You’re a Dunce… Go Stand in the Corner!

Empathy Kindness Respect


Key Point: I’ve emphasized in past blogs that you and I will remember most people by the way they “made” us feel versus what they’ve said or done. Of course, words and actions are important, and they are the medium for evoking a sense of what others feel. But, what I have NOT written much about is the LASTING impact of how people “make” us feel. When I use the phrase “make us,” I’m NOT talking about choice and self-accountability. In that sense people can’t really “make” decisions for us regarding what we feel or don’t feel. However, as much as we can rationalize and choose to think about situations in retrospect, the immediate “feeling” associated with the memory of an event is often ever lasting.

On Saturday, I drove my 93-year-old mother in law, Louise (and my 85-year-old mother Mary) back to my mother-in-law’s homestead and the country village she grew up in. These two women are so lovingly wonderful that both will be taking the car pool lane to the best of what afterlife has to offer. It was a beautiful June day, with the spring green painting every part of the prairie landscape. We stopped for lunch at an iconic small town burger joint. Hilariously to me, they both inhaled cheeseburgers, fries and milkshakes… And of course, the version of old time cafe coffee that in my opinion barely beats dishwater. (No $3 dollar coffee for these gals).


During lunch, my mother in law told us the story of being five years old and attending school for the very first day with her six-year-old sister. The country schoolteacher had a large class of kids from grades one through nine, and according to my mother-in-law, he combined the characteristics of the worst villains in a Disney movie. Like most prairie farm families in the early 1900’s, my in laws (and my mom’s family too) were very poor from a material perspective. So when Louise was presented with a box full of crayons for the first time, she joyfully began to color. In fact she was so happily engaged in creative play, she started to whistle. The teacher, upon hearing the whistling, became annoyed and demanded to know who the culprit was. Of course fingers pointed at little Louise. Incensed at this horrible deed, the teacher yelled at Louise and demanded she stand in the corner. As Louise sheepishly made her way to the place of shame, she sat in a chair that was permanently there for the incarcerated. “I told you to STAND in the corner,” the teacher yelled. As Louise left school that first day, the teacher told her older sister to tell her parents that Louise was too stupid to be in school. Louise never went back that year. Now here we were, almost 90 years later, and she was recounting the experience with the wisdom and grace of a matriarch. Yet the feelings that moment evoked, are permanently etched in her memories, and always part of the picture Louise colored that day.

You may recall an earlier blog, one of the most popular with my readers, where my father, when he was seven-years-old, gave up his mitts to a neighbor girl as they walked home from school in a freezing blizzard. That lasting memory led to that little girl, some 80 years after the incident, visiting my dad, who was dying in palliative care, so she could “thank Leo for giving up his mitts… He was always so kind to me.”

Character Moves:

  1. Remember that our words and actions can evoke emotions and feelings that last a lifetime. Of course we’re likely to say and do things that hurt others. Most of that is based on our own insecurities, fear and whatever systemic shortcoming we wrestle with. On the other hand, think of the POSITIVE, LASTING feelings we can create.
  2. Be kind and empathetic with sincere intention. Recognize that you may add a lasting memory that many years later could be part of a discussion over burgers and milkshakes. Also remind yourself that you could be on the other end of that discussion. Sometimes people in positions of authority lose sight of the lasting impact of their words and deeds.
  3. If you can, go for a ride in the country with a couple of seniors. They will help you see the “spring green” in a new light. When they longingly look out the car window as you’re driving, you will be reminded that life is a “very short ride” and along the way, with acts of kindness, we can make lunch stop memories a little sweeter.

Coloring memories in the Triangle,