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A friend from church—a very positive person, no less—shared at one point that this was the main piece of advice her father liked to repeat. We all laughed, but it’s hard to imagine that’s the real lesson we want to teach our children.

I want to teach mine that if you give people the chance, most people will rise up to the occasion. When you are raising sensitive people, you have to repeat that a lot. It’s hard living with people whose skin is turned inside out. No matter how many good experiences they’ve had with people, they’re more likely to remember the few bad ones. Don’t I know it—I had to develop my own thicker skin.

I just hate when I tell my kids to expect that people will be reasonable and encourage them to advocate for themselves and then find out that my advice is all wrong. Instead, I’m just sending them out to develop that tougher skin.

Part of getting through life is knowing that you will have to deal with some bad apples—or those who are simply curmudgeons—but somehow not letting them dampen your appetite for doing the things you love, as well as for trying those activities where you have more doubts than confidence. Just because it’s a fact there will always be people who will kick you when you are down or inadvertently crush a seedling doesn’t mean people in leadership roles shouldn’t try harder to be kind.

I’m sure some of them think they’re just preparing you for the real world: the people who will vote you off the island or the Simons and their criticisms. Often these kinds of people just expect that everyone comes prepared and full of confidence and competitive spirit. And, if not, oh well. Survival of the fittest. Maybe these leaders assume that the others can’t reach a higher level, even if given time. Or that it’s not worth the trouble developing them—late bloomers need not apply. The meek are going to have to wait a long time to be first in their books.

Oh well, we don’t need another trophy to dust. The hell with it. Thanks for undoing all the work I and other people previously have put out trying to help my kids develop a lifelong hobby—and to, gasp, have fun with it. Turns out it really is about being tough from the start and winning after all.

I’m not about to believe that people are no damn good if they don’t win the race. Those of us who show up—and treat people well—are the real winners. That’s the lesson I’ve been trying to teach, but I just might have to add the lesson where I admit that some people really are no damn good.

A person can toughen his/her skin too much—that’s called scarring—and it can leave you weakened, not strengthened. Sometimes it’s just better to take your efforts somewhere else and go where people do appreciate the work behind what you do.

Wrong Way, June 2009 (c) CBL

Wrong Way, June 2009 (c) Christiana Lambert

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