“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” Sir Winston Churchill said that.
Put another way, I think more so than at any time in history, the number of takers is beginning to overshadow the number of givers. Some of you may disagree, and that’s your prerogative, but as we move closer and closer to deciding who you want to lead us…ask yourself when is the last time you said ‘yes’ to something and really meant it.
Saying ‘yes,’ is not always a good thing. As I was reflecting on what to write about, I took a pause and realized that three of the most important points in my life had to do with people telling me no. That’s right. Sometimes we get so swept up in doing the perceived right thing that we wouldn’t know or understand the truth if it hit us in the face. Churchill makes a very valid point as he reminds us that giving in important, and sometime the person asking you for something needs to be told no!
Reflecting on the no’s in my life I came up with the three most important. They happened at critical points in my life, and changed it forever. The first no happened when my high school sweetheart dumped me. Over the phone no less, she dumped me. I’d been away to college. She’d gone to a different college. I was poor and we had mostly communicated our affection over the phone, or through mail, back when people actually wrote letters. I never will forget the night of my high school graduation when she turned a kiss into a level of French I’d not imagined a preacher’s daughter was capable. Anyway, after sharing some of my college experiences and longing to see her to tell her of a recent experience in my life, she dumped me. Did not want to understand my side of things, how I missed her and wanted to wait to see her to get an understanding of all she meant to me…she dumped me. That was a serious blow…to wit I’m not sure I ever recovered. I went on, but not sure who I would have been had we continued…and gotten married. But we didn’t. The rest they say is history.
The second no of importance came when I decided I wanted to go back to the college that had dumped me for some stupid crank phone call. Though I had been readmitted, the college told me I would have to find lodging off campus. That was okay, but what I had not expected was my mother telling me that she would not support me going back to that college. I’m not sure it was a matter of money or principle. Regardless, I packed my bags, caught the Greyhound bus, and left. I was twenty years old, and in some people’s eyes, maybe I was running away from home. It was scary, but like I said, I was twenty. I knew what I wanted. I knew that in my plight through life, it had basically been me, and the angels in the manner of friends that God had sent in my life. That’s what I was depending on as I took my life in my hands and went back to what became my Alma matter with only the promise of some help from the state and some friends that saw me as someone struggling to find a way. My mom and I often spoke about this incident as probably being the best thing that could have happened to me. She wanted control. I wanted freedom. She said no. I left.
The third proverbial event that rocked me was when a gentleman I grew to call Big Daddy told me no. Having been a sharecropper, I didn’t have much. Getting in to the military was like I’d won the lottery. More money came in one month than we’d see in the country in years. I’d worked my way through school, with the help of friends like Big Daddy, but I had no sense of how to handle it. Money can get away from you if you don’t watch it. Money can get you in trouble if you’re not careful, and money can help you find who your friends are real quick, if you spend it quickly on them. Well I did. I got in debt. And the easiest way out of debt is to ask people with money to help you. You ever wondered why people with money have it? Cause they assess an importance to its value. Not what it can buy, but its value. Well I asked Big Daddy for a loan and he sent me a letter. The letter was an instruction on how to manage my life, and not let my life be managed by credit. I learned too hard a lesson, but I learned it early enough I hope to pass it on to our sons. Respect comes from building credit, not seeing how much credit you can get.
There were other phases and stages in my life that made detours because people said no. When my fellowship at the university I attended was not renewed and I had to find another way to get my education and made me make my own way. When I was passed over for promotion in the Army, when I flunked my qualifying exams for my doctoral candidacy, these were bumps in the road that made me realize I remember the no’s in my life more so than the yes’s. What about you?
I learned we make a life by what we give as I try to give back to my community, my students, and my family. Most importantly though I’ve learned that things that are given too easy are too easily forgotten. The road to perdition I’m told is lined with good intentions and until we realize that adversity does build character, character will continue to be a quality many of our young Americans will lack. Giving our kids too much just creates a bunch of selfish, egotistical youngsters who think we owe them and our earning has become an inheritance they are entitled to get. I say stop that now. Tell them no. Grow up and realize that just like they tell you, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Life ain’t easy, and the best way we can make our children realize this is to teach them ‘no’ at home.
“If you don’t invest very much, then defeat doesn’t hurt very much and winning is not very exciting.”
Archie Wortham, Ph.D.
Husband of Suzie
Father of Jeremy & Myles
Teacher & Columnist