Wednesday, June 15, 2016

When I was seventeen....

Me, at 17.

It was a very good year and so were all the preceding years. It was such a simple time. Not everyone was good, but we were taught that loving and caring for each other was the most important thing we could do. Building character was more important than making money. Spending time with friends and family was a huge part of our life. And we didn't just give those principles lip service. We lived them.

I often hear people talk about “beating kids' butts” like that action were equal to the second coming, but let me tell you, that's not the key to having good kids. It's not the reason we were all, at least seemingly better, back in the day. The reason we behaved is because our parents behaved. That is, they were people of good character and they expected us to be the same. That is, they respected us and we returned the favor.

And the families that played together did, indeed stay together. I came from a very close family. Our home was the hub for our entire extended family as well. Holidays, birthdays or just any old day would find our home filled with friends and relatives. A great number of my family members were musically inclined, so there would be guitars, a piano, and even an accordion. And board games. And party games. And silliness. And laughter, lots of it.

Christmas did bring a few memorable gifts but it wasn't even about that at all. It was about seeing the people we loved. We often had 50 or more people in our home on holidays. There were no invitations. Everyone just showed up with a contribution to the meal, like a casserole or a dessert.

We shared the work too. We cooked together, cleaned up together and in between, we had a great time. The story tellers made everyone's jaws ache from laughter. We reminisced a lot and made new memories to talk about next time.

Our folks didn't bring home the whole toy store every time we had a birthday, either. We had a few simple toys to play with, but a whole lot of love to draw on. There was zero technology, unless you're talking about the color TV that my Dad built from a kit or our “party line” dial telephone. The TV was not automatically on every night either. We just watched what was worth watching according to my Dad.

We were far from desensitized. My folks knew the value of giving us a happy childhood, free from the constant worries of being an adult. The Wizard of Oz was the scariest movie I had ever seen up until I turned 18.

And, you know, you guys, there really is something to be said for letting kids be kids and letting life teach them as they grow. Many of my lessons were learned through experience. I truly believe that's what made them stick. My parents each slapped my face once when I was a teenager truly out of line. That's it. They never, ever, spanked me.

Life and their good example was a better teacher and they knew that. They also knew that spanking was a discipline that only worked to keep you in line if someone was there to do it. Life, on the other hand, teaches you the reason to behave when no one's looking. And as a result, I do.

They were genuinely good people with kind hearts and good intentions. They wanted the best for everyone. Gossip was frowned upon. Religion and politics were subjects not discussed or debated among friends and family. Your vote was your choice and kept private and sacred. People respected the fact that not everyone agreed with them.

People tell me that I'm an extraordinarily good person. It's not exactly true all the time. I have the same thoughts as everyone else when it comes to people hurting me. I want to hurt them back sometimes. I think that's a normal human reaction. But, you know what the difference is between me and some people who do take action on those feelings? I don't do it. But more important is the reason I don't do it.

It's because I was raised to believe that kindness was important. More important then revenge. More important than money. More important than possessions. I was raised to believe in, and with the example of good character, integrity and purposeful restraint from conflict all around me. Because of that, I learned that solving my problems without violence might be a little harder, but the effort was worth the payoff of knowing I was doing the right thing.

My parents gave me something that a lot of parents today have forgotten about. Through their good example, they showed me how to be a person of character, who values their personal integrity over all. They showed me that the true value of a person isn't measured by what's in his purse or her wallet, but by how he/she treats others.

So, when I was 17, it was a very good year. And so were all the years before and so will be all the years after. And if you're out there somewhere, trying to find your happy place, here is the secret. Happiness comes by giving joy to others and being a kind, decent person. You create it. It's all up to you. And you can have that, no matter your circumstances in life. Leave the anger and resentment behind you. It'll drag you down. Create a little happiness instead. It's easy if you try.

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