By: Marilyn L. Davis
Who and What is Important: Lesson One of Many
I have known for a long time that the unattractive, spine broken, musty smelling volume might be full of gems of wisdom, whereas the glossy, over-hyped bestseller may only be entertaining for the moment; it’s the same with people.
When I was nine, I had a school assignment. I had to write a paper on important men in my life, and I could not use my father. I wanted my Dad to know why I couldn’t use him, and why I had selected our then president, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I started talking about how much I knew about history, governments, and presidents, and how important they were. My father stopped me and asked if I heard a noise in the distance.
I replied that I just heard the trash truck coming up the road in the dismissive manner which children, or unfortunately, a lot of adults, can have when they want to get back to talking about what is important to them.
Important Men in my Life
He told me that I was right about the noise, and that as soon as that truck got in front of our house, I would get to see several men who were important in my life. He explained how the trash collectors helped make his life easier since he did not have to haul our trash somewhere and could spend his weekends with us. Since he traveled, our weekends were important family time with him and us. If we didn’t have the trash men, my mother would have to burn the trash and he said he would be worried.
Since these men helped him so much, he wanted me to learn to value the contributions of all individuals, not just a president. I got his point, and we walked to the side of the road. When the men jumped down from the truck, I approached them; asked the men their names, and told them I wanted to write about their important contributions to my life.
It took a moment for my request to sink in, and one of the men started laughing and said, “No one outside of my family thinks what I do is important, and they only like it ‘cause it puts food on their table.”
At the time, I did not realize the significance of this statement, but it also goes to the heart of judgment and perspective on importance. If something is perceived as adding value to our lives, we evaluate it as worthwhile or important, but we are often influenced by the outer trappings.
Learning and Using Lesson One
What I learned that day was to expand my perception of importance and value. This has served me well in gaining knowledge, learning ways to accomplish my goals, and get words of wisdom from seemingly unlikely sources.
I have tried to practice this message with my children and grandchildren, starting with, “Do not judge a book or person by the outside cover”, an old English idiom that is metaphorical which means “You shouldn’t prejudge the worth or value of something, by its outward appearance alone.”
As an avid reader, I know that there is a lot of hype around best sellers, but it’s still some of the old classics that enrich my reading life. It’s the same with many of our possessions. We are judged by what we wear, where we live, and what we drive, and we can get caught up in new and shiny. The reality is that I can get to Atlanta in my beat up old truck, or I can borrow either a BMW or a Mercedes from my daughters.
If any of these vehicles are in working order, I’ll get there, but I’ll wager that other drivers on the road make assumptions about me solely based on my mode of transportation.
Shiny Isn’t Always Important
I’m reminded that I should probably get that bumper sticker that proclaims to everyone behind me that I’m not what I’m driving today if I’m in the truck. We rightly or wrongly think and assume that others judge us by our possessions, appearance, or occupations, when the reality is that neither my truck, the BMW or the Mercedes is an accurate reflection of what is inside the vehicle or within me.
Years after the garbage truck lesson, I was asking my Dad about some business issues I was having. He asked me about resources to help me correct a problem. I told him that the only person available didn’t appear to be located in an upscale section of town, even though they’d been in business for over twenty years. He laughed and said that if any person had been in business for twenty years, they were doing something correctly regardless of where their office was located. He challenged me to look at success differently that day.
30 years ago we didn’t have internet gurus that promised to tell us what, when, how and why on “everything-we-need-to-know-to-be-successful-appealing-sought after-and-rich.com/net/org” or the equivalent, but my dad suggested that I make an appointment with the counselor and pay him for consulting with me.
Success is in the Eye of the Beholder
What I learned that day was that his business started in that unpretentious house because that was what he could afford, given his student loans. Over the years, he realized that counseling individuals of modest means brought him more emotional satisfaction and that to continue his practice, he would stay in a location that allowed him the discretion to charge less for his services.
He pointed out that he paid attention to comfort, both physical and emotional; creating a warm, inviting atmosphere in his waiting room to relieve some of the stresses of divorce, addiction, or abuse. His small koi pool entertained children and calmed adults. Since it was a house, he remodeled the kitchen to let his clients make tea or coffee before their session or enjoy the homemade baked goods from a local bakery.
He hired staff that were attentive to the clients and who understood customer service. He factor that being helpful with forms, courteous, and unhurried were something that his clients needed.
His policy on scheduling was to give each client, one hour of talking and counseling, but leave 20 minutes on his appointment book at the receptionist’s desk until he saw the next client. If someone needed more of his time, he could give it without looking at the clock and know that his next appointment was predictably in the waiting room or the kitchen. If their session only took the hour, the twenty minutes gave his staff time to help that one person with billing or scheduling their next appointment in an unhurried manner without a lot of people overhearing their conversations.
People started appreciating the scheduling because they knew they would be seen within 10 minutes of their appointed time; they felt respected that their time had value to him as well. I came away understanding that success was not all about location, location, location.
Resources in Your Own Backyard
I would challenge you to look at the people in your life from a different perspective, if only for a week.
Take the time to listen actively to the messages that people give you; the knowledge they are sharing, and to not determine the worth of anything because you judge the outer cover to be of no importance or insignificant.
Each person has experience and knowledge and asking them to share what they know has enriched my life more than I can say, and may just give you the answers or solutions you are looking for in your life as well.We are sometimes dismissive of the wisdom being offered because of our own lack of awareness or commonality of experiences.
Don’t Dismiss Wisdom Because It Differs from How You Think
My uncle, a man very similar to Euell Gibbons , was also a proponent of wild foods.Uncle Alva did not buy anything from a grocery store until he was in his mid-fifties and that was a loaf of bread as my aunt was not feeling well and didn’t bake that day.
He would take us into the woods on his property in Indiana and teach us to find ginseng, edible mushrooms, and to let us help with gathering the buckets from his maple trees. The sugar camp had huge cauldrons for cooking the sap into syrup, but it didn’t stop there. He made us maple cream, maple nuts, and homemade maple candy, sometimes made in metal molds, or the syrup drizzled on the snow and left to harden into what he called snow candy.
His garden would feed multiple generations of my family as well as the fish he caught and the bees he tended. His knowledge of the land and what it offered us didn’t stop with food sources; it extended into the past with knowledge of the Native population that lived, worked and died on this land.
As a young man plowing the fields for the first time in the late 1800’s, he found the arrowheads, grinding stones, and the most important to him, banner stones of those who had walked this land before. His prize possession was a rectangular stone with a carving of a young brave and a fallen deer. Although the proportions were not correct, it was obviously carved with pride. His collection of artifacts would entertain his relatives, but also the school children when he would take them on field trips to his property and provide them with a picnic from his garden.
When Uncle Alva was about 85 years old, we were at his house, sitting near the entrance to the root cellar. As a small child, I was afraid to go down into the cold, dark space, but later, I liked the smells, and after reading The Hobbit, I knew that the cellar would make a wonderful hobbit-hole. Produce from the summer was stored for us in the fall and winter months. Shelves had jams, jellies, and honey from his bees.
There were baskets of beets, turnips, carrots, and herbs hanging from the ceiling. Apples, potatoes, and pears were off in another area; he wouldn’t mix things, and they needed air so they wouldn’t spoil, so they were arranged in ventilated drawers.
I asked him why he continued to do things in such an old fashioned manner. He thought about it for a minute and said it was because he knew what he was doing; that he was staying as true to nature as he could, but that he was going to learn to make freezer jam as that was a modern approach.
Wisdom Comes from Experience and Innovation
My uncle had a lot of wisdom, but was not afraid of innovation, and I noticed that he had a lot of new flowers growing in his garden; he didn’t usually give so much space to flowers, so I asked him why did he have so many this year.
He told me that he knew that the marigolds keep bugs away from his tomato plants, but that he had recently planted nasturtiums, petunias, and yarrow to help. Then he laughed and said maybe there were new things to learn, that my 9-year old cousin had told him about the petunias and nasturtiums.
Pass the Torch Of Knowledge
My 19-year old granddaughter – willing to ride in my truck, captain of her college soccer team, volunteer at a nursing home; updater for the children’s bulletin board at the hospital, and friend to an eclectic mix of kids, makes the effort to live a non-judgmental life.
She takes wisdom from me, the internet, her parents, her classmates, and her professors. She does not predetermine that the outsides represent the whole, so she is open to learning and being educated from a lot of sources.
Her willingness to ask questions for understanding is impressive. She participated, as the only high school student, in a weekend-long seminar for EMS personnel. When I asked her if she felt uncomfortable being with a group of adults, she stated that she was going to enjoy getting the 411 from experienced people.
She is now the voice and the actions to emulate. She has a younger brother and two cousins that she can influence, and that is also part of how messages are most effectively given and received by children. They listen to peers.
It will be her leadership, actions, choices, and message of “Do not judge a book or person by the outside cover” that ends up being “way cooler” than Nana’s, and I’ll bet she has more influential men in her life than just a president, too.
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