Propping Up the Past

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My thirteen-year-old son Clay and I ran up to his school to pick up some supplies a couple of days before school started when we encountered a staff member who has worked there the entire time Clay has been in middle school. Afterward, I grumbled a bit to Clay, regurgitating my disappointments with some of the decisions this person has made. And when we got back home, my older son Jed piled on with his complaints. This is the beginning of my eighth year with a child at this school, and Jed was there both before and after the arrival of this person. We thought things were better before. Then, Clay said, “She seems nice. I think she just has a hard job.”  

Ouch! Clay put me in my place. I told him I would try to have a better attitude. I realized that perhaps Jed and I were not being fair because we were comparing this person to her predecessor whom we’d both liked a lot. All we could see were the ways this person didn’t perform like the previous person. And even though I stand by my conviction that carpool doesn’t work as well these days, I know I haven’t looked for the positive in this person. All I could see were the ways she didn’t measure up to the past in my perception. I didn’t give her a chance. And I probably omitted any of the former staff member’s foibles from my memory. 

We do that sometimes with people, places, and times. The past becomes nostalgic while the present becomes problematic in comparison. True, we can learn a lot from history, our own and that of our communities. If we dare to take a hard, truthful look at the past, we may avoid repeating the difficult parts. But if we merely glorify what has been without recalling the entirety of the past, the good and bad, we may get stuck in a past that never actually existed in the first place. All to the detriment of today.  

If we never give new people a chance because they are merely different, then we are doing ourselves a disservice. We may miss out on the good that others can provide. We need to give relationships with new people a chance on their own merit, not dismiss them out of hand because we are caught in the comparison trap. We can make an intentional effort to open our minds and hearts so that we experience the kindness, love, and positive traits of others who are new to our lives. 

And we should be careful how we talk about the past versus the present. Constantly repeating the shortcomings of someone who is new to a role as compared to the person who held it before is often an effort to pull others to our way of thinking. I was guilty of that in this circumstance because I was trying to influence Clay’s opinion. I didn’t even consciously think it through at the time, but I now know that I wanted Clay to feel the same way as me. Thankfully, Clay had enough insight to hold his ground and remain on the side of kindness. 

A day after Clay corrected my behavior, I encountered a similar situation. A new person in a role vacated by someone who’d been a favorite. But this time, I caught myself feeling edgy toward the new person. Instead of continuing to build up a wall to keep the new person out, I took a breath and asked the person to repeat her name. She said, “I’m new.” That’s right, new and altogether deserving of welcome. 

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