This I Believe

Mary - Austintown, Ohio
Entered on May 3, 2007

I believe that actions speak louder than words and that it’s important to face every challenge with a steadfast courage and common sense wisdom.

I grew up in steel mill working class neighborhood on the South Side of Youngstown—the kind of place where—if you got knocked down, you were told to get back up. You didn’t stand there and cry, and you never, ever admitted defeat. You were told to prove your worth. No giving in, no giving up, and no feeling sorry for yourself.

It was my older brother who made sure I learned this neighborhood code.

He saw me walking home from school one day and witnessed some older girl pushing me around. When I got to the safety of our street, he shook his fist at me, “You fear no one,” he scolded, “You face them up!” and then he gave me a lesson on how to throw a punch.

At first I thought he was crazy. Stand up to a bully? And punch one, too? I decided to live by my mother’s creed—which was to avoid conflict at all costs—for the thought of getting into a neighborhood scrap with someone much bigger (and meaner) than me would be pretty stupid. And even more important, my father who at all times advocated that we should use our common sense would be furious. Making him mad would be a big mistake.

The next day I dreaded the walk home not so much because of the bullying I knew was coming, but because I knew my brother would be standing at the corner waiting and watching for me to take action. As I walked along the sidewalk I kept trying to figure out what to do, and then I felt a push. I turned around and stared directly at my bully. At first I didn’t say a word, but when she raised her hand, I raised my fist, “Stop pushing me around, already! You better just leave me alone!” I hollered.

Soon every neighborhood kid in earshot came running to see what would happen next. “Go ahead, beat me up!” I dared, “I ain’t afraid of you!” I lied. I nervously clenched my fist trying to remember how I was supposed to position my hand. While little kids chanted fight calls, we stood there glaring at each other, but nothing happened. I waited for her to come after me, but she didn’t. She waited for me to hit her, but I couldn’t.

For some reason, it just ended right there.

I don’t know why she decided to leave me alone. Maybe she was afraid I would actually hit her, maybe she thought it was pretty stupid to fight, but I suspect that it was more than likely she saw my older brother standing on the corner watching us.

Whatever the case, that day marked a pivotal moment in my young life. I realized right then and there that I really could face my challenges head on. And even though I was very afraid, I found I had it in me to muster up the courage to be strong. Most importantly, I learned firsthand that I didn’t have to punch someone to solve my problem.

And now, some thirty years later, I’m still compelled to live by the standards of what my neighborhood (and my family) taught me.

Actions do speak louder than words and courage should always be steadfast and direct.

Common sense wisdom will always keep you safe and honest,

And whenever challenges come your way, you need to face them up.

No giving in, no giving up, and no feeling sorry for yourself.