One Person’s Trash is another Person’s Treasure


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I’ll never forget my first winter in Chicago and the time I tried to give a homeless person my coat. My boss stopped me and made me get on the train. I did not understand why he stopped me and I cried the whole way back to the office.  He was protecting me. My kind heart over-rode common sense. 

I moved to Tulsa seven years later and worked in the Bank of Oklahoma building on the 27th floor. They had an ice rink back in the 90’s and I’d go down there for coffee and breakfast. Every morning I’d see the same man with ragged clothes and I’d buy him breakfast. At lunch I’d sit by myself in the square and share my lunch and cigarettes with a few of the homeless men that hung around. My boss found out about it and made me stop. He said it wasn’t safe for a nice girl like me to be alone with these men. He thought I was putting myself in danger.

I shared that story recently with the wrong person and their response surprised me.

“Your boss was wrong. I mean you smoked. Obviously you weren’t a nice girl.”

They were so proud of their comment that they laughed. This wasn’t a heckler, I wasn’t even on stage when he said this. We were sitting at a kitchen table sharing dinner with friends. A heckler I can handle, this — I just smiled and changed the subject before getting really quiet and letting other people control the conversation. It’s an old survival skill from childhood, if you let them know they got to you they come back for more. I’ve learned how to hide crumbling.

Just because I can hide it doesn’t mean I don’t crumble sometimes.

Knowing what this man said is a lie doesn’t change the impact of his words. The committee in my brain is now in high gear, passing those words around like a cheap bottle of wine. “You’ll never fit in.”, “You can’t trust people.”, “He’s right you know. You are trash.”, “I’m never coming back here again.”

Every fiber of my being now wants to show this man how “not nice” I’m capable of being. Oh you think smoking is bad, wait until I tell you about the time I did thus and such! The committee is also offering up questions on his mother’s marital status when he was born as well as her emotional temperament. In 24 hours I ruminate every possible come back. They are wonderful come backs by the way, I’m always brilliant after the fact. The problem is those comebacks do nothing for my heart and just keep the hurt feelings going while Mr Idiot has no idea that I’m even wounded.

At this point, I’m the one wounding myself by repeatedly hitting the replay button on the DVD in my brain.

I want to stop the spiral. I try to read. I pray. I stare at my phone to call a friend, but it’s too heavy and then an amazing thing happens, I receive a Christmas card from a friend. Inside the card is a puzzle piece with these words:

“YOU GLOW and you do more than light up a room — you light up the hearts of all who are in it.”

Her card is postmarked several days earlier, and arrives just in time to soothe my heart and my brain.  She doesn’t even know about the incident yet.  I now have a choice, I can hit the replay button on the remarks that hurt me OR I can choose to believe my friend and her words of encouragement. So what if one man thinks I’m trash. He’s an idiot.  I have a wealth of friends who think otherwise and their voices are loud enough to put the committee to rest.

It is said that silence equals approval. I neither agreed with nor approved of his comment and yet I remained silent.  I don’t have to be quiet just to prove I’m nice. There is nothing to be gained by staying silent when someone lies about my value to my face. There are a number of acceptable responses that I could have used. My therapist says when someone throws a prickly pear at us (an insult), we don’t have to catch it nor do we need to throw it back. We can simply say things like “ouch” or calmly speak truth, “that’s not true about me.” Simple phrases like that stop most people in their tracks and give them the chance to clean it up.

I’ll try and remember that next time. In the mean time, I’m taking my puzzle piece from my friend and posting on my bathroom mirror. I glow, not only do I light up a room, I light up the hearts of all who are in it. — And so do you.

Question: How do you respond to thoughtless (or maybe not so thoughtless) comments? I’d love to hear from you.

3 thoughts on “One Person’s Trash is another Person’s Treasure

  1. Obviously, this “person” who made the comment has the ability to override God’s commands. let me see….isn’t there something somewhere in the Bible that says we should NOT see someone hungry and just tell them “Sorry., Fella, you aren’t in my clique and you smell funny so go one your way and find someone better suited to help you get some food”. If I remember correctly, we are told that when we meet the needs of those, we could be giving to “angels” while we are not aware of it.
    I had an opposite problem once. I did something I felt the Holy Spirit telling me to do, and a particular person happened to see it, and she would not let me “forget” how wonderful it was for me to have done such a gracious and kind thing for this unfortunate person. She would broadcast it at every opportunity until I told her that this was not done to get the praises of men! And I would greatly appreciate it if she would stop making me into a saint. (which I am not!!!!) What I did was done out of my own abundance, so it wasn’t a big deal. She finally admitted that she said those things out of envy because she knew she should have acted, but refused to do so out of selfish reasons.
    So what the Spirit tells you to do….period! And don’t worry about what the people around you think.

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  2. Well, I first had a reaction to this:

    He said it wasn’t safe for a nice girl like me to be alone with these men. He thought I was putting myself in danger.

    !!! Oh, my !!! First, the problem with this is the whole paternalistic prejudice / benevolent sexism problem. What? You can’t handle yourself, should you need to? It’s quite irritating when men act as though us “silly ladies” don’t know what is in our own best interests. I must ask, what is wrong with showing simple acts of kindness and compassion, in a world that can sometimes be cruel? Second, that’s quite an awful stereotype of people who are homeless. It’s very unfortunate that people treat those who are homeless with such contempt.

    Then, I had a reaction to this:

    I mean you smoked. Obviously you weren’t a nice girl.

    !!!! Again…Oh, my !!!! Now let’s talk about all the stereotypes about women. Or, more specifically, “ladies” or “proper women.” That’s what this reminded me of–that proper ladies act in certain ways (no drinking, smoking, cursing, etc). This is a highly inappropriate and rude comment! Not to mention outdated…

    Anyway…sorry for my rant =) … I related to the rest of your post as well. About what goes on internally when something like this happens to us. Replaying over and over again, thinking about all the great comebacks after the fact. All of those things are hard to turn off (which is why I took a mindfulness based stress reduction workshop! To stop this EXACT habit of mine!) I now can catch myself earlier when it starts, call myself on it, and that alone can (amazingly) make it lose its power over my thoughts.

    I like the suggestions you had, those are good responses (especially the “ouch” — I like that a lot). Another powerful method is to ask questions, “What do you mean?” Sometimes, if you just ask people questions (in a polite, well-meaning tone), they have to keep explaining themselves…and keep explaining…and then usually a light bulb goes on and they realize they were being an idiot. Not always, but it’s another one for your toolbox.

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    1. LOVE it — Absolute yes on ALL fronts. I was perfectly safe in the square. Never once worried about my safety. I spend a lot of times in soup kitchens and I’ve only ever been afraid once. I agree sometimes people have horrible prejudice against the homeless and it kills me when I see it.

      And I’m usually not so timid when feeling insulted, but for whatever reason I was having a very insecure moment — I hate those. What do you mean is a great question to ask as well. Thank you.

      I miss my martial arts days. There was just something centering about knowing I could do a round house kick that balanced any and all esteem issues. 🙂 The more I work on getting my physical strength back, the more confident I become.

      Thanks for commenting. I’m adding those to my tool box.

      Like

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