holding their sides, and laughing violently – albeit silently. Hey now. Something’s not quite right with all this. Still, it’s conceivable you might continue to think this strange couple is very wealthy, and that’s why they’re being given such royal treatment.

You could.
But you’d be wrong.

Not for another five hours do you learn just how not-right things really are and how very wrong you are. The Kenneth-Genevieve duo exit stage right, and you’re finally told what you should’ve been told long before your recent wedding ceremony. Your father-in-law simply wants to be respectful to his seriously odd uncle, and so he courteously plays the game. Your new wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law are courteous, too, but only up to a point. And that point clearly ends when they can watch you tiptoe through the minefield and give way to hilarious laughter, instead of participating in a very drab, very long, very boring theater experience.

  • The Queen did not come to visit.
  • You have not married into money.
  • Your wife will not inherit a bundle from Great Uncle Kenneth.

Instead, you have just wasted a perfectly good Sunday afternoon on your very short college spring break. In addition, you realize you’ve not only married a rather odd little woman; you now know she’s that way for good reason. She inherited it, and now you’re stuck with the whole lot of them and the inevitable musings about future children coming from this woman’s body and gene pool.

Well, we don’t have to imagine that’s what you might think, if pushed with no warning into this pool. We know, because my dear husband has told me so – many times, in fact. He did not take kindly to being so abruptly and cruelly plunged into my gene pool, even if it was at the shallow end.

The Pay-Attention Points
to This Lengthy Twaddle

One is painfully obvious. For those readers already married, it’s too late for you, as you well know. This pay-attention point is only for the unmarried. (If you know some unmarried young people dangerously close to forming permanent alliances, you might want to send them links to Part 1 and Part 2 of Odd #17. They might save your unsuspecting romantics a great deal of angst.)

Here’s the main pay-attention point: ALWAYS ask, as soon as feasible during a romantic relationship, “So now, there’s no craziness in your family, is there?”

If Hubby had thought to ask this vital fact-finding question, he could’ve got himself out of Dodge in just the nick of time, dodging a boatload of oddness. I would’ve learned that I needed to develop some fool-proof methods of sidestepping that awkward question if another guy I might want to marry should ask it.

Here’s the second pay-attention lesson to this melancholy tale.

  • YOU could be the one with a version of Great Uncle Kenneth lurking in your extended-family tribe. If so, BE VAGUE when asked about your gene pool.
  • Or, let’s just face facts, YOU could be the way-weird one in your family for the same reasons that I am: Great Uncle So-and-So’s cursed genetics. You, too, need to BE VAGUE when asked about your gene pool.

Okay, time
for a little seriousness.

It really is a very, very good idea to get to know your guy or gal and the entire family, asking as many questions as you dare, BEFORE you get very serious about him or her.

Don’t be shy. Be a persistent interrogator because your grandmother was right: we do, indeed, marry a family – not just one person. And that family may have produced a certain percent of weirdness in your beloved that can’t be mitigated by a lesser percent of lifestyle attempts to overcome the weirdness factor. I’m just sayin’.

As you’ll see in Part 3, I didn’t know enough to ask the “any craziness?” question, but you can learn from my mistake.

Addendum: None of the names in Odd #17, Parts 1 & 2, have been changed to protect the innocent – because they’re not innocent.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Every family has a weird relative. If you don't know who it is, then it's probably you.” – Anonymous

From a cartoon by Australian, Tim Whyatt

Odd #17, Part 1: The Gene Pool

photo of residential swimming pool

Appears harmless, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled!

You know every family has at least one – the family member who is such an embarrassment no one wants to admit they know him, let alone admit they share the same gene pool. While my mother’s side had so many it was difficult to count them all, things were a good deal simpler on my father’s side of the family.

Way-weird Great Uncle Kenneth

My father’s family had only one: Great Uncle Kenneth. But what a whopper. You know how people sometimes turn weird in their later years? Not Uncle Kenneth. He was born that way and stayed consistently weird as he aged.

My father once told me that even his parents, who were pretty tight-mouthed in their criticism of others, could barely abide Kenneth and his equally weird wife, Genevieve. The story goes that, in an era when 95 percent of women still cooked on wood-burning cook stoves, Aunt Genevieve couldn’t quite get the hang of it and was forever letting the fire go out. Not only did she not have the decency to be embarrassed about this blatant evidence of inept housekeeping skills, she had the gall to go next door to a neighbor – any neighbor – and ask her to come and restart the fire that she, Genevieve, had let die. (An unbelievable faux pas, in those days.)

But fair is fair. Great Aunt Genevieve couldn’t begin to compete with her husband and he, after all, was the blood relative. He was the one with whom we might share, through no fault of our own, the same genes yielding the same idiosyncrasies. She, bless her heart, appeared near-normal when compared with Great Uncle Kenneth.

Of all of Uncle Kenneth’s oddities, his most outstanding was his mistaken conviction that he really belonged on stage as a comedian, instead of on the managerial staff of Eli Lilly. This was by far the trait which caused the most grating of teeth, the most downcast eyes, and the most shuffling off to get another serving of whatever at family reunions. I didn’t mind much, as I was off playing with cousins and wasn’t expected to sit through his monologues.

But then there were those ill-fated Sunday afternoons when he and Great Aunt Genevieve popped in unexpectedly, and THEN I minded. We were all captives then: two adults and two children all sharing the same pain. Having never quite grasped the concept of using a telephone to ensure they were planning to visit at a convenient time, they would simply roar up in a cloud of limestone dust and take us by surprise – almost.

Living on a rock country road as we did, we’d all honed the skill of determining the speed of approaching vehicles and could tell when they were planning to pull into our drive or pass on by. That meant we had, oh say, about three minutes’ notice that way-weird Great Uncle Kenneth and almost-equally-weird Great Aunt Genevieve would be gracing us with their presence that Sunday afternoon.

Our Jobs

We all had our job assignments. My father catapulted himself out of his recliner, slipped on his slippers, and tore out the front door to greet (read: detain) them. Mother flew into the kitchen to tidy up and take a frozen dessert from the freezer to thaw. My very young sister’s job was to straighten the magazines, plump up the toss pillows, and generally tidy up the living room. My job was to clean off the bathroom counter, check the stool, and make sure the towels were just so-so, etc.

Now this sounds like we lived like slobs, when nothing could be further from the truth. I’m quite sure our house always looked ten times better than Great Aunt Genevieve’s ever did. Nevertheless, this was the drill, most likely because my mother kept hoping that if Genevieve were continually presented with a properly kept house, it might rub off. Thus, we could all be spared at least that much of their embarrassing lifestyle. It was a nice sentiment, but overly optimistic.

If my Father had done his job properly, he would have detained them long enough that we’d all completed the drill and were casually lounging in the living room by the time he escorted them into the house.

Showtime!

It wasn’t long before Great Uncle Kenneth launched into his patter of vaudevillian jokes and one-liners. These, I could stand. It was the grating, old-guy voice of “D’ya see?” following each one that began to wear on my nerves rather quickly. Fortunately, my mother’s temperament was about the same. After the seventh or eighth “D’ya see?” she would jump up, offer to prepare some refreshments, and escape to the joke-less reprieve of the kitchen.

I tried to sneak to my room a few times at this same juncture, but was usually hauled back by a lame question from Great Aunt Genevieve. However, once I reached a certain age, I learned I could offer to “help” Mother with the refreshments and was also allowed an escape route. Genevieve must’ve recognized that I was indeed capable of helping. Once I’d reached the helping age, she graciously allowed me to follow my fleeing mother, as we vacated our front row seats in what used to be our living room but was now Great Uncle Kenneth’s theater.

The other irritating thing about these two characters is that they never knew when to leave. I think that’s what caused such groans when we recognized their car. It wasn’t just having to endure banal conversation and really awful jokes. It was knowing that we were sentenced to this drivel for an entire Sunday afternoon. Whatever plans we’d had for a relaxing, nappy, Sunday afternoon were shot to pieces.

And the pay-attention point
would be…?

While you might be the compassionate sort and feel our pain, I know you’re still left wondering. What could possibly be the pay-attention point to such a lengthy bellyaching story?

Good question. This time, there’s only one, and it’s irretrievably tied to the bald fact that none of us get to pick our genes. We inherit them. ALL of them. Scientists used to believe 80 percent of who we are is determined by genetics and 20 percent by lifestyle. Not so long ago, they changed their story. Now, they’re saying it’s the reverse: 20 percent of who we are is determined by genetics and 80 percent by lifestyle. Whew, that’s a welcome switcheroo.

Since scientists keep changing their minds, we don’t really know what the equation is: 80/20, 20/80, 50/50? Who knows? My stark pay-attention tip? Work REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DILIGENTLY on that precious lifestyle percent, whatever it is. Regardless of the percentage, it’s all you’ve got, baby, to protect you from your family’s version of Great Uncle Kenneth.

That’s been my plan all along, as I certainly never wanted to become as odd as Great Uncle Kenneth. Wait: I just realized this isn’t a very encouraging pay-attention point. Since we’re now on my Odd #17 post, with no apparent end in sight, my plan hasn’t worked out very well, has it? But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, darlin’, and TRY HARD.

As for moi, I’ve tried hard, given up, given in, and pretty much decided, as I’ve said in Odd #1, to get over it. Hubby, with 46-plus years to get over his wife’s alarming, odd-infested gene pool, is over it, too. But in the beginning, it was a shocking plunge for an unsuspecting young husband: read how he fared in Part 2 of this Odd #17 post.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “A man with a hump-backed uncle mustn't make fun of another man's cross-eyed aunt.” – Mark Twain

Don’t get too smug; you have one, too, y’know.

Odd #16: Teresa’s the name. Efficiency’s the game.

photo of handful of nails, all head up

Handful of nails, all head up. (It’ll make sense.)

Do you have childhood memories of regular and dreary daily chores that were your responsibility alone? I’m so sad for you. As I’ve already said, I wasn’t really expected to do much as a child. But when I was, ever the serious, conscientious, only-child-for-the-time-being, I was extremely efficient in the execution of my kid-size duties.

A “Good Old Days” Story

When I was about four, Mother sent me up a little lane on our farm to a spot where my father was working. It was one of those sticky, hot and humid, Indiana summer days, and she figured he could do with a little cooling off. I was sent packing with a bright red Thermos jug of freshly made lemonade, heavily banging against my very white knobby knees. (Colorful red-and-white picture, eh?)

As my father could no doubt see me long before those stubby four-year-old legs could get me to his work spot, he had plenty of time to think about the icy treat that would soon be flowing down his parched throat. (As in Odd #13, this is completely my father’s story. Since I have no remembrance of it, I suppose we have to take his word for it.)

I arrived and gladly handed over the cursedly heavy jug. He poured a full cupful from the whopping, six-ounce cap-cup and turned to survey his handiwork of rich, yellow, waving wheat all ’round. By the time he’d turned back around to pour himself another cup, I had already gathered up the jug and was trotting back down the lane. “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” you know.

Yet Another
“Good Old Days” Story
(just in case you missed the point)

Probably about that same time frame is this story, again my father’s. One has to wonder…. No, surely he wouldn’t have made up this stuff. Odd is odd, and I was surely exhibiting unmistakable signs of it already, much to my parents’ consternation, I later learned.

Mother had sent me out to “help Daddy.” We all know what that was about: she figured it was his turn to deal with The Odd One for a while. My father was up to his neck in a carpentry project when I announced the posse of one had arrived to help. He played the game graciously and told me I could hand him nails. After one or two sloppy hand-offs, he carefully showed me the head of the nail and said, “Honey, if you could hand Daddy the nails head-up, that would be very helpful.”

No problem. One nail, head-up, comin’ up. Second nail, head-up, comin’ up. When he reached around for the third nail, I handed him an entire four-year-old’s fistful of nails – all head-up, please note, and disgustedly trudged back to the house. Honestly! Any fool could see this was not an efficient operation, and I had better things to do. One pitiful little nail at a time?? Please.

Now, as I’ve said, we have to take my father’s word for these disturbing accounts of The Odd One. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and believe that he didn’t make them up. In which case, experiences like these might account for why my parents waited nine years to bring my only sibling into the world. They had to think long and hard about the possibility that another one might be just like The Odd One they already had. An unnerving thought, to be sure.

Deliberate Deceit

Back to the story. I know I’ve called this aberrant behavior efficiency, but I lied – on purpose. The problem was really an extremely impatient personality in the making. There. I said it. (“They” say admitting the problem is half the battle. Who are “they,” BTW??) Impatience, it would seem, is warp and woof of who I am. Just so you know, I’m not proud of that. Here I am, approaching 70, still working on that character flaw that was so obvious when I was only four.

IS there a pay-attention point
to these stories about
an obnoxiously odd four-year-old?

Thought you’d never ask. There’s way more than one! This Odd post, unlike some of the other Odd posts, has slightly less obvious pay-attention points, but it makes up for that uncharacteristic subtlety by providing plenty of them. Pay attention.

  • If you’re a parent, remember that your children’s obvious character flaws need to be identified and addressed as best you can. No making excuses and calling them “cute,” since character flaws are definitely NOT cute. (These pitiful tales about “efficiency” should prove that.)
  • Character flaws – in all of us – are deeply entrenched, with tap roots reaching all the way down to China, as nearly as I can tell!
  • Don’t blame your parents if you exit their home at age 18 with character flaws still intact. Get over it: parents can do only so much in molding your character – only as much as you choose to let them.
  • Plan to work on your character flaws for the rest of your life. (It’s a process, like just about everything else.) Whittling character flaws down to manageable size is an endless, unpleasant, INSIDE JOB. It’s a bummer. Some things about life are, you know. Best get over that, too.

Yes, I know the current PC take on character flaws is to embrace your flaws, say that’s just who you are, and aren’t you special? Oh yes, that makes sense and wins kudos all ’round. Not.

Do you like your spouse’s flaws, your friends’ flaws, your family members’ flaws? No? They probably don’t care for yours, either. For the sake of those close to you, commit to working on your own character flaws. Instead of embracing your flaws, embrace each milestone in your steady and gradual taming of them. Makes a whole lot more sense, doesn’t it?

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: "Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands." – Anne Frank

Same thought from a far wiser woman than I.

Odd #15: Delighting in Pristine Paper

photo of child's foot traced on paper under him

(Should be brown paper. You’ll see why.)

You know how we sometimes have to take a break from stuff that’s disturbingly awkward, stock up on courage, and then hit the awkward stuff again?

After 14 blog posts about my extreme oddity, I gave Oddity a rest. (I’d gone way past the comfort zone on the Embarrass-O-Meter.) It’s been eight months – enough time for some vigorous hide-toughening – as I begin another round of blog posts exposing my heartbreaking oddity in order to reveal pay-attention lessons that even a “normal” person (like you) can use.

A “Good Old Days” Story

In the 1940s and 1950s, farmers – even ones who went to church regularly – didn’t need many suits. During my very early years, my farmer-father had four: two light-colored, summer-weight wool ones and two dark, heavy-weight wool ones for winter. (Wool, you’ll remember, can be aired out, not requiring dry-cleaning for long periods of time.)

He was tall and slender and when he donned a crisp, white shirt that my mother had painstakingly ironed (long before the days of permanent press and poly-cotton blends) and covered it with one of his suits, he was quite handsome. In fact, I always fancied he looked a lot like Gregory Peck, with Jimmie Stewart’s self-deprecating posture and mannerisms thrown in for good measure.

In the spring and fall, I waited for The Semi-Annual Suit Week. Since there were only two per year, there was plenty of time for the anticipation to build. Mother, knowing me to be impatient, as well as odd, usually didn’t tell me when the first of the week-long wait began. My father would simply return from running errands one day and, voila, The Special Day had arrived. He had just picked up the previous season’s suits – freshly dry-cleaned and pressed. Here’s the important part: each suit always arrived in a pristine, crisp, two-foot by four-foot, brown-paper bag. Ah, paper.

No, it isn’t your imagination. Yes, we are, indeed, back to the bizarre paper fetish mentioned in Odd #12.

This was just before the unfortunate time in advertising history when businesses uniformly decided to plaster their names all over anything that didn’t move and eons before their current practice of plastering their names all over everything that does move. When I say pristine, I mean PRISTINE. Those brown paper dry-cleaner bags were completely ink-free, without so much as a phone number on them.

Painfully aware of my paper fetish, my father knew better than to let those precious bags get mussed in transit from the cleaners to our farmhouse. His odd little girl would be most disappointed with a crinkled and wrinkled dry-cleaner bag. Those bags were taller than I and so, yielded more coloring real estate than I could ever get my hands on at any other time. (There were no craft stores with huge rolls of colored craft paper in unlimited footage in those days. At least, not in our little corner of rural Indiana.)

One year, I decided to blow my budget and use one entire side of a bag for having Mother trace around my body. I wanted to get a factual perspective on how big I was – or wasn’t, as it turned out. It was a painful, in-my-face way to learn why I’d been named Runt of the Sinclair Clan.

Awww. How sad.”

If you experienced childhood any time after the 1950s, you may well be thinking we were pitifully poor. We weren’t. My father didn’t have to save that paper bag for me to color. As Odd #8 makes abundantly clear, he could well afford to buy all kinds of paper – and a desk in which to store them! 

The wanton discarding of such virgin bounty was simply not in our genes. Even if they’d had no odd daughter with a paper fetish, my parents would’ve saved the paper. They were both descended from multiple lines of Scottish immigrants from the late 1600s and early 1700s, who became Yankee stock before moving west. You know – the folks who brought us the maxim, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”?

Incidentally, that maxim – regardless of the politically correct recycling craze – doesn’t play well in The Colonies these days. Oh, we cheerily give a cursory rinsing to stuff and pitch it in the city-provided and city-collected recycling bin. We pay abundant lip-service to reusing stuff, but if it involves our personal time and energy to deconstruct something and use it in a completely different way, well, we “don’t have time.” When it comes right down to it, we’re almost as profligate with resources as preceding generations.

But I digress. Back to the story. Even today, when I see a large and empty piece of paper, I remember those dry-cleaner bags and begin concocting – with practically no effort – a half-dozen ways to use it. And if anyone will listen, I’m happy to tell them all the magical ways it could be reused. Of course, few want to be seen listening to someone so odd. Don’t care. Neither should you.

Oh my goodness!
Will she EVER get
to the pay-attention point?

Patience. Patience. In time, grass becomes milk.

Obviously, there’s the recycling pay-attention point to this good-old-days story, but I’ve harped on that plenty in previous blogs. Nothing new there.

PAY ATTENTION! Here’s the deeper pay-attention point: cultivate your ability to find delight in the SIMPLEST of items, especially those others thoughtlessly and foolishly discard. Those crisp, pristine, brown paper bags (that any other father would’ve tossed) were:

  • free,
  • simple,
  • excellent practice for a lifetime of being grateful for simple things,
  • a child’s transport to Creativity Heaven for hours, and of course,
  • a poor Mother’s much-needed break while that odd little child was distracted in her little heaven.

No, it isn’t your imagination. Yes, we are back to that recurring gratitude theme. It just won’t go away, as that’s what most religions and the aged among us recognize to be the platform of a life well lived.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.” – Anonymous

(Say, like delighting in a dry-cleaner paper bag)

Diplomacy

black and white sketch of shaking hands

Diplomacy is a lost art. Actually, you can’t lose something you never had so it’s a just a word in the dictionary for most of us. We never owned it and aren’t likely to if we don’t change our ways.

Yet, it’s a skill which can make such incredible differences for people, as well as nations. Most of us know this and would like to possess the skill of diplomacy. But we shrug our shoulders and proffer the excuse, “I’m not a diplomat. I just say it like it is,” and breeze through life as if our statement somehow makes sense.

The Suits
and the Rest of Us

I don’t know about you but when I hear the word diplomacy, I immediately think of “INTERNATIONAL Diplomacy.” Serious, high-powered stuff. Men in custom-tailored, pinstriped power suits; white, drycleaner-starched shirts; expensive and oh-so-discreet silk ties and scarves pop into my head. You know – the men and women who play their cards close to the vest and get everyone to play nice in the sandbox of international politics.

And I think, I’m not in that league and never have been, thank goodness.

It took me a very long time – longer than I’m going to admit (because I wasn’t paying attention) – to realize that sort of thinking is one of the things that’s wrong with our world. Thinking that the practice of diplomacy is limited to the version used at the skyscraper levels of international politics and that it’s necessary only when the stakes are at nuclear-war height is dangerously myopic.

In fact, we could put The Suits out of business if each of us down here on the lowly plains would practice diplomacy with our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and everyone else who crosses our paths. If people in each country learned how to practice diplomacy and get along, their countries would effortlessly practice diplomacy and get along. We’d put a whole profession out of business.

But we don’t, and we’re not. Rare is the person who consistently and regularly practices diplomacy. I’ve known quite a lot of people in my almost-70 years, and I’ve known less than half a dozen of your everyday, garden-variety diplomat. Why is that? Why are we so pitifully deficient in this lost art? Well, here’s what I’ve learned from watching that handful.

You thought I’d never get here, didn’t you? So pay attention: it’s all about…

Think Time

The down-here-on-the-plains diplomats that I know take advantage of every moment of quiet and isolation from the very people on whom they must practice their craft. In those quiet moments – drive time, mass commuting time, waiting-in-line time, true “downtime” – they think on the sticky wickets of life. They think:

  • on the players,
  • what they know about them,
  • why they’re acting the way they are,
  • what would make them more willing to comply, collaborate, and cooperate.

They think on how to say and do the things that will bring about that elusive win-win solution.

They think, and they think, and they think. They turn over an issue as if it were an object they could hold in their hands. They examine it from every direction, and then they hash out a productive scenario. Then they rehearse that scenario. I happen to have been quite close to a couple of these diplomats, and I’ve actually heard them rehearse – just as if they were rehearsing lines for a play – in their offices and private places.

Thinking what a lot of time this must take? You’re right. Thinking you don’t have time for that much thinking? Give me a break. We all have the same amount of time that these diplomats do. It’s all a matter of what’s important to us and how we decide to spend our time to include what’s important to us.

The Painful Part

Want to learn the art of diplomacy and decrease the friction in your life – and the lives of those around you? Look for those times when you can choose quiet and isolation over the blather of mindless movies, vacuous videos, chillingly vulgar CDs, cell-phone chatter, and radio waves that radiate ill will.

Yes, it will be painful at first (don’t I know it!), as we’re not big on “wasting” time just thinking in this country. Learning to do something we don’t normally do can be awkward and painful – at first. Do it anyway; the pain lasts for only a little while.

Trust me: you’ll come to love quiet and solitude as you park yourself away from people and mull over the issues that are causing such angst among the people in your life. And when you give yourself the necessary time to think it all through, you’ll love finding that you have a pretty decent plan in the works and some surprisingly tactful words coming to mind.

Pay attention: cultivating the art of diplomacy is done in quiet and isolation, then artfully practiced in the marketplace of life.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.” – Henry Ford

Don’t be one of the “few.” Think. THINK!

Monitor your relationships to protect your self-worth.

painting of Napoleon Bonaparte on horse

Napoleon, The Arrogant, (aka, Bonaparte)

FYI: though a little like Magic Bullet #4 about relationships, this post takes off in a slightly different direction.

Lots of words have been written about the topic of self-worth. Here’s the deal: as I said when I began this blog, I’m not a psychiatrist, and I’m not a psychologist. I don’t even have an M.A. in counseling. Lacking all those credentials, this blog post will, of necessity, be short and to the point. (No intellectual crowbars needed.) I’m simply telling you what I’ve observed from 65-plus years of living among people.

Here’s more good news. If you’re reasonably well-adjusted, it isn’t as complicated as some would claim. In fact, it’s actually corner-of-the-eye stuff – stuff way out on those outer edges that you know and don’t realize you know.

The Point, in a Nutshell

Here’s the gist of my admittedly amateurish observations.

  • People who think too little of themselves (despite all their bravado and self-assertiveness), come across as arrogant – routinely belittling and tearing others down.
  • People who think too highly of themselves also come across as arrogant – routinely belittling and tearing others down.

Ironic, isn’t it? Two different problems, two very different reasons, resulting in the same Napoleonic behavior. Some mental health professionals might argue that almost all people who habitually tear down others really fit into the first group and that only a few, e.g., narcissists, can accurately fit into the second group.

Whatever.

I say we maintain good emotional health by observing emotionally healthy people – not the sick ones. The people I’ve known who are able to laud and acknowledge others and their accomplishments have a humble but healthy view of themselves and their own accomplishments. In fact, I think they’re able to appreciate others and others’ accomplishments precisely because they’re able to appreciate themselves and their own accomplishments.

So what’s
the pay-attention lesson here?
Hanging with
emotionally healthy people
helps you develop
your own healthy self-worth.

When you monitor your relationships, you’ll find you have some friends or family members who routinely tear you down. Regardless of how deftly they do it or how cleverly they disguise it, sit up and pay attention. If you know them well enough, you might be able to determine into which group they belong, but then what?

Trust me, I’ve spent hours trying to figure out why certain people in my life just could not give me credit for blowing my nose. Not until I was well into my fifties did it occur to me that this was not time well spent. That’s because even when I could pin down the most likely cause for their tearing-down tendencies, I couldn’t do much about it.

Regardless of the cause, this behavior is a character flaw that only the individual herself can work on. And have you noticed when we have in-your-face character flaws we don’t, as a rule, go ’round asking for help with our character flaws? Offering help when none is requested is usually a waste of perfectly good information, not to mention emotional energy. Those who will not help themselves cannot be helped by others. I’ve learned this little tidbit the hard way, too.

Besides, as I’ll keep saying, I’m not a trained mental health counselor. Even if a friend were to ask for help with an out-sized character flaw, I’m not sure I could be terribly helpful or effective. Unless you’re a trained mental health counselor, you probably can’t either. Just recognize you’re out of your depth and guide people like this to someone who can help them. Meanwhile, studiously avoid them whenever possible.*

Yikes. That sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Some of life’s realities are harsh. How about this one? People who routinely tear you down are NOT your friends. So pay attention to your relationships: determine which people you should avoid and which people you should keep in your life – the ones who will make up the central core of your life. Choose those humble, yet emotionally healthy, people who can laud themselves and others. You’ll learn a ton about how to like yourself and others just from hanging with them. And guess what? It’s a process. (See Process Three.)

* Have you also noticed that most of us keep hanging in there with the tear-downers way longer than we should? Give it up. Let the pros handle the carpers and harpers in your life. That responsibility is most likely waaay above your pay grade. It’s for sure above mine.

© 2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “He who is humble is confident and wise. He who brags is insecure and lacking.” –Lisa Edmonson

Arrogance produces bragging and belittling.

Judging a Book by the Cover, Part 2

photo of slob in office, dressed inappropriately and making paper airplances

Not very concerned about his cover, is he?

Have you ever noticed how it’s okay for you to do something that’s not quite fair, but not for others to do the exact same thing? When they do it, it’s “grossly unfair.” When you do it, not so much. That’s the another conundrum of life: the dual standards we often hold for ourselves and others.

You know where I’m headed with this. It’s where Mom probably went. It’s the part in the drama where you played the It’s Not Fair card.

Pay attention:
you were both right.

Mom was right because other people are just as lazy as we are. They judge a book by the cover because they don’t want to take the time or make the effort to insure a more accurate first impression. They claim what you and I claim: “Looks are all I have to go on.”

You were right because if looks are all we routinely use to evaluate people and things, we’re being extremely unfair and supremely superficial.

Here’s what Mom was trying to say. A whole lot of life is unfair but – pay attention – sometimes we have the ability to make life a little more fair. When we have that chance, we should take it.

Oh, say, on job interviews,
for instance.

When that prospective employer looks you over in a 20-minute interview, he’s trying to cover a whole lot of ground. Maybe he’s an expert in culling details and clues. Maybe he’s like Malcolm Gladwell’s experts – an accomplished thin-slicer. Maybe not. Maybe he’s lazy. Maybe he’ll notice only that you’re dressed like a slob and figure your resumé and references are equally slobby, giving them only a cursory look. He won’t be fair.

If he calls you back for a second interview, you may get the chance to wow him with your expertise and rapier-like mind. But honestly, you know and I know that if he isn’t impressed by the “cover” in the first 20 minutes, he won’t be fair enough to give you a second 20 minutes to show him what’s inside your “book.”

It gets worse.

You do the same thing – to yourself. You judge you based on how your cover looks as you pass the mirror. When what you see in the mirror is hat-hair, makeup-less face, ragged t-shirt, and baggy PJ pants, how do you judge yourself? As a snappy, on-top-of-it professional?

I don’t think so. I rather think you see yourself as a slob and start berating yourself. When we slip into negative self-talking, seldom does good come of it. It seldom motivates us to start acting appropriately or professionally. Mostly, we just keep on acting the part of a slob – because we look like a slob.

Okay, the unfair reality is that we and others default to judging a book by the cover – even our own “books.” But there is something we can we do to stop others from forming erroneous first impressions of us.

Pay attention.
We can make
our “cover” match our “book.”
Now, there’s an idea.

  • If you care about getting that job or impressing the prospective in-laws, act and dress appropriately for the occasion. 
  • If you care about how people judge your thoughts and actions, BECOME a person of integrity.
  • If you really, really, really care about how people judge your thoughts and actions, be unafraid to let your integrity show through. Yes, yes, I know integrity is soooo uncool. Don’t care. You shouldn’t either. (It really is quite painless. You’d be surprised at how quickly you can become impervious to jabs from the rabble.)

If you want others to form fair first impressions of your “book,” think, act, and dress so that your “cover” accurately reflects what’s in your “book.” When that’s the case, it’s okay if others “unfairly” judge you on first impressions. For you, they’ll be fair and accurate first impressions.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “The way we dress affects the way we think, the way we feel, the way we act, AND THE WAY OTHERS REACT TO US.” – Judith Rasband

From “America’s Image Expert” (caps mine)

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