It might surprise you to learn that I was a rather talkative and, frankly, arrogant child.
Hang on while I jerk my tongue from my cheek…
In fact, I coined the term “thunder puppy” to define that sense of “I’ve gotta fix the world” attitude that kids like me get.
Dad saw it in me at a young age. I had two fatal flaws back then. I suspect they’re still strong, but I have learned how to temper them a bit over the years. Dad made sure of that! In fact, if he hadn’t, I can’t imagine the insufferable mess I would have become. He knew that. So, he taught me with just two “simple” rules.
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What are those 2 simple but effective rules that changed my life?
- It’s okay to let other people be wrong.
- Be the better person.
By the first, Dad didn’t mean that I would always be right, so I might as well get used to everyone else being too stupid to recognize that. In fact, I believe it was the opposite. I say that because I recall the first time he told me that.
We lived in Ventura—1982. I’m pretty sure I was debating with someone whether the “Lord’s Supper” was a super special potluck or just crackers and juice. I lobbied for the former. The other party, who was either my mother or my uncle, debated on the latter’s side. We all know who was right.
Now I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful–and they didn’t think I was.
I point this out not to make me sound better than I was but because I wouldn’t want anyone to think my parents would let me get away with it. They’d be horrified at that thought! So, I clarify only to protect their reputations as conscientious parents.
Anyway, Dad eventually took me for a walk down the long drive behind our condos to the next street. Those walks usually meant I needed to learn another life lesson—usually in humility. This time, Dad said,
“Chautona, you need to learn to let other people be wrong. It’s okay for them to be wrong.”
I was horrified. Heresy! Truth must prevail! Truth!
But Dad said,
“Everyone thinks they’re right about what they think—it’s why they think it.”
And he’s right, you know.
Look, it’s hard to live by that.
It’s hard to hear people say things I believe to be wrong and not try to change their opinions—even in my characters. Actually, my characters do things, say things, and believe things I don’t.
I believe things I’ve never put into my books. Why? Because I haven’t found the story that needs it yet.
But learning that little tidbit—that nugget of truth—life-changing. What was it again?
When someone disagrees with you, and you cannot come to a mutual understanding, it is perfectly okay to step back and let that person ‘be wrong’ in your eyes. It’s okay!
That kind of fits with II Timothy 2:14-15
Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
Dad’s other nugget also had a more “humble” connotation than it first appears to.
“Be the better person.”
You know, I think he only put it that way once. I think he usually said,
“Do the right thing regardless of what someone else does.”
But I suspect he was in a hurry and a bit exasperated with me and my notions of injustice.
But because he said it that way that time, it stuck. I finally “got it.” Basically, he meant, “yield” where you can. Let it go. It won’t kill you to allow yourself to be wronged rather than retaliate.
You know, “do the right thing regardless of what the other person did.”
Or, as Paul put it in I Corinthians 13— love one another, and to show that love, don’t tally up someone else’s offenses against you. Just turn the other cheek Jesus spoke of.
Yeah, I mixed a bunch of Scriptures together there, but they all fit into one puzzle that shows the picture Dad tried to paint. Forbearance.
The Bible is full of beautiful words to live by. I could name a million of ‘em. But Dad’s paraphrases always stick with me. “Allow others to be wrong.”
“Be the better person.”
They changed my life, you know.
I was headed down a self-righteous, spiritually-bullying path as a girl. It’s strange to think that Dad used “be the better person” to try to help me strip some of that self-righteousness away, but maybe he needed to word it in a way that would sound awful to me to get me to see what he meant. The arrogance of “be the better person” rankled.
But it also drove home the real point that it didn’t matter what others did. What mattered was that I did the right thing regardless—even if no one but me knew it. Do you see how much I extrapolated from one little impatient phrase? It’s because all those other times he’d tried to teach me the principle of doing right for right’s sake finally came together in that one statement.
It’s genius because he made me “get it.”
And allowing “others to be wrong” helped me learn how to agree to disagree. Dad never meant that I couldn’t speak truth. That idea would be ludicrous to anyone who knows him. His point was that it isn’t my responsibility to ensure that the rest of the world correct their erroneous ideas to my understanding of truth.
Because you see, I’d have become that person—the one everyone avoids because you can’t have a discussion without him or her badgering you until you cry, “uncle.” I was well on my way as it was. I’m so glad he stopped me. (Yeah, I was right when I decided that the character I’m most like is Dean from Corner Booth.)
They may be simplistic little rules, and they probably sound a little backward, but those were some of my first lessons in adult tact, grace, and social skills.
And am I the only one seeing a theme here in these posts about lessons I’ve learned about myself? I think James, when he said, “the tongue can no man tame…” Yeah. He was talking about me, wasn’t he?