Something has been weighing heavy on my mind as of late. These thoughts were brought on earlier this school year when Harlo started complaining of a girl being mean to her at school. (Preschool, let me remind you.) This little girl was telling other little girls they couldn’t be friends with Harlo, or that Harlo couldn’t sit by her, or that Harlo could only do this or that if she was wearing “this” color – and she wasn’t.
I was surprised and saddened that this type of stuff was starting so soon in her life.. I knew the “mean girl years” would come, but I was thinking I had until junior high.. not even before real public school started. Of course, we immediately took action on the issue with her teacher and did all the necessary steps to ensure Harlo was enjoying herself at school this year. However, imagine my complete lack of surprise when I realized that the mother of this little girl who had been treating my daughter unkindly was the exact mother who could not be bothered to wave back to me in the preschool pick-up line (you know, that place we see each other every school day, twice a day, for every week of the school year). She couldn’t return a smile as we passed each other taking our kids in or out, she couldn’t return a wave to me as she was pulling up and I was pulling away from the parking lot. She couldn’t exchange a friendly hello at the Halloween or Christmas school parties.
Maybe it’s because I drive a mini van and not a fancy SUV or sports car, maybe it’s because I sometimes drop Harlo off before I’ve done myself up for the day, maybe she has no manners? I’m not quite sure, but one thing I am certain of by now is that our kids are truly learning from our behavior. They are learning to treat people by how we treat people. They are learning to judge people by how we judge people.
Now, I’m only giving this example to prove my point. I seriously doubt that this mother has any real ill intention towards me. I doubt she has ever said a word about me to her daughter, or instructed her daughter to purposely be mean to mine. I’m sure she treats all people this way and it really has nothing to do with me at all, and she probably hasn’t even considered that her lack of manners is coming off this way. I’m sure she is a loving mother and wants the very best for her children. But I’m actually glad this woman has entered my life in this small way, because it has taught me a lot about the kind of mother I want to be. The kind of person I want to be. It has taught me to pay closer attention to my intention in all of my interactions.
So that’s just it, what is our intention? What is our intention when we choose not to wave to acquaintances, when we are sharing the latest piece of gossip to a close friend, when we post and share the things we do on Facebook? Are we thinking about this as often as we should?
If I choose to vaccinate my children because it’s what I feel the most peace about, what is my intention by posting a hateful post against people who choose not to vaccinate theirs? If I am a democrat, what is my intention by posting mean-spirited things towards republicans – which many of my 700 some-odd friends very well are? If I am doing my research, making my own choices and want respect based on the decisions I make, why then can I not grant that respect to someone else, even if their decisions and choices are different than mine? Even more importantly, how am I talking about these other people at home? What are my kids hearing me say about other people? How are my kids seeing me treat other people?
Of course, we all want our children to be kind loving people. None of us want to be the parent of the bully on the playground. But are we being bullies on the figurative playground as adults? If I don’t want little girls making fun of my daughter wearing purple because it’s her favorite color, then I really shouldn’t be poking fun at the other adults in my life who choose to do things differently than me – no matter how big or small – then, should I? At what point in growing up did the golden rule stop applying to us?
The scariest part about this whole thing is that so many of us don’t even realize what we’re doing, who we’re hurting. Especially because so many of us are interacting over the internet and hiding behind our computer screens, we will never know the full impact of the things we say/do/post online. If we are not thinking about our intentions, how many people are being hurt in the process? Are we using our time online for the greater good, or are we using it as a way to bully?
I have to think about this often as I am online a lot as a blogger. I would never want to post anything to put anyone down or attack a certain belief or life choice, and I think there’s a way to still be authentic in that process. What I stand for and what I believe in – who I really am – I want to be seen through my actions, not through what I mindlessly post on the internet.
Four years ago, my life was completely changed when I gave up gossiping for lent. I participate each year even though my religion has no affiliation with the practice, and I grow spiritually every time I do. While friends were giving up things like Facebook, or sugar, or television, I wanted to dig a little deeper. Gossip was something I so mindlessly participated in – and way too often. Whether it was just simply spreading news about someone I knew – good or bad – or reading the celebrity gossip magazines or tv shows. For 40 days, I vowed to myself (and to the Lord) that I would not participate in any gossiping. I didn’t watch E! news, read People mag and the like, and I certainly wouldn’t talk about ANYONE, whether it was good or bad news to someone else. I was astounded by how hard it was. It brought fully to my attention how often I had been gossiping. How many of my relationships were based on this dynamic of talking about other people. I knew this was something I had to change, and not just for 40 days. As I quit talking about other people to my friends or family, I noticed my relationships changing – flourishing, really – right before my eyes. I would have to dig a little deeper to keep our conversations positive and meaningful. I noticed how I felt more fulfilled at the end of a gathering when I wasn’t talking about others. My Grandma Jorgensen was famous for saying, “small people talk about other people, mediocre people talk about things, great people talk about ideas.” This became my mantra that year.
I am happy to say that I stuck to my plan to quit gossiping permanently. Of course sometimes I notice myself saying something unkind or passing along information that is really none of my business, or simply engaging in a group conversation that gossiping is a part of, and that’s something I will likely always have to work on. But by trying to actively remove gossiping from my life, I am so much more aware of when it is going on. When I used to spew things out without a second thought, I now notice right away when something unkind slips away from my lips. I find myself praying for people more and talking about them less. I take my concerns and irritations to God rather than to my best friends to vent them out. This was hard at first, but now I don’t even have to think about it.
I feel like this practice of not gossiping has changed the way I look at a lot of things. I’m also so glad that so much negative talk has been removed from my home, the place my children are growing up. I am ready to take it a step further by vowing to focus on my intention in all things. I talk a lot about and I see a lot online about being intentional at home and with our families, but what about other areas too? What if we started being intentional about what we’re posting and commenting online, how we’re treating people on our daily errands, what we’re saying about our co-workers and friends? How might that affect our children?
This is what I am going to be working on this year as my goal to becoming a better person and I invite you to as well. We can start small by trying to gossip less, or not posting negative things on facebook and other social media. We can make an effort to wave at the other parents in the pick-up line, even when they don’t usually wave back. We can serve a neighbor in need. We can talk nicer about ourselves. We can make a more positive impact on our children and hopefully that will translate into making a more positive impact on the world.