Sometimes, when we do or say a really stupid thing, we wonder how we will be able to get on with life knowing we had done something that hurtful or hateful to another. We may say to ourselves, “Anyone who would do such a thing must be a very bad person.” Fortunately, we have a self-protecting mechanism that allows us to go on without endlessly berating ourselves for the stupid act.
It’s kind of like the floaters in my eyes, or the ringing in my ears. They are always there, but my brain learns to disregard them. Of course, if I think about the floaters or the tinnitus, they are front and center.
Stupid stuff is like that. If we leave it alone it may settle into the background, scarcely thought of. The best way to relegate stupid stuff to the waste bin is to make it as right as possible by talking to those who may have been hurt by our stupidity.
One of my daughters-in-law was taking a leadership class connected to her work. She had an assignment to interview someone whom she saw as successful. She told me about it and said that she wanted to interview me. She said that it was a source of great amazement to her that our large family could meet for two or three days at a family reunion, where people are sleeping in tents or campers, not always the best of circumstances, and not get angry with each other. She couldn’t believe that many people could get along that well for so long. She wanted to know my secrets.
It is a given that I was an imperfect parent, that I did stupid stuff. One of the secrets, I suppose, is what you do after you do a stupid thing. I can remember going to a weeping child’s bedroom, sitting on the edge of the bed and admitting that what I had done was stupid, that he or she was not grounded for the rest of his or her life.
Later, my daughter-in-law said that she had told her husband about what I had said. My son told her that he didn’t remember my doing anything like that. But, as I have quoted before, “All memory is a more or less accurate recreation.”
On a personal note, I cannot stand contention. Looking back, I can see that I have always been one to shun contention. I remember when I was just a boy that two men were reported to be fighting in front of the store in our little Colorado town. All of my friends ran to watch the fight. I walked away in the opposite direction, made a loop across a couple of pastures and made my way home. I just can’t do contention.
So, it stands to reason that I overtly taught my children to avoid contention. It took a lot of teaching to get to where we are today. I like to use the example of Thor, the Staffordshire bull terrier, who lived for nearly 10 years in our house. When the spirit of contention began to rise, he would leave the room, maybe even go downstairs. All I had to do was ask, “Where’s Thor?” to call attention to the fighting.
One cold winter day, I walked home from work. I was tired and looking forward to the warmth and peace of hearth and home. When I came into the house I immediately noticed an air of contention. It angered me. I walked into my bedroom and began to remove my coat. In a pique of frustration, I slammed the coat onto the floor. It so happened that there was a marble and a .357 magnum pistol bullet in the pocket. They came precisely into contact with each other. There was a great, “Boom!” Now, that was stupid. I still have the shattered marble, the splintered case and the lead bullet.