Today as I celebrate my birthday, I reflect upon all the lessons I have learned in my life.
- Your behavior does not define who you are. I was expelled from my high school before the 11th day of my freshman year. I was sent to a special school for kids with behavior problems. My special ed teacher was named Mrs. Lyons. Whenever any of us misbehaved she always told us “I like you, I do not like your behavior”. Up until that point my teachers, principals and even well-meaning parents made me feel as if my behavior was who I was. Mrs. Lyons taught me to think differently.
- Despite the odds, always work your hardest. The adjoining classroom from my special education class in 9th grade was designated for students with learning disabilities. One student in that class named Brian became a friend of mine. Brain was in 8th grade yet he was reading at a 5th grade level. Despite this disability, Brian wanted a high school diploma more than anyone else I knew or have ever met. If that was not i enough to be inspiring, Brian lived with Cystic Fibrosis and he knew that he would more than likely die before he was 20. This didn’t even damper his desire for a diploma. His determination, despite both obstacles, taught me to always try my hardest for any goal – especially those that look impossible.
- Friends not only stick together, they stand up for each other. Along with my friendship with Brian in 9th grade, we were also friends with a kid named Ron. I learned from watching Ron and Brian that when someone said something bad about a friend, regardless of if he is there or not, we stand up for him and defend him.
- It really doesn’t matter what you do for a living. During my junior high years, I was struggling academically in school. My report cards were poor, and I heard it from my parents – especially my father – when the report cards arrived at home. “With grades like these you are not going to be anything more than a dumb garbage man or stupid janitor”. To escape those words, I would hang out at a neighbor’s house as much as I could. The father of that home worked at the head of maintenance at his job. I did not know there was a difference between maintenance man and a janitor. At that age I thought they words were interchangeable. When I saw how his kids loved him as well as every kid in our neighborhood liked him (the opposite of my father) I realized that it did not matter what you did for a living. If it was an honest job and you could support your family, the important part is the type of person you are.
- Stand up for what you believe in – even if you stand alone. My father once told me that he had more respect for someone who stood up for what he believes is right, even if he is wrong, than for a person who goes along with the crowd because it is the easer thing to do. Those sage words still guide me today.
- Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. My mom recited that golden rule from the Bible to myself and my brother almost daily during our childhood. She hoped that we would not try to kill each other. Sadly, I did not follow the golden rule much as a child, but today it is one of the cornerstones of how I strive to treat people each and every day.
If you don’t have anything nice to say… Along with the gold rule my mom tried to hammer this advice into my thick head as I grew up. Again, her words went in one ear and out the other as a child. As a grown up I not only strive to speak only kind and supportive words, we need more reminders in our society to refrain from hate speech and other words that can hurt others.