This I Believe

Charlene - Suttons Bay, Michigan
Entered on July 4, 2007


As parents we spend our children’s early years teaching them about how to survive without killing themselves. We teach them how to get along with others. We teach them about the good people in the world, about the bad people in the world, and, hopefully, how to tell the difference. But when they’re young, we’re mostly with them. We keep an eye on them; keep them out of trouble; keep them from annoying those around them. Inevitably, though, our children grow old enough to get out and about by themselves, and at that point we parents are no longer able to keep close watch.

When our children reached that age I felt compelled to develop a strategy for influencing them even though I wouldn’t be with them. The strategy needed to be something simple to understand, easy to remember, and summed up what I felt was most important in life. And that’s when I came up with the last-minute instruction, “Don’t be mean to anybody.” I realized I truly believe that those who embrace this value are those who will never taunt, torture, kill or start a war. And, like everything else in this world that makes a difference, good starts with people, one person at a time.

So whenever I dropped my daughter and her best friends off at a school dance, I’d say to them, “Don’t be mean to anybody” as they were piling out of the car. When I’d let the kids go off on their own for a bit at the local mall, I’d remind them before they took off “Don’t be mean to anybody.” When they were old enough to drive, the last thing I’d say as they left the house was “Don’t be mean to anybody.”

It worked. I know that because of the compliments other adults would give us about how polite and helpful our children were. I know that because, after meeting our son, his future mother-in-law told her daughter “He’s a keeper.” And I know that because while our daughter was in college, she came home on break and her hometown best friend came to our house to meet up with her before going out for the evening. As these young adults were walking out the door, our daughter’s friend turned to look at me and said “Aren’t you forgetting something?” I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, so I said “What?” And, grinning, she said “Don’t be mean to anybody!”