Each of us is a product of nature and nurture. Our genes determine the color of our eyes, the texture of our hair, our proclivities toward disease and illnesses. It is our environment from which our points of view and beliefs derive. Day after day we are exposed to people and ideas who influence our thinking. We pick and choose from the many philosophies that are presented to us. None of us are born being hateful or racist. Babies are as innocent as anyone might ever be. They love unconditionally. They are sweet and pure. Those of us who are parents, teachers, friends place our marks on a growing child until one day an adult emerges with a set of values that are an amalgam of many experiences.
I am not and have ever been an exact duplicate of my parents in the way that I see the world because I not only heard their thinking but also that of others who impressed me with their wisdom. I weighed what I heard with what I already knew and either accepted or rejected ideas. Thus it is with everyone which makes each of us a kind of change maker even when we may not even realize that we are making a difference in someone’s mind.
Little things affect us. For example I had a broken chair and I set about attempting to find someone to repair it. One person suggested that I simply purchase a new chair from him all for the low price of $375. Another took the time to track down the original manufacturer of the broken chair and in the process learned that it had a lifetime warranty. All I would have to pay to make it like new again was $20 for shipping. The first man was highly refined and worked in a prestigious store. The second man was decorated with tattoos and appeared to be less than elegant. Nonetheless he was the one who most impressed me and taught me once again to never judge a book by its cover. His honesty was inspiring and when I purchase two more chairs which I have long intended to do, I will buy them from him rather than the man who had little time or patience with my dilemma.
My simple encounter with the two men reinforced a particular way of thinking in my mind. It reminded me that character is something that can’t be measured by outward appearances, something that I learned long ago when I was still a fairly young bride. I was living in an apartment project when I met a woman from New York state who cussed like a sailor and trotted around barefooted most of the time with a cigarette dangling from her lips. She had a rather colorful background and was not like most of the people that I had previously known. I was fascinated with her and made an effort to get to know her better. I learned that she had a generous heart and she was a gifted artist. I know that some of my friends and relatives wondered why I hung out with such a seemingly rough person but they did not know her like I did. She was literally someone who would have done anything for someone for whom she cared. She taught me to have the courage to be myself and to think out of the box. She also showed me how to love and support my friends and family.
I have picked up nuances from many people all along the road of my life. My friend Pat opened up my eyes to the world and pushed me to enjoy experiences that I had never even imagined. To this day many of the routines that I follow come from the things that she taught me. Most importantly she demonstrated the importance of always putting people before things. Her door was always open to me whether I called ahead or simply dropped in for a chat. She would sit me down at her table and brew some tea and then give me her undivided attention.
I have another friend who is a real life Heloise. I can ask her how to do or fix anything and she has an answer. Her knowledge is encyclopedic and even includes having recipes at her fingertips. I often tell her that she should write a book or a blog. She has a very small income and still manages to live large with her ability to transform virtually anything from broken to a treasure. I can’t tell you how many times her homey advice has saved me from an expensive repair or parting with something that I love.
I have enjoyed listening to political discussions since I was a child. My relatives were rarely in lockstep with each other so I heard many different philosophies and have found pearls of wisdom in all of them which has turned me into a very independent voter who has never been tied to a single party or individual. Most people have difficulty deciding how to classify me because I don’t fit into any category.
I was raised in the Catholic Church and that upbringing had a profound effect on me but I do not believe every single teaching that I have heard. I have to politely disagree with admonitions against contraception, homosexuality and in vitro fertilization. I seriously can’t see Jesus worrying about such things given His tendency to repeat His commandments of love as the proper way to live. I suspect that my thinking was heavily influenced by liberal priests who focused more on how to treat people than worrying about judgements. As a result I am comfortable thinking for myself while still adhering to a faith in God and His role in my life.
I have no doubt that I behave and think the way I do because of millions of interactions with thousands of people, some of whom I don’t even consciously recall. All along the way I was cataloging the things that I liked and discarding what didn’t seem to fit my comfort level. I remember a humorous moment when my mother noted that she didn’t raise me the way I actually turned out. She was referring to my tendency to use rather colorful language when I am upset and I reassured her that indeed I had never heard such words from her.
Long ago I visited Chicago with my parents. While we were there I saw African Americans dining and co-mingling with whites, something that I had never observed in then segregated Houston. It struck me even at the age of seven that the people of Chicago were right and those in Houston were wrong. I even confronted my parents on this issue. It made me angry when they didn’t take my concerns seriously and only reinforced my belief that we must one day live together in harmony rather than in separate parts of town. I’m not sure from whence came my ability to think for myself but there it was.
I suppose the point that I am attempting to deliver is that we are quietly influencing others all of the time. They remember our kindnesses and our hurts. They hang on to our wisdom or shun our ignorance. We are molding others with the way that we behave toward them. It is not a purposeful thing, just something that happens in our everyday interactions. For that reason we should all be more careful of the impressions that we are making. Our children are learning more from what we do than what we say. If we want healthy happy individuals to evolve from their youth then we must act the way we want them to be.