Things I Learned from My Father part 2 – Kindness

Dad and me on Easter Sunday
Dad and me on Easter Sunday

“No act of kindness, no matter how small is ever wasted.” ~ Aesop

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” ~ Dalai Lama

“Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me those are traditional values.” ~ Ellen DeGeneres

The other day I was trolling Facebook and saw a video that fits perfectly something I learned from my father: it’s important to always be kind and give people the benefit of the doubt. My dad was almost always kind to others. He rarely lost his temper even at home, even when people were in his face challenging, or yelling at him.

But back to the video. In it a man with a “Trump Supporter” T-shirt and a sign that asked for hugs was standing outside a Bernie Sanders rally. He had a camera crew with him, so I don’t know if he was a real Trump supporter, or someone doing a social experiment. In any case as the rally ended and people poured out, he held up his sign asking for a hug. Only one person said, “F**k you.” Many people walked by without saying a word, but once the first person gave him a hug, many others followed. One woman even said, “Oh, you poor guy.” There was one man who wasn’t sure he wanted to give this Trump supporter a hug, he kind of hemmed and hawed, but finally he approached and gave the best hug. At the end of the video the young man said something like, “See we can overlook our differences and find common ground.”

In this season of so much controversy, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what my dad taught me about being kind.

The summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, we moved from Wilbur, Washington to a five acre lot, twelve miles south of Spokane. There I was starting at a new country school that just happened to be rivals with the school I had been attending. The students at the new school were much nicer to me than the ones at the old had been when I started school there. That was wonderful, but church wasn’t so wonderful. My father was a progressive thinker in every aspect of his life. The members of the three congregations in Spokane were mostly conservative which as they got to know my father caused some real problems for our family.

At various times my father was, the district wide youth leader, and later pastor of our congregation. As youth leader, he wanted to broaden our experiences, so he did things like start a “Coffee House” in the basement of our congregation every Friday or Saturday night. We drank soda or tea, ate cookies or popcorn and had an open mic where people could sing, or recite or read what they’d written. We were encouraged to invite our friends. The atmosphere was dark with candles on the tables which made it feel very intimate. We kids loved it. The parents did not. We were, of course, chaperoned, but that didn’t matter. There was an uproar that inappropriate things were happening at the coffee house and the experiment was shut down.

Then dad started a program with the local mental hospital. Those of us who attended their monthly socials, would just talk to the inmates of the hospital, play games or read to them, or maybe dance with them. But again, people objected. Why should we be subjected to those unsavory people in the mental hospital? Maybe the parents were jealous. My father was very popular with the younger generation. Whatever the case, our trips to the hospital stopped.

When my father became pastor of our congregation, he started a relationship with the minister of the Baptist church a few blocks away. The congregation was made up of mostly black people and the two ministers cooked up a scheme where the two congregations would get to know each other so we could do some community outreach together. Unfortunately, that too fell flat.

Each of these attempts by my father to help get us out of our insular activities and worship, caused great anger toward him and our entire family. My parents received hate mail and terrible phone calls from congregation and district members. Though my parents tried to shield us from the controversy, I was old enough to catch snippets of conversations that gave me a pretty clear picture of what was going on. My father was considered a rabble rouser and many people didn’t like him. There were times when I witnessed people confronting him at church. No matter what they said or how they treated him, he was always kind.

Witnessing the way my father interacted with people left a deep impression on me. I asked myself how he was able to stay so calm and return hatred with kindness? One thing I noticed was that after such confrontations, he’d go to his bedroom, or some other quiet place to be alone for awhile. When I took up this same practice, I found that it helped me in my attempts to be kind to others.

I’m not perfect. There are times when I feel overwhelmed by emotions I don’t understand and I want to make nasty comments either in person, or on social media. But that would only escalate an already volatile situation. When I feel strong negative emotions, I follow what I learned from my father, I go to a quiet place, write down my feelings and meditate to calm myself. I wish we taught those skills in our schools because if we did, we might have a more peaceful world. I’m grateful I learned them from my father.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment, or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

Things I Learned from My Father

James Calvin Sage
James Calvin Sage

“Here is my secret, A very simple secret, It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” ~ The Little Prince

“We are approaching a new age of synthesis. Knowledge cannot be merely a degree or a skill … it demands a broader vision, capabilities in critical thinking and logical deduction without which we cannot have constructive progress.” ~ Li Ka-shing

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and aiming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ~ Adrienne Rich

“Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you’re thinking in order to make your thinking better.” ~ Richard W. Paul

Yesterday, March 8, would have been my father’s 86th birthday. I still miss him though it’s been twelve years since his death. He was my mentor, and on this anniversary of his birth, I’d like to share some of the wonderful things he taught me.

First and foremost was to Question everything. My father was extremely intelligent, even though he had to drop out of school. His teachers called him lazy, and told him that he’d never amount to anything. Boy were they wrong. It’s amazing the extent of influence one person has on the world.

After years of struggling, my dad discovered that he had dyslexia, which was unheard of in the 1930s and 40s when he was in school. But by the time he had a label for his condition it didn’t matter because he had taught himself how to read. And what he read about was history and historical places. He loved biographies like those of the Founding Fathers. When my brother and I began college he read philosophy and theology, which was what we were studying. In fact, dad was interested in everything, especially what was going on in the present. “It’s history in the making,” he’d say. So, of course, he read news magazines, the newspaper and watched both the early and late news every night. And he questioned all of it.

He taught me never to assume that I understood what someone was saying or writing. We each attach different meanings to the same words. So, I should analyze information by asking lots of questions. He taught me this, oddly enough, by watching movies with me. When I was a teenager, we’d stay up late on weekend evenings watching and discussing old movies. We’d talk about the plot and characters, their motivations and what we thought the theme might be. Every question he asked me sent me to a deeper level of thinking.

Because he watched movies with me, I began to watch the news with him. I’d ask him questions like, why the police were beating the peaceful demonstrators, or why people were killing black people who wanted equal rights, or why we were fighting the Viet Nam War, and he would say things like, “People hurt others because they’re deeply wounded themselves. They’re scared.” “Scared of what?” I’d ask. “Scared of losing their way of life,” he’d answer. Another thing he used to say was, “People who are in great pain don’t know what they’re doing. They just want to feel better. They think hurting someone else will get rid of their pain, not realizing that one violent act leads to another.” So I began asking lots of questions no matter what I was listening to, or reading, or who I was interacting with.

When I became a public school teacher I learned that asking questions is called the Socratic Method. It’s the method Socrates used to help his students learn to think. Thanks to dad, it’s the way I teach, it’s the way I live my life.

Asking questions about why people do what they do is a particularly valuable tool for me in my day to day life. It’s extremely important to ask what a commentator, a politician, a TV ad, or a writer means by the words they use in their news and TV shows, ads, articles, movies and books. When I ask questions, it causes me to take a deeper look and helps me understand someone’s intent, or their motives. When I have a clearer picture, I’m better equipped to make decisions, and understand my family, friends, students and colleagues in a way I might not have realized had I not asked questions.

This method has also helped me a great deal as a writer. Because as I ask questions about the challenges I face in my personal life, what I learn becomes part of my novel or these blog entries. I’m mining my own life to help me convey complex undercurrents of thoughts and feelings that are pushing their way to the surface of my consciousness hoping to be expressed. I don’t always understand what wants to come forth until I begin writing.

Asking questions has helped me in other ways as well. There have been times when some tragedy happens and because I’ve asked lots of questions for so long, I can make connections between historical events and what’s happening in the present moment. What looks like chaos is really an opportunity for all of us to grow.

Hmmm, I took up so much time on this first important thing I learned from my father, that I didn’t have time to write about the other wonderful things he taught me. I guess I’ll have to turn these posts about my dad into a series. I’m happy to take another look at what he taught me and share it with you. I’ll probably gain some new insights by doing that which is a good thing. Thanks, Dad.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016