Friday, July 7, 2023

Insight: Lessons in humility

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I recently had a long discussion with my wife Nancy about letting go of an obsession I have developed throughout my life with how an individual in my family constantly blamed me when I was a child for just about everything wrong with her life.

No matter if it was a phone call informing my family that I had neglected to turn in an envelope on Sunday containing my weekly 25-cent donation to the church or the fact she couldn’t take me anywhere because I liked to talk to people and “children are meant to be seen and not heard,” somehow any negative issue that arose in her life was attributed to me. It has led to a lifetime of fear of criticism and an apprehension about making mistakes that impact others.

Sometimes what I perceive as affixing blame is truly just an attempt to make conversation, yet my self-filter wants to interpret that conversation as a reason to blame me.

I stopped living with that family member decades ago and her wanting to blame me for every bad thing that happened to her was her shortcoming, not mine. But on occasion through nothing more than sheer habit, I find myself thinking that a person is trying to blame me for something wrong when it’s not the case at all.

As a sportswriter for many years, I always enjoyed interviewing role players, those who clearly understood their weaknesses and limitations while taking steps to learn from others and improve. It often led to more success in games for them and a longer athletic career.

In my career working for newspapers, I have had many great editors and bosses who possessed the trait of humility, prompting them to be more willing and open to new ideas while at the same time being empathetic, forgiving, and compassionate for those who work for them. The way I see it, exhibiting humility is something that drives us to better relationships with others and most importantly, makes us less likely to take criticism personally and be less defensive.

When you get right down to it, humility is the building block and foundation of teamwork and a springboard for greater self-awareness and self-reflection that leads to positive growth for us.

As a child, I wondered why asking that family member for help with a homework problem resulted in a burnt cake. Over dinner when asked why the cake burned in the oven, the answer was given that it was my fault because I distracted that family member when she should have been paying closer attention to the cake as it was baking. She told me I had no sense whatsoever in the kitchen and would always be dependent on others to cook meals. She vowed never to teach me anything about cooking and she kept that promise as I grew up. Yet, when visiting me during my graduation from college, that same family member told my wife and friends that she was astounded that I cooked Sunday dinner because I “never took any interest in cooking” as a child.

Or another time that family member raved on and on for days about how I ashamed her by telling my third-grade teacher that two of my grandparents emigrated to the United States from Poland during a class about ancestors. Even though it is true, she blamed me for giving neighbors reason to look down upon our family because of “questionable heritage.” And she said nobody would have known about that “disgrace” if it wasn’t for me and my big mouth. Years later she told me I should be proud of my ancestry because Pope John Paul II was Polish too.

On a field trip to the Museum of Natural Science while in the sixth grade, that family member accompanied students from my class as a chaperone along with a few other parents. That day it happened to be raining, and she brought an umbrella on the field trip. I had walked through the entire museum and was sitting on a bench near the entrance when she walked up and sat down next to me with her umbrella in her hand. For some reason, I asked her if I could have 5 cents for the gumball machine near the entrance door to the museum and she became enraged, slamming the prong of the umbrella tip down roughly onto my sneaker on my right foot. The umbrella tip went through my canvas sneaker, through my sock and broke the skin on the top of my foot. When I screamed out in pain, she told me to shut up, and to stop crying because I was embarrassing her. She said that if I hadn’t opened my mouth with a stupid question, I wouldn’t have been hurt by the umbrella prong.

The passing of time does not diminish my feelings about those incidents. Discussions like I had with Nancy about my perceptions of blame have given me keen insight into why I sometimes act or behave the way that I do. I now realize that humility is based upon self-awareness, an appreciation of others, being open to feedback, and acceptance of my past.

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