Super Mom brought home this quote by German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and I was so impressed by it that I wanted to share it with the masses (oh and I wish my parents had named me Wolfgang – that would have been SWEET!)
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates a climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make a life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of fortune or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal in all situations. It is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a person humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
Does that resonate or what? In that one paragraph there are multiple streams of thought that warrant introspection and an evaluation of one’s self and how he or she approaches life and how we treat others. It is a powerful, inspired compilation of truths that I now have sitting on my desk, ready for me to read before the start and the end of each day.
It holds particular meaning right now as Super Mom and I deal with the daunting task of raising teenagers, dealing with our respective careers, serving God, loving our extended family and being kind to our friends and those around us. How capable am I of showing love and respect to others, even when that love and respect is not reciprocated? And how impressed is this quote in my mind, along with all of the scriptural references that I’ve been taught throughout life, when struggling to be an upstanding citizen, child of God, a husband to Super Mom and a father to my sons?
The other day I stood in line to check out my groceries in the self-checkout line. I paid no attention to my surroundings, minding my own business, when I took a casual glance at my surroundings and made eye contact with, not one, but two of the stores clerks. I thought it was odd but refocused my energy on scanning and placing my items into a shopping bag. But my attention had been diverted by the curious stares and so I looked up again to find the same two store employee’s watching me intently.
Suddenly my ire grew and that nagging feeling that I felt when I was first interrogated inside a convenience store by a store clerk about the items I held in my hand back when I was just 19-years-old resurfaced. It slowly boiled into a rage, remembering the animosity I felt towards that convenience store clerk when he said in parting, ‘You better have money to pay for that stuff. You stinkin’ islanders are crooks.’
That statement is imbedded in my mind. It was inflammatory, indignant, derogatory and condemning. My response was equally incensed and not worth publishing. I was furious and in my haste to fight fire with fire, I neglected my responsibility to my family, my people and my conscience. No one should have the power to goad me into a match of dimwitted hate.
In Samoa we say, “E le a’oa’ia e le ‘au pua’a tama faiga”. The literal translation is ‘Royalty cannot be educated by swine.’ It is commonly used to show deference by the speaker to those whom he/she is addressing. It is a sign of humility and of deep respect. Though it may seem uncommon in today’s thug-life, gangsta, rock-god effluence and ‘love-me, screw you’ mentality, I confess that my decision to take the high road was delayed and came at a cost. Rather than responding as ‘royalty’, I jumped into the sty with the swine.
This quote by Goethe and the things we learn while listening to the good in our nature is a gentle reminder that in the end it is truly our choice how we respond to or react in any given situation. What good would it have done if I had allowed my perceptions of the store clerks to rule my thoughts and actions? We are in truth masters of our own domain and that domain includes all thoughts, words, actions and deeds. Borrowing Goethe’s words, this is my own frightening conclusion: that I have the potential and power to be at peace, or to be contentious. I choose to be at peace. I choose to wield my power.