I sighed as I walked into Mrs. Long’s class and found my seat. Only three hours until lunch. I was already starting to fidget and only fifteen minutes had gone by. After attendance was taken, Mrs. Long announced, “Instead of learning more grammar this week, I thought we could shift gears and focus on literature. I brought a book by a Kentucky author named Jesse Stuart. It is called A Penny’s Worth of Character.”
As she began to read, my mind focused for the first time. I was mesmerized by the main character, Shan, and his journey. Buttercups, morning glories, and woodpeckers comprised the path to the grocery store. It reminded me of my adventures in the summertime. Shan’s mother advised him to buy the items on the list he was given. After his trip, he collected the brown bag that the groceries were carried in. Shan received a penny for each one returned. With a dime, he could buy his favorite treat, a chocolate bar and a lemon soda pop.
I listened attentively on the edge of my seat while Mrs. Long read of Shan’s dishonesty to the storekeeper. Shan had cheated the old man by returning a bag that contained a hole! His favorite treat tasted bitter because of his lie. Telling the truth was the only way to clear his conscience.
This was the first time in my life that I was introduced to the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. At the time, I knew this rule was important, but it was not until later in my life that I realized how substantial it would become.
As elementary as the definition sounds, the golden rule is significant in my life because of the awareness that I’ve gained from my experiences. I have learned to be selfless and deny what I want in place of making someone else happy. While it may seem as a burden at the time, the impact it makes on a person is monumental.
I experienced this burden in high school when I was a member of the Women’s Choral Ensemble, Bel-Canto. A service project that we had become involved in required the group to sing at a retirement community. After the performance, we were instructed to initiate conversation with the elders. They yearned for company. They desired to develop a relationship with an individual to give them purpose for their existence. How hard was it for me to give up my time to make a person feel loved and wanted? I chose to spend my afternoon helping others feel appreciated instead of wasting it in front of the television. It was clear that I had made the right decision.
There were many occasions in which I made the wrong choice though. I quickly learned the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is far from true. As an upperclassman, I struggled with the constant desire for popularity. I felt compelled to talk down to others. Becky was one individual who suffered from my ridicule. One day, my friends and I were sitting at the lunch table watching her eat alone. She hovered over her tray. “Look at Becky eating by herself again. Does she not have any friends?” one girl asked.
Another girl chimed in, “No one wants to sit by her because she smells terrible.”
Feeling rather entertained by this conversation, I decided to comment. “A shower and a change of clothes might help,” I proclaimed. Everyone burst into laughter. I felt the urge to entertain the crowd further.
“She has been wearing the same outfit for days!” The table grew silent. All eyes were directed behind me. Becky stood only arms length away. Her eyes were watering. Before anyone could apologize, she stormed off, dumped her tray, and exited the cafeteria. For the remainder of lunch, I tried to focus on the cool juice instead of the lump that I felt in my throat. I felt as low as Shan did when his mother made him confess his deceit to the storekeeper.
Later that week, I approached her when my friends weren’t around to see. When she laid eyes on me, she turned to walk away. Reaching out to touch her shoulder, I begged, “Becky, we really need to talk.”
Becky stopped abruptly. She swiftly turned and placed her hands on her hips. I opened my mouth to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. I stuttered, “ I-I-I just wanted you to know how sorry I am because of what I said about you. I didn’t….”
She cut me off. “Save it, Ealey. I don’t care about the apology you want to give me. You don’t even know me.”
I was starting to regret saying anything at all, but, because of my stubbornness, I persisted. “Look, you have the right to say whatever you want about me. I deserve it. I should not have judged you because of the way you look or act. It was not fair of me to say those hurtful things. Please accept my apology. I am truly sorry.”
Becky just nodded her head and left the scene. My heart felt lighter after discussing the hurtful things I had said about her. Just like Shan, I realized the importance of doing the right thing. From this experience, I have learned to respect people and their feelings. When put in this type of situation now, I ask myself a simple question: how would I feel if someone said this about me? Like my mom always says, “If you cannot say anything nice then it is better to say nothing at all.”
My mom is a plethora of knowledge. I retain a portion of her wisdom by observing her actions towards others. She is a strong, optimistic woman who constantly affects those around her. She has been a teacher for over 27 years. Because of her profession, she has numerous acquaintances as well as friends. A quick trip to Wal-Mart can easily turn into an hour excursion. It does not matter who stops to say “hello”, she will greet them with a smile as if they had talked only yesterday. She listens to everything that is said and rarely rushes to terminate a conversation. She makes others feel remembered and treasured even if she is not able to recall their name. I have tried to apply this characteristic in my own life. I am not perfect, but I strive each day to positively affect someone just as my mother does. I am hopeful that my cheerful attitude will uplift others. Even a simple smile can affect the mood of a stranger.
Spread joy to every person that you meet. Disregard from the negative energy that society constrains upon us. Take time out of your day to help another person. Stop and listen to what someone has to say to make them feel respected and loved. As Mahatma Gandhi states, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” You may not see the difference right away. In fact, you may not notice that the world has been altered at all. Be confident in the fact that individuals are affected first. The community, the region, and the world will eventually follow. It all begins by treating others the way you want to be treated!
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