Maybe it’s because I said something you didn’t want to hear. Or wrote something you didn’t want to read. Maybe it’s because my beliefs are different than yours. Or I have opposing values. Maybe it’s as simple as how I look. Or the way I talk.

Or maybe it’s not me.

Maybe you misinterpreted what I said. Or read it differently than what I meant. Maybe you were having a bad day. Or that’s just how you were brought up. Maybe you have been holding onto to something painful for years. Or you thought you were being funny.

Maybe.

Or maybe we’re just different. And maybe that’s enough of a reason.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter why anymore. Maybe one of us needs to be the better person and stop.

Where it All Begins

When you drop a rock into a pond, it doesn’t end when the rock hits the water. There is a ripple effect. It may appear small from our perspective above the water. But it is life changing for many below the surface.

For every story on the news that ends badly there is a beginning. A way way back. A moment. A point that started with someone being mean. A parent or friend. A member of the family. A complete stranger or a schoolmate. Something happened. Something was said. Something was done. It may have seemed innocent at the time. But it wasn’t. Not to them anyway. Something was born.

An opinion on how the world is. Or a viewpoint of what people are like. An image of who they are and what their self-worth is. A story.

The feelings that grow from these moments such as hatred, intolerance and racism are learned behaviors. You are not born with these feelings. There are no racist babies crawling around. Someone planted these seeds. And you can’t plant apple seeds and then curse the tree for bearing apples. We need to take responsibility for what we have created and the results of our handy work. No more finger pointing.

It’s Our Fault

It’s our fault for making it OK to poke fun at a 16 year old girl’s hair instead of celebrating her accomplishment of being the best in the world.

It’s our fault for showing up to a Chick-Fil-A in protest instead of showing up to a movie theater in support.

It’s our fault for not being better role models as politicians, business owners, religious leaders, parents and adults.

Yes. We made our bed. But that doesn’t mean we have to lie in it. We have choices. We can change the way the story ends at any time.

Let the Worst in Others Bring Out the Best in You

My story begins in 3rd grade. I was 8 years old. It was the first day in a new school for me. Miss popularity walked up to me and introduced herself by saying “Hi! You’re pretty…pretty ugly!” It was mean. But completely innocent. It was a kid being a kid. To her anyway. Not to me. That tiny little comment was a seed that I cultivated well into my adult life.

It has shown up in my decisions. It has shown up in my writing. It has shown up in the conversations with others. It has shown up in my relationships. It has changed the course of my life.

It made me insecure. Afraid of rejection. Introverted. And because of that, I didn’t have many friends. I very rarely took any social risks.

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? It is. Just not to an 8 year old kid. That was my beginning. I’m sure you have a similar story.

When Does it End?

It doesn’t. These seeds will never stop being planted in our yards. Get used to that fact. But we do have the ability to choose what to do with them. We can choose whether or not we want to add the fertilizer, water and sunshine. We can choose whether we allow these seeds to grow or die.

The obvious answer is to let them die. I’ve chosen to let them grow. But on my terms.

Letting Them Grow

Within the past 24 hours I have been called a pretentious douche. I was told that my picture made someone throw up in their mouth. That I was incompetent. And use deplorable sentence fragments (OK, this one is probably true). I am offensive. That I am a whiner. Not original. Useless. That I am a self-important blowhard. Thoughtless. Cynically pedantic (I had to look that one up too). And that I sound like a bratty 16 year old.

This is the result of me writing something. A guest blog post. It was funny. A majority of the people that read it thought so anyway. A bunch didn’t. I get that not everyone is going to love everything I write. Some of you are rolling your eyes at this post right now. But it was the last thing I would have ever thought would spark such a hateful reaction from some. But it did.

Now I have a few choices:

  1. Respond by lashing out
  2. Project that anger onto the next person I see
  3. Ignore them or remove their comments
  4. Embrace them

Had you asked me ten years ago, I would have responded by lashing out at that person. Throwing bigger punches. Drawing more proverbial blood.

Five years ago I would have internalized it. Held it in. Saved it for the right moment. A fight with my wife. The next time I got cut off while driving. A client that said something I didn’t want to hear. And then I would blow up on my unsuspecting victim.

One year ago I would have just ignored them. Acted as though they were not worth my time. Probably even deleted their comments.

But today, at this point in my life, I have chosen to embrace these comments. Cultivate them. But into what I want. Leverage them to make me a better writer. Give me thicker skin. Make me a stronger person. More understanding. Sympathetic. Challenge me to turn them around. Help me be a positive role model for my children.

Embrace Them

I know it’s hard to do sometimes. When someone points to you and says that you make them throw up in their mouth, my 8 year old self wants to take it personally and run. But that doesn’t help the greater good. Neither does lashing out. Feeding those demons. Giving them the response that they are expecting. That they want. A reward for spewing their hate.

Instead, I choose to embrace these comments. Welcome the challenge. And change the world. Maybe.